TCS: World Speech Day – Say to the Down-Keepers and the Sun-Slappers

. Good Morning!

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Welcome to The Coffee Shop, just for you early risers
on Monday mornings. This is an Open Thread forum,
so if you have an off-topic opinion burning a hole in
your brainpan, feel free to add a comment.

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If you want to tell people the truth,
make them laugh, otherwise
they’ll kill you.

– Oscar Wilde

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World Speech Day was inaugurated on March 15 in 2016, after being envisioned at the Athens Democracy Forum in 2015. Its purpose is to celebrate the great speeches of the past, and encourage new voices to speak out. There were events in Athens, Singapore, Moscow, and Tawau in Malaysia. By 2019, events were being held in over 100 countries.

Reid Buckley was a writer, novelist, and public speaker. As a student at Yale, he was the captain of a championship debating team. “My frustration in watching worthy folk make blithering idiots of themselves in public moved me to found the Buckley School of Public Speaking.”

The Buckley School held its first seminar in 1988. Buckley believed that all public speakers should hone their presentation skills by reading poetry out loud. That worthwhile practice is still encouraged by including a poem in their online magazine, Buckley Speaking, each month to be read aloud.

The read-aloud poem Buckley Speaking offered in its February 2021 issue, “Matrimonial Creed,” was written by L.E.L. (the pen name of Letitia Elizabeth Landon (1802-1838). It turned out to be a cautionary tale: she married George Maclean, colonial governor of the Gold Coast (now Ghana), in 1838, only to discover after she arrived in Africa that he already had a black common-law wife and several children. Two months later, she was found dead on a Monday morning, with the bottle of dilute prussic acid prescribed for her heart condition in her hand. A rumor started that she had been poisoned, and spread after she was hastily buried by torchlight in the midst of a tropical rainstorm on the night of her death, though not to hide foul play, but because immediate burial was necessary in the hot, humid climate. This scandal was the last straw. There had already been nasty and harmful rumors about L.E.L. which were likely untrue, but getting away from them was one of the reasons she married Maclean. Her suspicious death caused the Victorian publishing industry to bury the work of a woman once hailed as a “female Byron.”


However, this poem reminds me a lot more of Dorothy Parker than Lord Byron:

Matrimonial Creed

by L.E.L.

HE must be rich whom I could love,
His fortune clear must be,
Whether in land or in the funds,
‘Tis all the same to me.

He must be old whom I could love,
Then he’ll not plague me long;
In sooth ’twill be a pleasant sight,
To see him borne along

To where the croaking ravens lurk,
And where the earth worms dwell:
A widow’s hood will suit my face,
And black becomes me well.

And he must make a settlement,
I’ll have no man without;
And when he writes his testament,
He must not leave me out. 

Oh! such a man as this would suit
Each wish I here express;
If he should say, — Will you have me?
I’ll very soon say — Yes!


“Matrimonial Creed” is in the public domain.

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Here are some speech-related poems for you to try out loud, starting with this classic from Gwendolyn Brooks:


Speech to the Young: Speech to the Progress-Toward

by Gwendolyn Brooks

Say to them,
say to the down-keepers,
the sun-slappers,
the self-soilers,
the harmony-hushers,
“even if you are not ready for day
it cannot always be night.”
You will be right.
For that is the hard home-run.

Live not for battles won.
Live not for the-end-of-the-song.
Live in the along.


“Speech to the Young: Speech to the Progress-Toward” from BLACKS, © 1991 by Gwendolyn Brooks – Third World Press

Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000) is one of the most influential and widely read African American poets of the 20th century. She was the first black author to win the Pulitzer Prize (for poetry, in 1950), and the first black woman Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress (1985–1986).

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The words are English, but the rhythm in poems by William Butler Yeats is Irish.

Remorse for Intemperate Speech

by William Butler Yeats

I ranted to the knave and fool,
But outgrew that school,
Would transform the part,
Fit audience found, but cannot rule
My fanatic heart.

