Republican duplicity


William Blake. Dante’s Inferno. The Hypocrites with Caiaphas. Hypocrites filing past the high priest Caiaphas, who is nailed to a cross on the ground. Caiaphas was the priest who said that Christ should die. Each hypocrite steps on Caiaphas as he passes.

When Donald Trump refused to declare on October 19 he would not subvert the basic tenet of American democracy, many Republican leaders feigned outrage – “feigned” because his threat not to accept the results of the election mirrors precisely what the Republicans have done for eight years.

Beginning on the day President Barack Obama was inaugurated, when Republican Congressional leaders apparently met to covenant with one another that they would thwart every suggestion, every constitutionally mandated action the President took, the Congress has essentially proclaimed their belief that the election of the first African American President was not valid, that it was somehow “rigged.”

They have

  • shut down the government to prove him wrong,
  • sued him several times to question the constitutionality of legislation his first Congress passed,
  • mocked him to his face during the State of the Union Address,
  • refused “advice and consent” for his court nominees to ensure that his electoral mandate did not extend to his constitutionally prescribed responsibility,
  • invited the head of a foreign nation to speak in Congress against a treaty the President had negotiated to which the visiting politician was not a party, thus circumventing the President’s constitutional obligation to conduct foreign affairs.
  • and much more.

In short, they have defamed not only the man but the office he holds, and in doing so the Republicans have destabilized the Constitutional underpinnings of our democracy.

Furthermore, they have refused to lend the power and prestige of their offices to efforts to end the insidious “birther” conspiracy, thus contributing to lack of trust in both the President and the office of the Presidency. They have not spoken against the persistent fringe belief that the President is a Muslim, thereby undermining his Presidency among Islamophobic Americans (and, by implication, fostering hatred for American Muslims). They have refused to refute any of the myriad absurd conspiracy theories about the President. Not dignifying them with responses is, of course, laudable, but refusing to make any effort to change the atmosphere in which those theories could flourish – indeed speaking of and treating the man in such a way to encourage those theories – has been despicable.

Donald Trump is the creation of the party he now represents. The Republicans, indeed the entire nation, are reaping what they have sown: hatred, disrespect for persons and for the Constitution, selfishness above concern for the body politic, and – perhaps most unsavory – for some people,  an unshakeable belief that President Obama’s election was never legitimate because it resulted from the cooperation of a coalition of Americans whom they consider to be less than representative of and not worthy to be counted part of the body politic.

Donald Trump is at least honest in his desire to subvert the Constitutional workings of our democracy.

“. . . Till Truth obeyed his call. . .” (W.B. Yeats)

In his poem “An acre of green grass,” William Butler Yeats wrote,

. . . Or that William Blake
Who beat upon the wall
Till Truth obeyed his call. . .


I’ve asked a question I cannot answer. It’s not—by the way—a “rhetorical question.” No such thing exists. In a formal argument, asking a question one can’t answer is simply disingenuous—or, perhaps, an unintentional display of one’s ignorance.

I learned about Blake’s poetry in high school English class—“Tyger! Tyger! burning bright,” “Little Lamb who made thee,” “And did those feet in ancient time,” and so on. I’ve read his work since then. I have a Dover reprint edition of Songs of Innocence. I’d say I know something of Blake. But neither a Google nor an EBSCO search has turned up a poem with anything about “beat[ing] upon the wall.”

While I have found several scholarly articles that treat Yeats’ poem, “An acre of green grass,” I have found none so far that explains the reference. I know the story of Timon of Athens, perhaps the strangest of Shakespeare’s plays, in which Timon curses the walls of Athens and eventually tries to arrange for them to be destroyed.

We all know King Lear’s wild old-man ravings out in the countryside in the rain. Michelangelo lived to be 89 (1475-1654), but I don’t understand Yeats’ reference to him.

Perhaps Yeats (1865-1939) was confused in his old age. He wrote the poem at 73, a year before he died, so he can be forgiven for confusing the plot of Timon with some poem of Blake’s, and not remembering Michelangelo quite correctly.

