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Mark Twain’s Best Writing Was Not Funny

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Estimated reading time: 3 minute(s)

Warm Summer Sun … Shine Kindly Here

Photo courtesy of Phillipp Klinger

Mark Twain was born Samuel Longhorne Clemens on November 30, 1835. He’s known worldwide for his satirical, incisive and humorous writing. Drop-down, rollover funny. But real. Authentic. True-to-life characters . My favorite — the lesser known but illustrious intellectual, Puddin’ Head Wilson.

“Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example.” – Puddin’ Head Wilson

Mark Twain knew words like no other. He knew the power, the majesty, the sophisticated eloquence of just the right word.

The difference between the almost right word & the right word is really a large matter–it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning. – Mark Twain letter to George Bainton, 10/15/1888

Though famous worldwide, Twain’s life was also chock full of misery and personal adversity. His business ventures always seemed to go awry;

“I was seldom able to see an opportunity until it had ceased to be one.” – Mark Twain

After multiple investments went bad in the 1890’s, Twain was forced into bankruptcy. He went on a worldwide lecture tour to earn money to pay back his debts. While on this tour his beloved daughter, Olivia Susan “Susy” Clemens, died at the age of twenty-four from meningitis.

It destroyed him.

CUT IN STONE

I think I’ve read everything Mark Twain ever wrote. Maybe you have too. But when I came upon the poem Mark Twain engraved on Susy’s headstone, I knew there was no better. Ever.

And they weren’t even his words.

Warm summer sun
shine kindly here;
Warm southern wind
blow softly here;
Green sod above
Lie light, lie light-
Good night, dear heart,
good night, good night.

Mark Twain understood words. Their greatness. Their ability to express an unendurable sorrow. To reveal a timeless love so it glittered with heavenly evanescence.

The words above are an excerpt (slightly altered by Twain) from an obscure poem called “Annette,” written by Robert Richardson, published in 1893.

WORDS

Just words.

They can make you laugh – or make you cry.

Engage or enrage.

Create heroes or demons.

Memorialize life … or death.

They can transport you to other worlds, other times, other places.

In 100 years from now … when green sod lies above, when there is no one left to mourn for you, will something you have said or done, be spoken or written in words so simple, yet unforgettable?

Will you be remembered like a “Hero Going Home?”

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