The Old Truculence
A note concerning the basic arc of this book of poems–to re-register grace and freedom as America’s primary metier.
Freedom breeds elegance. Not the inbred elegance of aristocracy, where beautiful ladies eventually come to resemble their Russian wolfhounds. Nor, simply, the truculent elegance of that sly Benjamin Franklin who, as ambassador to the French Court, refused to bow before King Louis the 16th or doff his coonskin cap.
Freedom breeds the desire to create one meaningful action with your entire life–the effortful elegance of the artist that James Joyce defined as the willingness to gamble your whole life on the wrong idea, a bad aesthetic, or, it may be, a genuine triumph. And America has created, and can still create, a unique scale of opportunity for such elegant “throws of the dice,” as Mallarme might say. A natty Fred Astaire (originally Austerlitz), gliding with the ease of an ice skater as he backs Rita Hayworth (a gal from Brooklyn) into immortality to a tune penned by the jewish Jerome Kern in an industry patented in the U.S.A. is but one example of the scale of that opportunity.
When you are free to do anything, a desire grows in the breast not to do just anything, but to do the best thing–and that is an aesthetic dilemma. The mere accumulation of capital, or the arbitrary exercise by minor government regulators of petty power, are two classic examples of the desire for a meaningful expression of life-status that lack the aesthetic instinct. Such timid ambitions grow most strongly where the full range of light is narrowed, and the blossom of selfhood must twist around corners to open its ruby glory in a thinning patch of sunlight.
Come, My Dreams Come gather round me, multitudinous dreams That in the dim twilight are murmuring soft; Come lay by my head in the pillow-seam; Come carry my freighted heart aloft. O, I would dare dream as few men dream Beyond the cruel cudgel of the strong, Beyond the purpled tapestries of is and seems Hung before my eyes, beyond cold right or wrong.