"Ancient of Days," by William Blake

“Ancient of Days,” by William Blake

Perhaps someone who is more scholarly than I, or at the very least has a better memory than I, can answer my non-rhetorical question, “Why?”

Last night a friend invited me to go with him to a show at the Eisman Center in Richardson, TX, titled “4 Girls 4.” The four “girls” were Andrea McArdle (51), Christine Andreas (63), Donna McKechnie (72), and Maureen McGovern (65)—Broadway singers all, and—I think most people would assume—past their prime all. Perhaps!

Andrea McArdle is no longer the little girl who sang “Tomorrow,” but her voice is rich and enchanting (she doesn’t have to belt it out any more). Christine Andreas belted out “I love Paris” in as fine a fashion as Edith Piaf or any other cabaret singer ever did. Stunning voice control even on high notes no one her age ought to be able to sing. Donna McKechnie re-auditioned for Chorus Line with a richness and style she could only hope for in 1975—she didn’t exactly “dance,” but she moved with grace and elegance. Maureen McGovern sang “Morning After,” and then she caught the audience off guard and astonished us with her unaccompanied, “Somewhere over the rainbow,” poignant and affecting.

I have to make that list to help myself remember the show (I’ve forgotten more than I know by a factor of at least 10), but also as a companion piece to the Yeats poem.

. . . myself must I remake
Till I am Timon and Lear
Or that William Blake
Who beat upon the wall
Till Truth obeyed his call;

A mind Michael Angelo knew
That can pierce the clouds,
Or inspired by frenzy
Shake the dead in their shrouds;
Forgotten else by mankind,
An old man’s eagle mind.

“I must myself remake . . . forgotten, else by mankind, an old man’s eagle mind.” I—me, as differentiated from and not comparing myself with Yeats—have never had an eagle mind. Nor have I ever done anything approaching the art and entertainment of Donna McKechnie’s dancing. If I stood on the edge of the stage in a hushed auditorium with light only on me and sang “Somewhere over the rainbow” (or anything else), the audience would be embarrassed at my lack of ability and disbelieving at my temerity.

But I am learning to remake myself, an old man’s mind—probably not as sharp as an eagle’s.

This week I recounted in more detail than I ever have in one sitting the five most painful moments of my life. That I can name specifically the most painful moments of my life indicates I’ve never freed myself of them—forgiven myself for them.

I’ve begun working with a gerontological psychologist. (How’s that for special?)

I’m having—as I should think anyone who has any self-awareness does—some trouble thinking of and accepting myself as being 70 years old. This is one the most difficult realities we have to face. Even at 60 it is impossible to imagine how it feels to be 70.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, average life expectancy in the US is now 78.8 years. I have 8.4 or so years left.

Here’s the deal. I have 8.4 years left to do all of those things I’ve been planning to do all my life—write the Great American Novel, see the Emperor Penguins in Antarctica, learn to make my bed every morning, lose 20 pounds. All of those things. “Grant me,” Yeats says, “an old man’s frenzy, Myself must I remake.”

Not possible. I am what I am. I’m not going to remake myself (perhaps get another tattoo).

It’s OK. It’s enough. I can tutor college football players. I can devote more time to explaining what I know about Palestinian poetry. I can play the organ. The stuff I’ve been doing that has satisfied me all along.

I don’t have to know “why” Yeats said Blake beat upon the wall. I didn’t know two weeks ago, and I don’t know today. I do, however, know the notes for the Bach Prelude and Fugue in G Major, and who the poet Sami Muhanna is. That’s enough.

And I can come to peace with those five distressing moments and disallow their power over me for the next 8.4 years.

“An Acre of Green Grass,” by William Butler Yeats

PICTURE and book remain,
An acre of green grass
For air and exercise,
Now strength of body goes;
Midnight, an old house
Where nothing stirs but a mouse.

