Lawrence Ferlinghetti was 101 years old when he died last Monday. He was born in Yonkers but is considered a San Franciscan since he made that city his home for the last 7 decades of his life.
His father died of a heart attack before he was born and his mother was committed to a mental hospital shortly after. He founded a bookstore called City Lights in his chosen hometown in 1953 and it soon became a magnet, and publishing company, for the Beats. He was arrested for publishing Allen Ginsberg’s Howl when the mirror it held up to an obscene society was considered the obscenity.
In addition to his work at City Lights, Ferlinghetti made the most of his century of life by pursuing his muse across a host of creative outlets. He was a poet, playwright, novelist, and painter. I would not be surprised to find out he picked up a musical instrument or two at some point in his journey.
In 2007, Ferlinghetti wrote this poem: Pity the Nation (after Khalil Gibrand)
Pity the nation whose people are sheep
And whose shepherds mislead them
Pity the nation whose leaders are liars
Whose sages are silenced
And whose bigots haunt the airwaves
Pity the nation that raises not its voice
Except to praise conquerers
And acclaim the bully as hero
And aims to rule the world
By force and by torture
Pity the nation that knows
No other language but its own
And no other culture but its own
Pity the nation whose breath is money
And sleeps the sleep of the too well fed
Pity the nation oh pity the people
who allow their rights to erode
and their freedoms to be washed away
My country, tears of thee
Sweet land of liberty!