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9 Poems Penned by Presidents

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getty images / istock / rebecca o'connell

These presidents were more than just politicians—they also tried their hands at poetry.

1. "From your bright sparkling Eyes, I was Undone" — George Washington

Long before he was our first president, George Washington was just a teenager in love. So he did what so many teenagers do: He wrote two lovesick poems in his diary, one of which was dedicated to Frances Alexander, in 1749-50:

From your bright sparkling Eyes, I was undone;
Rays, you have, more transparent than the sun,
Amidst its glory in the rising Day,
None can you equal in your bright array;
Constant in your calm and unspotted Mind;
Equal to all, but will to none Prove kind,
So knowing, seldom one so Young, you'l Find
Ah! woe's me that I should Love and conceal,
Long have I wish'd, but never dare reveal,
Even though severely Loves Pains I feel;
Xerxes that great, was't free from Cupids Dart,
And all the greatest Heroes, felt the smart.

Washington was attempting to make an acrostic—in which the first letter of each line forms a word—but he only got halfway through Alexander's last name before abandoning his efforts.

2. "Verse on Lee's Invasion of the North" — Abraham Lincoln

Like Washington, Abraham Lincoln was a teenage poet, penning verses in his arithmetic book between the ages of 15 and 17. He continued to read and write poetry throughout his life, including the bittersweet "My Childhood-Home I See Again," written in February 1846. The last poem Lincoln is known to have written, "Verse on Lee's Invasion of the North," was about the North's victory at Gettysburg on July 3; Lincoln wrote it on July 19, 1863:

Gen. Lees invasion of the North written by himself—

In eighteen sixty three, with pomp,
and mighty swell,
Me and Jeff's Confederacy, went
forth to sack Phil-del,
The Yankees they got arter us, and
giv us particular hell,
And we skedaddled back again,
And didn't sack Phil-del.

Clearly, he was saving the serious stuff for the Gettysburg Address.

3. "A death-bed Adieu. Th:J to MR" — Thomas Jefferson

Our third president had a great appreciation of poetry—so great, in fact, that he made scrapbooks comprised solely of clippings of poems he liked (he also helped his granddaughters make them). There's only one surviving poem that Jefferson himself, wrote, though, when he was nearing his death—"A death-bed Adieu. Th:J to MR," or Martha Randolph, his daughter:

Life's visions are vanished, it's dreams are no more.
Dear friends of my bosom, why bathed in tears?
I go to my fathers; I welcome the shore,
which crowns all my hopes, or which buries my cares.
Then farewell my dear, my lov'd daughter, Adieu!
The last pang in life is in parting from you.
Two Seraphs await me, long shrouded in death;
I will bear them your love on my last parting breath.

Jefferson stashed the verse in a small box, which he instructed Randolph to open after he had died.

4. "Sweet Lady, Awake! A Serenade." — John Tyler

Our 10th president often wrote poetry, penning verses when he was happy, when he was sad, and when he was going through periods of transition. "Sweet Lady, Awake! A Serenade" was written in 1843, when Tyler was president and wooing his second wife, Julia Gardiner:

Sweet lady awake, from your slumbers awake,
Weird beings we come o'er hill and through brake
To sing you a song in the stillness of night
Oh, read you our riddle fair lady aright?
We are sent by the one whose found heart is your own,
Who mourns in thy absence and sighs all alone.
Alas, he is distant—but tho' far, far away,
He thinks of you, Lady, by night and by day.
Sweet lady awake, sweet lady awake!

His hearth, altho' lonely, is bright with your fame,
And therefore we breathe not the breath of his name.
For oh! if your dreams have response in your tone,
Long since have you known it as well as your own.
We are things of the sea, of the earth, and the air,
But ere you again to your pillow repair,
Entrust us to say you gave ear to our strain,
And were he the minstrel you would listen again.
Sweet lady awake, sweet lady awake!

Julia, 30 years younger than Tyler, set the poem to music after the pair were married.

