Who’s Afraid of Poetry?

Apparently, demagogues.

That, at least, is the message sent by the new administration, which broke a fifty year run of poetry at the inaugural.

Of course it was probably difficult to find a poet worth her salt to versify Trump’s coronation.


Still, it would have been easy to pull an appropriate poem from the canon.

A particularly apropos work would be Yeats’ “The Second Coming.”

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

A bit dramatic?

Consider the following:

  • every mention of climate change and LGBT rights was deleted from the White House web page, right at noon, when the new administration took over.
  • Trump’s America First Foreign Policy page opens with the Orwellian line “Peace through strength will be at the center of that foreign policy” (Orwell’s version? “War is Peace; Freedom is Slavery; Ignorance is Strength”).
  • The exaggerations of his inauguration speech: “You came by the tens of millions [600,000] to become part of a historic movement the likes of which the world has never seen before.”
  • And the free speech chilling “We must speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity.”

We have a clear view of the beast . . . and innocence has certainly been drowned.

The prophetic lines: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity,” are sadly too familiar.

Surprisingly, no one recited this poem today.

And that’s a shame because poetry has the power to move people, even unconsciously, as William Carlos Williams notes in “Of Asphodel, That Greeny Flower”:

                                  It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there

The nation died a bit on this inauguration day.

But it will, like the weeds in Williams’ “Spring and All,” “grip down and begin to awaken.”

Poetry: if you can’t handle it, you can’t handle the truth.


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