On a Prayer and a Poem – A Storm Coming & Rendezvous With Death
By William Kelly (Billkelly3@gmail.com)
James Douglas, in a speech at the Dallas Coalition On Political Assassinations (COPA) annual conference in Dallas in November 2009, discussed the concept of plausible deniability, and echoed many of the thoughts from his important and increasingly significant book JFK – Why He Died And Why It Matters (2009). (1)
Douglas mentioned two small but telling incidents about President Kennedy that reflect on his personality and convictions, one a prayer, The Storm Coming, and the other a poem, Rendezvous With Death. [For complete text of speech or to see and hear on Youtube see Note (2).]
In his talk James Douglas said: ….Late at night on the June 5, 1961, plane flight back to Washington from his Vienna meeting with Nikita Khrushchev, a weary President Kennedy wrote down on a slip of paper, as he was about to fall asleep, a favorite saying of his from Abraham Lincoln – really a prayer. Presidential secretary Evelyn Lincoln discovered the slip of paper on the floor. On it she read the words: “I know there is a God – and I see a storm coming. If he has a place for me, I believe that I am ready.”
Kennedy loved that prayer. He cited it repeatedly. More important, he made the prayer his own. In his conflicts with Khrushchev, then more profoundly with the CIA and the military, he had seen a storm coming. If God had a place for him, he believed that he was ready.
For at least a decade, JFK’s favorite poem had been Rendezvous, a celebration of death. Rendezvous was by Alan Seeger, an American poet killed in World War One. The poem was Seeger’s affirmation of his own anticipated death. [For Seeger bio see: (3)]
The refrain of Rendezvous, “I have a rendezvous with Death,” articulated John Kennedy’s deep sense of his own mortality. Kennedy had experienced a continuous rendezvous with death in anticipation of his actual death: from the deaths of his PT boat crew members, from drifting alone in the dark waters of the Pacific Ocean, from the early deaths of his brother Joe and sister Kathleen, and from the recurring near-death experiences of his almost constant illnesses.
He recited Rendezvous to his wife, Jacqueline, in 1953 on their first night home in Hyannis after their honeymoon. She memorized the poem, and recited it back to him over the years. In the fall of 1963, Jackie taught the words of the poem to their five-year-old daughter, Caroline.
I have thought many times about what then took place in the White House Rose Garden one beautiful fall day.
On the morning of October 5, 1963, President Kennedy met with his National Security Council in the Rose Garden. Caroline suddenly appeared at her father’s side. She said she wanted to tell him something. He tried to divert her attention while the meeting continued. Caroline persisted. The president smiled and turned his full attention to his daughter. He told her to go ahead. While the members of the National Security Council sat and watched, Caroline looked into her father’s eyes and said:
I have a rendezvous with Death
At some disputed barricade,
When Spring comes back with rustling shade
And apple-blossoms fill the air –
I have a rendezvous with Death
When Spring brings back blue days and fair.
It may be he shall take my hand
And lead me into his dark land
And close my eyes and quench my breath –
It may be I shall pass him still.
I have a rendezvous with Death
On some scarred slope of battered hill,
When Spring comes round again this year
And the first meadow-flowers appear.
God knows ‘twere better to be deep
Pillowed in silk and scented down,
Where love throbs out in blissful sleep,
Pulse nigh to pulse, and breath to breath,
Where hushed awakenings are dear….
But I’ve a rendezvous with Death
At midnight in some flaming town,
When Spring trips north again this year,
And I to my pledged word am true,
I shall not fail that rendezvous.
After Caroline said the poem’s final word, “rendezvous,” Kennedy’s national security advisers sat in stunned silence. One of them said later the bond between father and daughter was so deep “it was as if there was ‘an inner music’ he was trying to teach her.”
JFK had heard his own acceptance of death from the lips of his daughter. While surrounded by a National Security Council that opposed his breakthrough to peace, the president once again deepened his pledge not to fail that rendezvous. If God had a place for him, he believed that he was ready.
So how can the why of his murder give us hope?….
The official public record, the White House Diary for October 5, 1962 does not even reflect that that meeting took place, but it most certainly did, and the primary topic of conversation was most certainly Cuba, in particular Clare Booth Luce’s critical commentary that appeared in the issue of Life Magazine that was released that day. (4).
The gathering storm that was surely coming was clearly centered around Cuba, but the Cuban Missile Crisis, as it would become known, and take the world to the brink of nuclear destruction, had yet to acquire a name. In the days and weeks that followed however, the President’s faith and powers would be tested to the max.(5).
That same day, October 5, 1962, a chart was prepared of reconnaissance targets in Cuba for the CIA’s U2s to photograph (6.), for analysis by the National Photo Interpretation Center (NPIC) after the resumption of flights, as discussed that same day by CIA director John McCone and National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy. (7.)
After the Bay of Pigs, which brought fiasco into the popular vernacular, the Cuban Missile Crisis was the second major crisis of the Kennedy administration, and a critical buildup to the June 10, 1963 “Peace Speech” at American University, when Kennedy laid out his plans for a peaceful future for all man, but one that was not to be allowed to happen.
Kennedy met his fate on Friday, November 22, 1963 at 12:30 pm, just after high noon on a Dealey Plaza, Dallas, Texas street, gunned down by lone sniper, later identified as Lee Harvey Oswald.
There is still marked today a spot on the street where the lives of President John F. Kennedy and his reputed assassin Harvey Oswald came together, intersecting at a very specific time and place, and it is only from an examination of their lives is it possible to really understand how and why Dealey Plaza happened.
