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Keep the spot sore!
Ahoy hoy! Sibilance! Sibilance!
The editors of Harriet have kindly invited me to join their merry band, and I’m honored to be here. Scared, too, though, that I won’t have much of interest to say. I guess we’ll find out. I may be posting snapshots of my tomato plants before my hitch is up.
Earlier this week was Sovereignty Day, and today is Independence Day. To celebrate, please turn off your computer and go eat some ice cream in a park. Come back and read the rest of this tomorrow.
I don’t yet have a favorite Sovereignty Day poem-seems a bit premature-but I do have a favorite Independence Day poem: “Shine, Republic” (1934), by Robinson Jeffers. (This poem is sometimes confused with an earlier, more famous poem by Jeffers called “Shine, Perishing Republic” (1925), which is one of his grimmest, which is saying something.)
After four straightforward stanzas celebrating America’s founding principle of freedom and tracing that principle back to the dawn of Western civilization, Jeffers delivers two far more ambiguous stanzas. They can easily be read as pure cynicism: Rather than let the torch of freedom burn brightly, we’ve hidden it beneath a hood and perched it on the wrist of a government which pretends to be a democracy but is in fact just another Ceasar-headed empire. We can go through the motions of voting and all that, pretend we’re different and special, but we’re as doomed as any other empire, and future states will look back on us and scorn us for failing to remain constant to our ideals and for falling into the torpor of luxury.
But there’s another edge to the imperatives of the poem’s title and its last stanza, too, I think. We may indeed not live up to our ideals, and we may indeed pass away into history as a result, but isn’t there a suggestion here as well that if we nevertheless “keep the tradition, conserve the forms,” we can at least hope that “states of the next age” will learn something from us, namely to “edge their love of freedom with contempt of luxury”?
A grim and grimly relevant poem in 1934 just as well as now, but perhaps it has some hope in it, too. Enjoy your 4th, and keep the spot sore!