Wednesday, December 14, 2005

on Eugene McCarthy

Garrison Keillor:

I saw Gene McCarthy many times and he never struck me as diffident. I was, but he wasn't. He was a handsome Irishman with a gift for graceful speech, and he loved to stand up in front of an audience with his hands in his jacket pockets and rock back on his heels and orate. Even speaking impromptu, he was succinct and pointed and funny. He was always worth listening to and this cannot be said of so many people in politics, then or now. There is a constant supply of gasbags and stiffs and never quite enough men and women who can use the English language to good effect.

Gene McCarthy wrote a poem that begins with the names of women he knew as a boy -- "Mathilda Ophoven, Minnie Quast, Lucinda Nistler, Verena Brixius," who

Could cook potatoes

Eight ways at least

And believed any illness would yield

To eucalyptus tea, and brandy.

He may have been the last man in American public life to quote from Yeats or Frost and do it because he himself loved the poem and knew it by heart and not because a speechwriter had inserted it in the text. And he found poetry in the names of the old ladies of Watkins, Minn. May God's eternal light shine upon him.

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