The flickering lights men live by in the dark

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My mother was sustained through the troubled years of World War II in part by the poems of David Morton. After the violence in Paris, I found myself returning to his poem, “Pieties.”

Photo of 2 flickering oil lamps

(c) Can Stock Photo

     The flickering lights men live by in the dark:
     Pity, and love, and learning, hardly won…
     These all are guttering in an evil wind.

Our governments and our leaders must grapple with the response to this new outrage. I am grateful, in a way, that I no longer share in that responsibility as I did when I worked in the Near East South Asia Bureau of the U.S. Department of State. It is a heavy burden to face off terrorists and labor to protect those who could be their victims.

I have a different job now. My profession as a parliamentarian requires me to uphold democratic values in the arena of local government and nonprofit work. Not as glamorous as diplomacy and high-stakes negotiations, but equally important if we are to maintain our liberties.

When we serve on city councils, planning commissions, nonprofit boards and volunteer committees, we can commit to achieve our goals through fair, even-handed and peaceful means. By subordinating egoism and the drive for personal power to the will of the majority, including the voices of all in the discussion, we live out the principles of our democracy. In the end, I believe, these principles must and will prevail over the brutal force of extremism.

Ann G. Macfarlane
Professional Registered Parliamentarian

 

PIETIES by David Morton

The flickering lights men live by in the dark:

Pity, and love, and learning, hardly won,

And holy memory pious to remark

Where deeds of thought and deeds of soul were done—

These all are guttering in an evil wind,

And the old darkness takes the world again,

The black wing swoops to cancel and rescind

All we have wrought, and we are stricken men.

This thing has happened to our race before:

The dark, the wind, the dire smoke in the eyes,

The sweet names drowned along the bitter roar, —

And light was saved from those disastrous skies,

How, but by hands cupped round the assaulted flames,

And lips that moved to form the saving names . . . ?

David Morton  Poems: 1920-1945. Knopf: New York, 1945.