Of Late

Norman Morrison burned himself to death in front of Secretary of Defense McNamara’s office at the Pentagon on November 2, 1965.  He did this in protest of the Vietnam War.  Morrison had been inspired by Buddhist monks, who were setting themselves on fire in Saigon.  He was a member of Stony Run Meeting in Baltimore as well as its Executive Secretary.

“Of Late” is a poem by George Starbuck about Morrison’s death.  It portrays the burning of a draft card, the burning of Morrison and the burning of Vietnamese.  It describes the media reaction to Morrison’s act.  Finally, it explores the language of Morrison’s burning and what Starbuck saw as the Quaker connection to that language.

George Starbuck (1931-1996) was an American neo-formalist poet.  Generally, he composed light, humorous verses.  A passionate opponent of the Vietnam War, however, he also wrote angry anti-war poetry.  His books included Bone Thoughts, Talkin’ B.A. Blues, Visible Ink and Poems Selected from Five Decades. He taught at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop and Boston University.   Among other honors, he was awarded the Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize,the Aiken Taylor Award for Modern American Poetry and the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize.

I think “Of Late” is a powerful, horrific piece.  It reflects those bloody days of the Vietnam War.

While I remain convinced that Morrison’s act was wrong, I continue to be haunted by it.  

A link to George Starbuck reading “Of Late”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vytZ4fZEoEM&t=820s. For those whose links don’t deliver you to the poem directly, the reading begins at 13:40.

(Above is a photograph of the Quaker vigil held at the Pentagon on the first anniversary of Morrison’s death).

Gary Sandman

February 2023

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