14 July 2016

this day in history.

Today is a good day I think for being sad!

Last night Ken Burns came up in conversation at dinner, as is so often the case. In the course of the following conversation I learned that Mother and Brother didn't recognize the name Sullivan Ballou. He was a soldier in the American Civil War, a 32-year-old Union volunteer from Rhode Island who died at Bull Run the first and is famous for his final goodbye letter to his wife Sarah, which was discovered in his trunk after his death. (It was notably read in Ken Burns' Civil War documentary, if you're still looking for the transition.) Looking the letter up to read it aloud, I found that it was dated the fourteenth of July, which I hadn't remembered. So it's as good a time as any to link it.

It's a really beautiful letter and I think about it a lot. It's all very I-could-not-love-thee-dear-so-much, except that I hate that poem and I don't hate the Ballou letter. Sullivan isn't only being honorable, he's also being conflicted and kind. It's a love letter. Here it is as it appeared in the documentary—a different, shortened version of the text, with music.
But, O Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the garish day and in the darkest night—amidst your happiest scenes and gloomiest hours—always, always; and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath; or the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by.

Sarah, do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for thee, for we shall meet again.
People in the past were people. It matters to me to remember that, and it's imperative that we remember it also about people who unlike Ballou didn't have the time and ability to write their thoughts down.


Unrelated: I would have saved this link for the end-of-month roundup, but it turns out the offer only stretches till this weekend, so here it is now. The good people of Tor.com want to give you a free ebook of the Hugo-winning The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu (as translated by Ken Liu). I don't know much about it, but I'm not ready to stop respecting the Hugos yet, so. Besides that I'm always trying to read more novels in translation, and I never turn down free books.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the good reminder of Sullivan Ballou. I didn't know that today was the anniversary. Makes me want to write a love letter!