Saturday, July 04, 2009

pride without, and a dark firmament within

Happy Independence Day

My favorite patriotic poem is Emerson's Concord Hymn, "Sung at the Completion of Concord Monument, April 19, 1836."
By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April's breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world,

The foe long since in silence slept,
Alike the Conqueror silent sleeps,
And Time the ruined bridge has swept
Down the dark stream which seaward creeps.

On this green bank, by this soft stream,
We set to-day a votive stone,
That memory may their deed redeem,
When like our sires our sons are gone.

Spirit! who made those freemen dare
To die, or leave their children free,
Bid time and nature gently spare
The shaft we raise to them and Thee.
Pride is not the only emotion I feel on this day. I've been reading John Updike's Collected Poems these days and have come across his anti-heroic meditation, Fireworks. Written July 5, 1963, it is personal, internal, and private; not made for public recitation. All the same it seems to be colored by its time: Kennedy was President and Mao was Chairman; Cuba was embargoed and Khrushchev blustering; the Beatles were coming of age and the diet cola, TAB, was launched; the battle for civil rights in the South had no certain victor — MLK jailed, Bull Connor brandishing, Medgar Evers murdered, and George Wallace declaring "segregation now, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever!" For me the dominant symbol of the time was to become a photo showing a Buddhist monk protesting religious persecution by the government of South Vietnam by committing self-immolation on the streets of Saigon.

Here's an extract from the poem:

From Fireworks by John Updike:
These spasms and chrysanthemums of light
are like emotions
exploding under a curved night that corresponds
to the dark firmament within.

. . .
behold, above, the sudden bloom,
turquoise, each tip a comet,
of pride - followed, after an empty bang,
by an ebbing amber galaxy, despair.

We feel our secrets bodied forth like flags
as wide as half the sky.

{the bridge; source: flickr}

{the monument; source: talkingtree}

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