5. "A Poem Against the Tories" — James Madison

Madison wrote three poems in the early 1770s, when he was attending the College of New Jersey (aka Princeton). According to the Library of Congress, the pieces were "written as part of a paper war between the American Whig Society and the Cliosophian Society" and were "recorded along with sixteen other American Whig Society satirical pieces in a notebook copy by [Madison's friend] William Bradford." Madison—a Whig—called one "A Poem Against the Tories":

Of late our muse keen satire drew
And humourous thoughts in vollies flew
Because we took our foes for men
Who might deserve a decent pen
A gross mistake with brutes we fight
And [goblins?] from the realms of night
Where Spring & Craig lay down their heads
Sometimes a goat steps on the pump
Which animates old Warford's trunk
Sometimes a poisonous toad appears
Which Eckley's yellows carcuss bears
And then to grace us with a bull
Forsooth they show McOrkles skull
And that the Ass may not escape
He take the poet Laureat's shape
The screech owl too comes in the train
Which leap'd from Alexander's brain
Just as he scratch'd his grisly head
Which people say is made of lead.
Come noble whigs, disdain these sons
Of screech owls, monkeys, & baboons
Keep up you[r] minds to humourous themes
And verdant meads & flowing streams
Untill this tribe of dunces find
The baseness of their grovelling mind
And skulk within their dens together
Where each ones stench will kill his brother;
J.M.

6. "Considering the Void" — Jimmy Carter

In 1995, former president Jimmy Carter published a book of 44 poems called Always a Reckoning, and Other Poems. He recites "Considering the Void" in the video above.

7. "Underground" — Barack Obama

When he was 19, our current president published two poems in Feast, the literary magazine of Occidental College—one about his grandfather, called "Pop," and another called "Underground":

Under water grottos, caverns
Filled with apes
That eat figs.
Stepping on the figs
That the apes
Eat, they crunch.
The apes howl, bare
Their fangs, dance,
Tumble in the
Rushing water,
Musty, wet pelts
Glistening in the blue.

8. "The Hour-Glass" — John Quincy Adams

John Quincy Adams was a great lover of poetry; he read it, wrote it, and translated it from other languages into English. After he died in 1848, his verses were published in Poems of Religion and Society, including "The Hour-Glass":

Alas! how swift the moments fly!
How flash the years along!
Scarce here, yet gone already by,
The burden of a song.
See childhood, youth, and manhood pass,
And age, with furrowed brow;
Time was—Time shall be—drain the glass—
But where in Time is now?

Time is the measure but of change;
No present hour is found;
The past, the future, fill the range
Of Time's unceasing round.
Where, then, is now? In realms above,
With God's atoning Lamb,
In regions of eternal love,
Where sits enthroned I AM.

Then, pilgrim, let thy joys and tears
On Time no longer lean;
But henceforth all thy hopes and fears
From earth's affections wean:
To God let votive accents rise;
With truth, with virtue, live;
So all the bliss that Time denies
Eternity shall give.

9. "I love your back, I love your breasts" — Warren G. Harding

By most accounts, Warren G. Harding was not a great president. But he was an excellent author of dirty poetry and letters, which he sent to his mistress, Carrie Phillips:

I love your back, I love your breasts
Darling to feel, where my face rests,
I love your skin, so soft and white,
So dear to feel and sweet to bite....
I love your poise of perfect thighs,
When they hold me in paradise....

"Jerry ... told me to say that you are the best and darlingest in the world," he wrote to Phillips in 1915, when he was a senator, "and if he could have but one wish, it would be to be held in your darling embrace and be thrilled by your pink lips that convey the surpassing rapture of human touch and the unspeakable joy of love’s surpassing embrace." Jerry, by the way, was Harding's nickname for his penis.

You can read more of Harding's letters to Phillips, which recently became public, here, and enjoy Last Week Tonight host John Oliver's hilarious take on the letters here.

AND ONE THAT WASN'T

Woodrow Wilson loved limericks, and was so fond of reciting one in particular—which starts "For beauty I am not a star"—that he was often credited with writing it. But in fact, the poem was written by Anthony Euwer in 1917.

