Thursday, September 11, 2008

Bartlett pears of romance that were honey at the cores

It will give entirely the wrong impression if I *don’t* put up a Palin post of my own. For I am so very pleased, that whatever happens from one moment to the next, I can instantly cheer myself up by reminding myself who the Republican vice-presidential nominee is. I intend, of course, to keep chiming in rationally and analytically on Marco’s blog and Lexifab’s blog. But here, I am afraid I intend to give way to foolish emoting.

Since I heard the news, on one of the great motorways of south-east Queensland, I have had Vachel Lindsay’s poem ‘Bryan, Bryan, Bryan, Bryan’ running through my head. I don’t think I am the only one, either.

(If you can’t think offhand who Vachel Lindsay was, he wrote ‘The Congo’, some of the less politically-incorrect bits of which you will have heard chanted by the lads in ‘Dead Poets’ Society’ as they galumph through the forest beating a drum in the dead of night.)

I know I just posted a quote- with which I entirely agree- about the folly and evil of submerging oneself in the collective, but what I am going to do now amounts to giving voice to my tribal identity. One of my tribal identities, anyway. This is no identity as philosophically coherent as a Catholic identity or a small-government identity, but almost entirely a 'young-Western-state-of-wide-open-spaces' identity. What I am going to do is put up big slabs of the first, cheerful, triumphalist, part of Vachel Lindsay’s poem, and it will be obvious which words need to be replaced to bring it up to date. Here goes!

‘In a nation of one hundred fine, mob-hearted, relenting, repenting millions,
There are plenty of sweeping, swinging, stinging, gorgeous things to shout about,
And knock your old blue devils out.’

[Three may scan as well as one…]

‘There were truths eternal in the gab and tittle-tattle.
There were real heads broken in the fustian and the rattle.
There were real lines drawn,
Not the silver and the gold,
But Nebraska’s cry went eastward against the dour and old,
The mean and cold.’


‘Against the towns of Tubal Cain,
Ah,- sharp was their song.
Against the ways of Tubal Cain, too cunning for the young, the longhorn calf, the buffalo and wampus gave tongue.

These creatures were defending things Mark Hanna never dreamed:
The moods of airy childhood that in desert dews gleamed,
The gossamers and whimsies,
The monkeyshines and didoes
Rank and strange
Of the canyons and the range,
The ultimate fantastics
Of the far western slope,
And of prairie schooner children
Born beneath the stars,
Beneath falling snows,
Of the babies born at midnight
In the sod huts of lost hope,
With no physician there,
Except a Kansas prayer,
With the Indian raid a howling through the air.

And all these in their helpless days
By the dour East oppressed
Mean paternalism
Making their mistakes for them,
Crucifying half the West,
Till the whole Atlantic coast
Seemed a giant spiders’ nest.’

[Easy enough to replace Mark with Joe!]

‘And these children with their sons
At last rode through the cactus,
A cliff of mighty cowboys
On the lope,
With gun and rope.
And all the way to frightened Maine the old East heard them call,
And saw our Bryan by a mile lead the wall
Of men and whirling flowers and beasts,
The bard and the prophet of them all.
Prairie avenger, mountain lion,
Bryan, Bryan, Bryan, Bryan,
Gigantic troubadour, speaking like a siege gun,
Smashing Plymouth Rock with his boulders from the West,
And just a hundred miles behind, tornadoes piled across the sky,
Blotting out sun and moon,
A sign on high.

Headlong, dazed and blinking in the weird green light,
The scalawags made moan,
Afraid to fight.’

[Loud, loud is the moaning of the scalawags! I can’t think of anything for ‘mountain lion’ that scans at all well, alas, alack.]

‘Defying aristocracy,
With every bridle gone,
Ridding the world of the low down mean,
Bidding the eagles of the West fly on,
Bidding the eagles of the West fly on,’

[Bidding the eagles of the West fly on! Bidding the eagles of the West fly on!

Of course, it may still all end in tears:]

‘Defeat of the aspen groves of Colorado valleys,
The blue bells of the Rockies,
And blue bonnets of old Texas,
By the Pittsburg alleys.
Defeat of alfalfa and the Mariposa lily.
Defeat of the Pacific and the long Mississippi.
Defeat of the young by the old and silly.
Defeat of tornadoes by the poison vats supreme.
Defeat of my boyhood, defeat of my dream.’

Emoting over. Normal service resumes.


Dave said...

That is a terrific poem.