Of course, if Lee Harvey Oswald was a psychotic madman, a homicidal maniac spree killer who acted without meaning or motive, none of it would make sens. There would be no connection whatsoever between the two now historic lines that were left in the wake of their lives, other than they coincidently intersected at that time and place.
Was the rendezvous at Dealey Plaza a chance, spontaneous, tragic, coincendental accident of history, or was it planned to happen in advance? Was the President killed by a Texas Yahoo nutcase, giving his death no meaning or cause, or was he the victim of a conspiracy that makes him a martyr?
End Part I
1) JFK & the Unspeakable – Why He Died And Why It Matters (2009) http://www.amazon.com/JFK-Unspeakable-Why-Died-Matters/dp/1570757550
Complete text of James Douglas’ Dallas COPA speech http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/sea
Video of James Douglas’ Dallas COPA speech http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:1rEwJBTfOJIJ:www.oilempire.us/jfkunspeakable.html+Rendezvous+with+Death+JFK&cd=19&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us
3) Alen Seeger Bio http://www.poemhunter.com/alan-seeger/biography/
Seeger was born in to parents from old New England families. Seeger’s family lived on Staten Island for ten years of his life before moving to in 1900. He lived in Mexico at an impressionable age and this had a decisive impact on his
At age fourteen he returned to New York for education at the Hackley School in Tarrytown. He then went to Harvard College in 1906. He became one of the editors of Harvard Monthly and contributed verse regularly.
From 1910 to 1912 he lived aimlessly in New York before moving to . He became very fond of Paris and, just after the outbreak of the World War One, he enlisted in the French Foreign Legion. He served in the trenches on the western front and enjoyed the time on sentry duty for quiet contemplation. During the Battle of the Somme he was severely wounded when advancing on the German lines. He died shortly afterwards and was posthumously awarded the Croix de Guerre and the Medaille Militaire.
Allen Seeger reading his poem Rendezvous
4) Clare Booth Luce on the Cuban Problem Cuba and the Unfaced Truth – Our Global Double Blind. October 5, 1962, p. 53. http://books.google.com/books?id=eVUEAAAAMBAJ&pg=PP1&lpg=PP1&dq=October+5,+1962+Clare+Booth+Luce+Life+Cuba&source=bl&ots=9ktbTUdUq8&sig=7gIbx2UpB6WTU9Ha8B4f4BeUQAY&hl=en&ei=ON82TOHnJYL48Abz-ozWAw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=7&ved=0CDwQ6AEwBg – v=onepage&q&f=false
5) Cuban Missile Crisis http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/nsa/cuba_mis_cri/photos.htm
6) October 5, 1962 Chart of NPIC U2 Reconnaissance Objectives in Cuba http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/nsa/cuba_mis_cri/6.jpg
7) Cuban Missle Crisis Memorandum of Discussion With the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy) on October 5, 1962 http://avalon.law.yale.edu/20th_century/msc_cuba009.asp
Washington, October 5, 1962, 5:15 p.m.
1. McCone reviewed details of the Donovan negotiations, discussions with the President, Attorney General, Eisenhower, the decisions not to approach Congressional leadership, the discussion with Senator Javits, and the final report from Donovan. Bundy expressed general agreement.
2. At the October 4th meeting of the Special Group Mongoose(1) was discussed in some detail as was the meeting with Carter, Lansdale, et al. in DCI’s office on that day. McCone stated there was a feeling in CIA and Defense that the “activist policy” which founded the Mongoose operation was gone and that while no specific operational activities had been (refused) the amount of “noise”from minor incidents such as the sugar, the students firing on the Havana Hotel and other matters and the extreme caution expressed by State had led to this conclusion. More importantly, however, the decisions to restrict U-2 flights had placed the United States Intelligence Community in a position where it could not report with assurance the development of offensive capabilities in Cuba. McCone stated he felt it most probable that Soviet-Castro operations would end up with an established offensive capability in Cuba including MRBMs. McCone stated he thought this a probability rather than a mere possibility. Bundy took issue stating that he felt the Soviets would not go that far, that he was satisfied that no offensive capability would be installed in Cuba because of its world-wide effects and therefore seemed relaxed over the fact that the Intelligence Community cannot produce hard information on this important subject. McCone said that Bundy’s viewpoint was reflected by many in the Intelligence Community, perhaps a majority, but he just did not agree and furthermore did not think the United States could afford to take such a risk.
3. Bundy then philosophized on Cuba stating that he felt that our policy was not clear, our objectives not determined and therefore our efforts were not productive. He discussed both the Mongoose operations and the Rostow “Track Two”.(2) Bundy was not critical of either or of the Lansdale operations. It was obvious that he was not in sympathy with a more active role such as those discussed at 5412 on Thursday(3) as he felt none of them would bring Castro down nor would they particularly enhance U.S. position of world leadership. Bundy seemed inclined to support the Track Two idea and also inclined (though he was not specific) to play down the more active Lansdale operation. Bundy had not talked to Lansdale but obviously had received some of the “static” that is being passed around in Washington. (Before) McCone in reporting on the discussions at Thursday’s 5412 meeting repeated the views of the President and expressed by the Attorney General it was agreed that the whole Government policy with reference to Cuba must be resolved promptly as basic to further actions on our part. In general, Bundy’s views were that we should either make a judgment that we would have to go in militarily (which seemed to him intolerable) or alternatively we would have to learn to live with Castro, and his Cuba and adjust our policies accordingly…..