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science
6 Radiant Facts About Irène Joliot-Curie
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Though her accomplishments are often overshadowed by those of her parents, the elder daughter of Marie and Pierre Curie was a brilliant researcher in her own right.

1. SHE WAS BORN TO, AND FOR, GREATNESS.

A black and white photo of Irene and Marie Curie in the laboratory in 1925.
Irène and Marie in the laboratory, 1925.
Wellcome Images, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 4.0

Irène’s birth in Paris in 1897 launched what would become a world-changing scientific dynasty. A restless Marie rejoined her loving husband in the laboratory shortly after the baby’s arrival. Over the next 10 years, the Curies discovered radium and polonium, founded the science of radioactivity, welcomed a second daughter, Eve, and won a Nobel Prize in Physics. The Curies expected their daughters to excel in their education and their work. And excel they did; by 1925, Irène had a doctorate in chemistry and was working in her mother’s laboratory.

2. HER PARENTS' MARRIAGE WAS A MODEL FOR HER OWN.

Like her mother, Irène fell in love in the lab—both with her work and with another scientist. Frédéric Joliot joined the Curie team as an assistant. He and Irène quickly bonded over shared interests in sports, the arts, and human rights. The two began collaborating on research and soon married, equitably combining their names and signing their work Irène and Frédéric Joliot-Curie.

3. SHE AND HER HUSBAND WERE AN UNSTOPPABLE PAIR.

Black and white photo of Irène and Fréderic Joliot-Curie working side by side in their laboratory.
Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Their passion for exploration drove them ever onward into exciting new territory. A decade of experimentation yielded advances in several disciplines. They learned how the thyroid gland absorbs radioiodine and how the body metabolizes radioactive phosphates. They found ways to coax radioactive isotopes from ordinarily non-radioactive materials—a discovery that would eventually enable both nuclear power and atomic weaponry, and one that earned them the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1935.

4. THEY FOUGHT FOR JUSTICE AND PEACE.

The humanist principles that initially drew Irène and Frédéric together only deepened as they grew older. Both were proud members of the Socialist Party and the Comité de Vigilance des Intellectuels Antifascistes (Vigilance Committee of Anti-Fascist Intellectuals). They took great pains to keep atomic research out of Nazi hands, sealing and hiding their research as Germany occupied their country, Irène also served as undersecretary of state for scientific research of the Popular Front government.

5. SHE WAS NOT CONTENT WITH THE STATUS QUO.

Irène eventually scaled back her time in the lab to raise her children Hélène and Pierre. But she never slowed down, nor did she stop fighting for equality and freedom for all. Especially active in women’s rights groups, she became a member of the Comité National de l'Union des Femmes Françaises and the World Peace Council.

6. SHE WORKED HERSELF TO DEATH.

Irène’s extraordinary life was a mirror of her mother’s. Tragically, her death was, too. Years of watching radiation poisoning and cancer taking their toll on Marie never dissuaded Irène from her work. In 1956, dying of leukemia, she entered the Curie Hospital, where she followed her mother’s luminous footsteps into the great beyond.

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Live Smarter
You Can Now Order Food Through Facebook
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After a bit of controversy over its way of aggregating news feeds and some questionable content censoring policies, it’s nice to have Facebook roll out a feature everyone can agree on: allowing you to order food without leaving the social media site.

According to a press release, Facebook says that the company decided to begin offering food delivery options after realizing that many of its users come to the social media hub to rate and discuss local eateries. Rather than hop from Facebook to the restaurant or a delivery service, you’ll be able to stay within the app and select from a menu of food choices. Just click “Order Food” from the Explore menu on a desktop interface or under the “More” option on Android or iOS devices. There, you’ll be presented with options that will accept takeout or delivery orders, as well as businesses participating with services like Delivery.com or EatStreet.

If you need to sign up and create an account with Delivery.com or Jimmy John’s, for example, you can do that without leaving Facebook. The feature is expected to be available nationally, effective immediately.

[h/t Forbes]

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