Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Inaugural Poetic Justice?

John F. Kennedy was the first president to inculcate a poem as part of the inaugural observance. His choice as poet in 1961 was Robert Frost, then age 87, a man of letters with few peers. The theme of that inaugural could have been “A New Beginning,” since Kennedy, a WWII veteran, was young and was replacing a much older man, Dwight Eisenhower, a top WWII general and former head of NATO.

The inaugural theme on 21 January this year seemed to be “The Year of the Homosexual.” To celebrate this approach, the poet chosen by Obama was Richard Blanco, a homosexual, who read his poem just prior to the benediction, given by a clergyman, Luis Leon, who was a second choice for that task, the first choice, Louie Giglio, having been disinvited account his remarks in a presentation many years ago indicating the connection between homosexuality and sin.

Giglio had been invited in large part due to his fight against human trafficking. Leon is known for performing marriages between homosexuals, never mind the Defense of Marriage Act, which the president has vowed publicly not to enforce, or the laws and Constitutions of the vast majority of states that mandate marriage as between a man and woman. The president had the opposite view in 2009, upholding the DOM, but has “evolved.”

An aside: The military bands saved the day musically. The vocalists were far out of their milieu, singing music for which they seemed to have had no training. The lady who sang the national anthem rewrote both tune and rhythm, thus challenging the band and creating a sort of national sacrilege that seems more and more to mark the nation itself.

Frost’s early published poems seem to have been marked by consistent rhyme and rhythm, while much of his later work, though not exclusively, was more like Blanco’s – rhyme-less and relatively unstructured. This reminds, actually, of short essays broken into lines, with or without punctuation. Structured poetry is far more demanding than this type.

For the inaugural, Frost reverted to strict rhyme and rhythm and ended his poem with these words:

"There is a call to life a little sterner,
And braver for the earner, learner, yearner.
Less criticism of the field and court
And more preoccupation with the sport.
It makes the prophet in us all presage
The glory of a next Augustan age
Of a power leading from its strength and pride,
Of young ambition eager to be tried,
Firm in our free beliefs without dismay,
In any game the nations want to play.
A golden age of poetry and power
Of which this noonday's the beginning hour."

Frost was concerned that people be about their business, being anything but victims, real or imagined, and daring any nation to “take us on.” The direction was ever onward and the devil take the hindmost. This runs counter to the nation’s direction currently, in which victim-hood is practically glorified and the course of least resistance, such as just printing money, is followed, i.e., an almost total lack of spine. Frost, who sired a large family and endured tragedies such as the deaths of children, died in 1963. He would likely have been horrified at the current state of affairs, with little hope evidenced by this administration.

Blanco, at 44, is about half Frost’s age and, of course, has a totally dissimilar background. This is how he finished his poem:

"We head home: through the gloss of rain or weight
of snow, or the plum blush of dusk, but always—home,
always under one sky, our sky. And always one moon
like a silent drum tapping on every rooftop
and every window, of one country—all of us—
facing the stars
hope—a new constellation
waiting for us to map it,
Waiting for us to name it—together."

It’s highly doubtful that Blanco spoke for “all of us,” especially in the sort of melancholy of the words. We hope while things wait to be done? This seems to be what’s happening now. Neither president nor Congress is doing much more than waiting…or waiting each other out…as the nation continues to slide morally, as seen in this inauguration’s theme, and in more tangible ways, domestically and internationally, in the process losing its “exclusiveness” and sinking to the lowest common denominator of the nations. More’s the pity.

And so it goes.
Jim Clark

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