So, Clam, can you identify *exactly* which decade it is that you wish you had been born? [grin>]

I am being a scallywag* perhaps, but you point to what I see as one of the key attractions to Palin and one of the great mysteries of the modern US political - the idealisation of bold, independent, can-do-attitude old West, Manifest Destiny frontier-busting that hasn't had any founding in reality for at least a hundred years. The moose hunting and the snowmobiles and the high-powered rifles and the large family and the family flirtation with Alaskan independence (hee!)is all very appealing to US admiration for the frontier spirit. But it does rather have sod-all to do with one's ability to govern effectively!

Then again, the Republicans appear to believe (possibly correctly, though I find the prospect dismal) that they need only present compelling personalities rather than a candidate with a command of important issues and such.

* I denounce as risible the spelling provided in the otherwise excellent doggerel preceding.

Dr. Clam said...

Link to whole poem here.

I do, I do agree that this Western frontier spirit thing is one of her key attractions! ...and one that I am powerfully susceptible to, for good or evil.

...the Republicans appear to believe (possibly correctly, though I find the prospect dismal) that they need only present compelling personalities rather than a candidate with a command of important issues and such.

I would agree, with the important proviso that the word 'Republicans' be replaced with 'Democrats'. (IMHO) The Republican primary was all about he candidate's positions on actual real-live issues important to the primary voters: the Democrat primary was all about personalities and identity politics. This is not the opinion of the man-on-the-street only because personality and identity politics make better television, so we didn't hear anything about the substantive debates on immigration policy, trade liberalisation, etc., etc., among the Republican frontrunners.

At the risk of bogging myself in a tedious and unproductive partisan morass, there are two candidates in this US election who have had relatively short careers rising through local government politics to state politics in more-than-usually corrupt states and who have to get up to speed on a lot of important issues. One rose by fighting the system; one rose by accommodating himself to it. For the past few years, one has been a wildly popular Governor achieving actual achievements; the other has been running for President.

[Case in point, and I can't remember if I've mentioned it before, Obama's speech to a Jewish lobby group where he said he would recognise Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel. This is an elementary foreign policy mistake which had to be hurriedly retracted.]

As for the decade I wish I was born in, it is far, far, in the future, where genetically-modified monks with more gila monster than human in their DNA terraform new worlds, the dominant philosophies are compatible with science and decency, and crystal sages in nanoscopic megalopolises look back with pity and wonder at the incomprehensible flesher arguments of our age.

Marco said...

Sorry. I must be poetry-illiterate. Can someone explain to me the poem and the relevance to the US.

Dr. Clam said...

This is a poem about the US presidential election of 1896. You oughta read the whole poem, which I have linked to. It perfectly encapsulates the feeling I feel, of the 'Common Man' representing the wild, fantastic, decent, real, world of the bush against the faceless amoral grey bureaucrats of the cities. William Jennings Bryan was a Democrat, but the people who voted for him are exactly the same people who vote for the Republicans nowadays: then the Republicans were the party of the coastal elites, as the Democrats are today.
You shoud replace 'Nebr-' with 'Al-', 'Mark Hanna' with 'Joe Biden', 'Bryan' with 'Palin' and 'Mountain Lion' with something I haven't thought of yet that rhymes with 'Palin'. QED.

Dr. Clam said...

Here is a report on Obama's comment about Jerusalem in Haaretz, the left-wing Israeli paper of record. *No* US administration, no matter how much it is lambasted by its critics as being an overseas branch of Likud, has said anything remotely similar. You don't need to know anything deep about foreign affairs to know saying such a thing is stupid: you only need to read the World News pages of the newspaper once a month or so. I was shocked when I heard that Obama had said this, because it means that either he is utterly clueless on foreign policy, or he is prepared to say anything to get elected.
Parenthetically, the best thing about reading the Israeli papers online is that the commenters are always such utter loons that the people who comment on newspaper websites in our country seem sane and articulate in comparison.

Dr. Clam said...

Hey, I is plugged into the Zeitgeist!

Marco said...

Do you know where that blog comment where we contrasted the electoral mathematics between Aus and the US? I was going to link it for lexifab but I couldn't find it.

Dr. Clam said...

I can't remember, Marco- was it on one of yours, or one of mine? I will try to remember how we got started and have a look around.

Marco said...

I thought it may have been in the run-up to the 07 election. However, I haven't come up with anything still.

Dr. Clam said...

Is this? the comments thread you're looking for?

Marco said...

Yep - I think that thread needs an entry of its own.

Marco said...