“And think’st thou, Britain, still to sit at ease,
An island queen amidst thy subject seas,
While vext billows, in their distant roar,
But soothe thy slumbers, and but kiss thy shore?
To sport in wars, while danger keeps aloof,
Thy grassy turf unbruised by hostile hoof?
So sing thy flatterers;–but, Britain know,
Thou who hast shared the guilt must share the woe.
Nor distant is the hour; low murmurs spread,
And whispered fears, creating what they dread;”

(Barbauld, “Eighteen Hundred and Eleven”)

Each day a day passes and continually we are set at the foot of something new and unimaginable in its scope and origin. Each day we wake to some impossible lie that covers up an even more impossible truth. What imagined resistance could work in such cases? What understandable action can do anything but slightly console us individually? How can we identify a task when we have come to believe that a reasonable task is born out of an understandable outcome? Amidst the constant measuring of everything we take out our recycling. We wait for something we don’t believe will come, to come. Days pass and the past appears, not finite but resolute. There is little in trying that doesn’t seem foolish. Every attempt is awkward and every revolution somehow silly. The presumption or the attire. Each day we cover over the indignity of walking across our part of a country that is doing something far worse than failing. We long for a healthy spiritual companionship of kindness. Or, if that is too much, fortitude. To strike. To strike down. To be struck. But not to disappear. Not to float into any future where one may rest. Not to accept that shadowed life of only having been. As much as we search for the great secret of morals and as often as we may feel we have found it, we are left lacking by its enormous and actual promise, we are left wanting something far more immediate. So to lack and want and long aloud. So to struggle with what little we have. Of poetry I meant to read you this: “For the most unfailing herald, or companion, or follower, of an universal employment of the sentiments of a nation to the production of a beneficial change is poetry, meaning by poetry an intense and impassioned power of communicating intense and impassioned impressions respecting man and nature.” and explain to you this: “The persons in whom this power takes its abode may often, as far as regards many portions of their nature, have little correspondence with the spirit of good of which it is the minister. But although they may deny and abjure, they are yet compelled to serve that which is seated on the throne of their own soul. And whatever systems they may have professed by support, they actually advance the interests of Liberty.” And to share with you this: “They measure the circumference or sound the depths of human nature with a comprehensive and all-penetrating spirit at which they are themselves perhaps most sincerely astonished, for it is less their own spirit than the spirit of their age. They are the priests of an un apprehended inspiration, the mirrors of gigantic shadows which futurity casts upon the present; the words which express what they conceive not; the trumpet which sings to battle and fell not what it inspires; the influence which is moved not but moves.” and to leave you with this: “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” But in and out of these books, in and out of this house, in and out of everything I have been trying to understand an ugly sound keeps returning, a single quote keeps coming back to me.

“So dear is power to the tyrants themselves neither then, nor now, nor ever, left or leave a path to freedom but through their own blood.” (Shelley)

Originally Published: February 24th, 2006

Joshua Beckman was born in New Haven, Connecticut, and attended Hampshire College. An editor at Wave Books, he is the author of Things Are Happening (1998), winner of the APR/Honickman First Book Award, Something I Expected to Be Different (2001), Your Time Has Come (2001), Shake (2006), and Take It...