I sought my betters: though in each
Fine manners, liberal speech,
Turn hatred into sport,
Nothing said or done can reach
My fanatic heart,

Out of Ireland have we come.
Great hatred, little room,
Maimed us at the start.
I carry from my mother’s womb
A fanatic heart.


“Remorse for Intemperate Speech” from The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats – Scribner Revised Edition 1996

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939), is admired as one of the greatest poets of the 20th Century. He is a key figure in the Irish Literary Revival (also ironically called the Celtic Twilight), and a co-founder of the Irish National Theatre Society and the Abbey Theatre with Lady Augusta Gregory.

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The Ancient Speech

by Kathleen Jessie Raine

A Gaelic bard they praise who in fourteen adjectives
Named the one indivisible soul of his glen;
For what are the bens and the glens but manifold qualities,
Immeasurable complexities of soul?
What are these isles but a song sung by island voices?
The herdsman sings ancestral memories
And the song makes the singer wise,
But only while he sings
Songs that were old when the old themselves were young,
Songs of these hills only, and of no isles but these.
For other hills and isles this language has no words.


“The Ancient Speech from The Collected Poems of Kathleen Raine, © 2000 by Kathleen Raine – Faber & Faber

Kathleen Jessie Raine (1908-2003) British poet, critic, and scholar, writing in particular on William Blake, W. B. Yeats and Thomas Taylor. Her mother was a Scot who spoke Scots Gaelic as her first language. Raine spent part of WWI with her Aunt Peggy Black in the county of Northumberland on the English side of the border with Scotland. She was educated at Girton College, Cambridge. Her collections include Stone and Flower; The Lost Country; On a Deserted Shore; and The Oracle in the Heart. She was a co-founder in 1981 of the literary journal Temenos, and the Temenos Press.

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Part of Speech

By Joseph Brodsky

. . . and when “the future” is uttered, swarms of mice
rush out of the Russian language and gnaw a piece
of ripened memory which is twice
as hole-ridden as real cheese.
After all these years it hardly matters who
or what stands in the corner, hidden by heavy drapes,
and your mind resounds not with a seraphic “doh”,
only their rustle. Life, that no one dares
to appraise, like that gift horse’s mouth,
bares its teeth in a grin at each
encounter. What gets left of a man amounts
to a part. To his spoken part. To a part of speech.


“Part of Speech” from Collected Poems in English, 1972-1999 – © 2000 by Joseph Brodsky – Farrar, Straus and Giroux 

Joseph Brodsky (1940-1996) was born in Leningrad, and exiled from the Soviet Union as a dissident in 1972 after serving 18 months of a five-year sentence in a labor camp in northern Russia. Less Than One (1988), an essay collection, won the National Book Critic’s Award for Criticism. He also published collections of poetry, including To Urania (1988) and essays about Venice, Watermark (1992). In 1987, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

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And lastly, a speech from the Bard himself:

Macbeth’s speech, from Macbeth, Act V, scene 5

by William Shakespeare

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.


“Macbeth” from The First Folio of Shakespeare: The Norton Facsimile, 1996 Edition – W.W. Norton & Company

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) born, English playwright, poet, and actor, born in Stratford-Upon-Avon, generally considered the greatest writer in the English language.

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Do you have a favorite poem you like to read out loud?

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Tracee Ellis Ross – TEDtalk – photo by Bret Hartman

About wordcloud9

Nona Blyth Cloud has lived and worked in the Los Angeles area for the past 50 years, spending much of that time commuting on the 405 Freeway. After Hollywood failed to appreciate her genius for acting and directing, she began a second career managing non-profits, from which she has retired. Nona has now resumed writing whatever comes into her head, instead of reports and pleas for funding. She lives in a small house overrun by books with her wonderful husband.
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4 Responses to TCS: World Speech Day – Say to the Down-Keepers and the Sun-Slappers

  1. Speaking of speech, here is the 2004 speech that made Obama President.

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