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The Power of Words

We’re hurt, angry, confused, sad. Where do we turn to make sense of what’s happened — and to move forward? To poets, songwriters, philosophers, and historical figures. Add your favorite quote here.

In the face of pain and despair, people often turn to music and literature for solace and inspiration.

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During the past week, many Fast Company readers have shared with us their favorite verses, quotes, songs, and pieces of scripture. We invite you now to share those words of solace with a wider audience in Sound Off below.

Harriet Rubin

Fast Company senior writer

One of the most famous eulogies for the dead was delivered by the Athenian general Pericles. In it, he conferred immortality on a new kind of hero, not an epic hero — a general like himself — but on the everyday Athenian soldier who lived in service of the city. It was Pericles’s praise for the fallen that Lincoln was thinking about as he struggled to compose the Gettysburg Address.

“They gave their lives for the common good and thereby won for themselves the praise that never grows old and the most distinguished of all graves, not those in which they lie, but where their glory remains in eternal memory, always there at the right time to inspire speech and action. For the whole earth is the tomb of famous men; not only are they commemorated by columns and inscriptions in their own country, but in foreign lands there dwells also an unwritten memorial of them, graven not on stone but in the hearts of men. Make them your examples, and, esteeming courage to be freedom and freedom to be happiness, do not shrink from the perils of war.”
— Pericles

John Ellis

Fast Company contributing editor

“The Martyr”
by Herman Melville
(written upon the death of Abraham Lincoln)

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There is sobbing of the strong,
And a pall upon the land;
But the People in their weeping
Bare the iron hand;
Beware the People weeping
When they bare the iron hand.

James LaBelle

Fast Company production director

One of the most inspirational songs in a time like this is “Fire and Rain” by James Taylor. For boomers like myself, it resonates. We played it at a good friend’s funeral when it was first a hit in December 1970. My friend was 16. I listened to it yesterday, and it was really appropriate.

William Taylor

Fast Company founding editor

Last Christmas, at a surprise concert in Asbury Park, Bruce Springsteen played a new song — a hymn, really — about economic despair called “My City of Ruins.” Read in light of Tuesday’s attack, the lyrics are pretty overwhelming.

“My City of Ruins”
by Bruce Springsteen

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There’s a blood red circle
on the cold dark ground
and the rain is falling down
The church doors blown open
I can hear the organ’s song
But the congregation’s gone

My city of ruins
My city of ruins

Now the sweet veils of mercy
drift through the evening trees
Young men on the corner
like scattered leaves
The bordered up windows
The hustlers and thieves
While my brother’s down on his knees

My city of ruins
My city of ruins

Come on rise up!
Come on rise up!

Now there’s tears on the pillow
darling where we slept
and you took my heart when you left
without your sweet kiss
my soul is lost, my friend
Now tell me how do I begin again?

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My city’s in ruins
My city’s in ruins

Now with these hands
I pray Lord
with these hands
for the strength Lord
with these hands
for the faith Lord
with these hands
I pray Lord
with these hands
for the strength Lord
with these hands
for the faith Lord
with these hands

Come on rise up!
Come on rise up!
Rise up

Anni Layne Rodgers

Senior Web editor

As my tears turn to venom, I find that music expresses my anger with greater poise and poignancy than I could possibly muster. The two songs below, both covered on rare and solemn occasions by Pearl Jam, have been circulating through my RealPlayer this week. Following are a few lines that bring pause.

“Masters of War”
by Bob Dylan

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You’ve thrown the worst fear
That can ever be hurled
Fear to bring children
Into the world
For threatening my baby
Unborn and unnamed
You ain’t worth the blood
That runs in your veins

“I am a Patriot”
by Little Steven

I ain’t no communist
And I ain’t no capitalist
And I ain’t no socialist
And I ain’t no imperialist
And I ain’t no democrat
And I ain’t no republican
I only know one party
And it is freedom

Rebecca Rees

Fast Company senior designer

“Keeping Quiet”
by Pablo Neruda

And now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still

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For once on the face of the earth
Let’s not speak in any language,
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines,
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas,
wars with fire,
victory with no survivors, would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
(Life is what it is about,
I want no truck with death.)

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing, perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.

Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.

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Now I’ll count up to twelve,
and you keep quiet and I will go.

Christine Canabou

Fast Company staff writer

My friend, Patrick Ryll, wrote the following poem in response to last week’s tragedy. His inspiration was “The Waste Land,” by T.S. Eliot.

“September 11th”
by Patrick Ryll

The clockwork morning of Manhattan
Fell to terrible orange
Inferno red, black,
And death,
Stretching its lacerated limbs,
awoke

From the eastern sky
On the wings of a hijacked deity
Geography and oceans vanished
Smelted into a single heap of dust
And Technicolor unreality.

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Falling towers
Predicted by Eliot
Who, in cruel April,
Understood: “Unreal”
The same sentiment uttered by exhausted fireman
In the belly of the blast furnace
Amid the monotone of Peter Jennings.

The laws of chemistry
Pressure, heat, thermodynamics
Brought commerce to its knees
And while she gasped,
To her defense came proud America.
But also the gangs of ignorant men,
Weaned on the mentality of lynch mobs,
Calling in bomb threats to mosques
And clamoring for the destruction
Of American children
Tainted with the blood of Arabia.

Metal detectors
Outfoxed by medieval steel
America
Pummeled into paralysis
Crumpling as foreign markets
Imitating their CEO
Followed suit.
While something like fake snow
Rained down upon Wall Street
Parching exposed throats with asbestos
And the taste of burning flesh
Throughout the chaos
The nightmares of taxis
Watched as the eyes of cameras wept.

We all called our mothers
In Seattle and Beijing
To make sure that somehow
They were not trapped under the rubble
In a city they had never visited
Stranger things have happened — this morning
Businessmen
Falling like toy soldiers
Into the broken arms of history.

In a nameless bar in Chicago
I heard a man ask a friend
If he had heard the one about Hollywood
Being one-upped and out-budgeted,
In the disaster picture show they gave birth to,
By the deep pockets
Of religion.

Now fury,
Sprung from sadness,
Has risen up in the breasts of all of us
Mad hearts
Calling for parking lot paving
Of Afghanistan
Pakistan — A hobbling Uncle Sam, blindly cavorting
Into a world he doesn’t understand
And does not care to.

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This was a shot through the stars and stripes
And through the protected hearts of mothers in Omaha
And through the thermos cups of blue collar Packers fans
And through the cathedral calm of pastors in Indiana
And through the Pokeman dreams of 5th graders
And through the arrogant lofty heights scaled by brokers
Who, when escape failed them,
Gravity did not

And now we try to stand
And the citizen will attach flags to doorsteps
And the soldier will attach bayonets to weapons
And the politician will attach blame to dissenters
And the victims will attach their bodies to earth
While the rest of the world
Tries to reattach
The pieces
Of shattered peace.

Polly LaBarre

Fast Company senior editor

“The Peace of Wild Things”
by Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

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