My temptation is quiet.
Here at life’s end
Neither loose imagination,
Nor the mill of the mind
Consuming its rag and bone,
Can make the truth known.

Grant me an old man’s frenzy,
Myself must I remake
Till I am Timon and Lear
Or that William Blake
Who beat upon the wall
Till Truth obeyed his call;

A mind Michael Angelo knew
That can pierce the clouds,
Or inspired by frenzy
Shake the dead in their shrouds;
Forgotten else by mankind,
An old man’s eagle mind.

Time to see them yet.

Time to see them yet.

“He who kisses the joy as it flies. . .” (William Blake)

Out of the cradle, endlessly rocking

Out of the cradle, endlessly rocking

Richard Chase, one of the preeminent American folklorists (how he would have disliked that kind of description of himself), owned a copy of William Blake’s Songs of Innocence. It was an early edition with the plates colored by an unknown hand. It was one of his prized possessions. I’m not being grandiose when I say there was a time (many, many years ago) I would visit him so I could look at that wondrous book.

This is not a “name-dropping” exercise. Several people who are likely to read this post knew Chase as well; we knew him as “Uncle Dick” before we had any idea of his importance to American culture. I own his copy of William Chappell’s Popular Music of the Olden Time, one of the 20th-century reprints, not valuable except that it has Uncle Dick’s notations. One of my favorite memories of Uncle Dick is walking with him, naked, at midnight one full-moon night into the surf on the beach at La Jolla while he recited Walt Whitman’s “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking.” The next day I decided the least I could do to keep that memory alive was to memorize the section

Yes, when the stars glisten’d,
All night long on the prong of a moss-scallop’d stake,
Down almost amid the slapping waves,
Sat the lone singer wonderful causing tears.

He call’d on his mate,
He pour’d forth the meanings which I of all men know.
Yes my brother I know,
The rest might not, but I have treasur’d every note,
For more than once dimly down to the beach gliding,
Silent, avoiding the moonbeams, blending myself with the
Recalling now the obscure shapes, the echoes, the sounds
and sights after their sorts,
The white arms out in the breakers tirelessly tossing,
I, with bare feet, a child, the wind wafting my hair,
Listen’d long and long.

Listen’d to keep, to sing, now translating the notes,
Following you my brother

I can’t recite it these days, but always, when I think of that night, I remember I’m basically an illiterate “bull-in-the-china-closet.” I have known true education, elegance, and kindness.

One of William Blake's visions of eternity

One of William Blake’s visions of eternity

Uncle Dick also explained to me his understanding of the poetry of William Blake. He served, Uncle Dick said, as the antidote to the Age of Enlightenment swirling around him. His poetry exists in the heart rather than in the mind. Newtonian physics and reason were fine for solving the world’s physical problems, but they were useless for understanding the human heart.

That is obviously my “spin” on Uncle Dick’s guidance and the way I remember it 40 years later. Whatever it was, in fact, that Uncle Dick said to me, what I took from it was that the life of the mind I was embarking on by going back to graduate school would serve me well only so far. Much of my life I have forgotten his wisdom.

I have not, however, forgotten the poetry of William Blake. Such wild, such odd, such emotional stuff. I came across this short poem the other day.

“Eternity,” by William Blake (1757 – 1827)

He who binds to himself a joy

Does the winged life destroy

He who kisses the joy as it flies

Lives in eternity’s sunrise

Last night I said to a group of friends that, as I retire, I realize I am in the process of giving up perhaps the most joyful activity of my life—working with young students. At the same time I’m giving up one of the most odious of tasks—the paperwork and institutional nonsense that weighs down the academic world.

I have nothing profound or academic or, most likely, even interesting to say about Blake’s poem except that I hope, I trust, I can kiss the joy as it flies and begin living in the sunrise. Whatever that may be. Even, perhaps, another way to experience my joy.

Sunrise at Port Orford, Oregon

Sunrise at Port Orford, Oregon