Beneath a new visiting sun
Sees a woman through tears,
Sorrow of the heart she feels
As it deepens into a sea of pain.
Beside her an ailing old woman
Lies in natural amnesia for woes
She wishes to send away in vain
When a life’s grip is relentless.
Fear crowded, tension soaring
Zealots of God clad in weapons,
Fierce eyes searching for victims
Outside is the terror reigning.
Demands of life, duties of care
A caryatid bears on her head,
She faces the faces of terror
With a brave heart for the fate.
Author’s Note: Yesterday, I wrote about my essay on the current situation of Taliban-seized Kabul in Afghanistan but still could not take it off my head because I felt for their fear for unknown futures. An article of the day from Reuters was about the ordinary Afghans who had to make livelihood even against a possibility of danger that lurks around everywhere where thousands of people are attempting to escape from the new Taliban regime, often futilely. Therefore, this little poem, albeit insignificant willy-nilly, is my small tribute to the brave ordinary people on the frontline with life in Afghanistan who are just like you and me. The heroine of this woman is another Me in Afghanistan who shares a similar life story.
The masts were solemnly lowered as the anchor was triumphantly docked in at a Hoboken harbor in New Jersey. Then there appeared a young woman with eyes of brilliance that glowed with joy and alacrity of departure from her race against the time. One hundred thirty-one years ago today was when one steely journalist named Nellie Bly broke the boundary of imagination and reality by completing her round-the-world race in 72 days at New Jersey. Bly’s phenomenal record was indeed transcendent of the realm of fictitious reality where Phileas Fogg, Jules Verne’s creation of gentleman adventurer, finished his globe-trotting in 80 days. The world record was not only a sensational media headline in her time but also a glowing manifestation of grit, resilience, and the power of the mind that Bly demonstrated on herself as a woman.
Born Elizabeth Jane Cochran in 1864 in a small Pennsylvania mill town, Nellie Bly was her catchy nom de plume for the literary world, where she became successful. She was something of a frontier pioneer woman in investigative journalism and adventuring into unpathed areas of news reporting of the Dickensian world of crime and health bureaucracy, notably of the asylum at Blackwell’s Island in New York where she infiltrated as an undercover. However, a panoply of her achievements backfired when her pent-up yearning for holidays on a different shore agreed to a spectacular proposal by Joseph Pulitzer, the New York World owner, of the ingenious race-round-the world against the time. Bly’s decision to embark on the one-of-kind adventure was an apropos admixture of personal yearning to get away from the weight of reality and the publisher’s entrepreneurial aim to proliferate circulations.
So there off, she embarked on the race with a trunk containing hygiene necessities, a few wardrobes, and some books to read, but without any weapon, not least because of her belief: “If you smile at the world, the world will smile at you.” She sailed across the Atlantic Ocean from New York, through Europe, the Arabian Sea, and the Far East, and then back across the Pacific to return to the homeland. During the voyage from Hong Kong to Japan, Bly heard that another contender emerged from the oceans’ edges: twenty-eight years old Elizabeth Bisland, the literary editor of Cosmopolitan, a rival publication of The New York World. Always achieving, always forwarding, Bly hastened to complete her race guarded by the goddess of fortune and blessed by Jules Verne, whom she met during the race in Europe and was able to trounce her rival journalist arriving five days earlier and Philias Fogg eight days.
Bly was a supreme one of a kind, not most because she was a woman reporter who was some rarity. Instead, she was a person of indomitable determination, commendable work ethic, and insatiable curiosity, which were coveted attributes even to men of high aspiration. Bly demonstrated the Nietzschean will to power in her achievement by the epiphany of the noble soul to create capabilities to make the idea into an incredible and remarkable reality in the chapter of humankind’s history. Herodotus would have loved to record it.
The Histories by Herodotus
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
We are all too familiar with the word ‘History.’ Still, we are seldom comprehensive of its original meaning, making its luster dull with the banality of academic subject we commonly associate. History in its Ionic Greek epistemological root means ‘research, investigation,’ a term nurtured by Father of History Herodotus. An inquisitive travel journalist, a tireless peripatetic lecturer, Herodotus is such an excellent raconteur of the ancient worlds that his engaging narratives of The Histories collapse millenniums between his writing and our reading them. The collective history of ancient people is woven into a wondrous tapestry of collective humankind in multiple strands.
Herodotus uses parataxis, which combines individual storytelling narrative account with associative thinking. It emphasizes the interconnection between ordinary personal lives and the concatenation of events interwoven to humankind’s collective history. Using ‘a-b-a’ strategy with numerous subjects interlocking the thematic of human history, Herodotus does not dictate his historian’s perspective over readers’ views and encourage autonomous understanding of events and causalities universalities of human tendencies in a democratic way. Herodotus is an objective commentator of human dramas in war, cultural customs, artifices, and artificers broadcast in a textual documentary record still appealing to posterity.
Despite the criticism from Plutarch and Thucydides, who regarded Herodotus as something of a lighthearted reporter of a modern-day travel magazine, Herodotus’s innovative narrative style became a model for latter-day European explorers struggling to describe discoveries of terra incognita to their peoples at home. Take Marco Polo of the Silk Roads, Christopher Columbus’s New World, Magellan’s Voyage to the Far East, etc. The European descendants found vivacious inspirations in entertaining storytelling from Herodotus’s Histories that would attract general readers flocking to the books about undreamed shores and unpathed lands populous with exotic natives in wonderment.
Herodotus is a polycentric historian who moves among different peoples in different landscapes without prejudice but with an intelligent passion for learning about them. He believed that the foundation of historical events, such as wars and political insurgencies, as part of humankind’s natural order, say, what comes around goes around, injustice giving rise to retribution passing down from generation to generation. Herodotus lets readers reflect on the past and subject its values to an outside standard of rational evaluations. In short, reading The Histories is like viewing a colossal road map, full of routes, roads, thoroughfares, rest areas, mountains, seas, cities, towns, etc., linked together through Interstate Highways. Histories is a textual equivalent of an ancient road map showing who lived where and what and why they did in a mixture of literary favor and historical objectiveness. No wonder Herodotus Still Rocks.
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