By Ronald Cohen
I am saddened to learn of the passing of American folk musician Pete Seeger and am not sure how to sum up his life in a short space. I am just thinking: the world weeps. So I’d like to share the postcard I just got from him. It sums up his life, always caring and studying and thinking.
Sonnet 65 (from Oxford Scholarly Editions Online)
Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea,
But sad mortality o’ersways their power,
How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,
Whose action is no stronger than a flower?
how shall summer’s honey breath hold out
Against the wrackful siege of batt’ring days,
When rocks impregnable are not so stout,
Nor gates of steel so strong, but time decays?
O fearful meditation; where, alack,
Shall Time’s best jewel from Time’s chest lie hid?
Or what strong hand can hold his swift foot back,
Or who his spoil of beauty can forbid?
O none, unless this miracle have might,
That in black ink my love may still shine bright.
Ronald Cohen is Professor Emeritus of History Indiana University Northwest, and author of A History of Folk Music Festivals in the United States: Feasts of Musical Celebration (Scarecrow, 2008), Folk Music: The Basics (Routledge, 2006) and Rainbow Quest: The Folk Music Revival and American Society, 1940-1970 (Massachusetts, 2002). He is the co-editor of The Pete Seeger Reader with James Capaldi.