Poet's Notebook: Ringing in the new

It's time to look forward with a hopeful, and watchful, eye.

click to enlarge Poet's Notebook: Ringing in the new
Jeanne Meinke

Ring out a slowly dying cause,

And ancient forms of party strife;

   Ring in the nobler modes of life,

With sweeter manners, purer laws . . .


 Ring out false pride in place and blood,

   The civic slander and the spite;

   Ring in the love of truth and right,

Ring in the common love of good.

2016 has gone. Let it go. It was the worst year in our memory, at least since 1963 when President Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and nine Vietnamese Buddhist monks were assassinated, boiling up the Vietnam War into our national consciousness. 

We thought we’d start 2017 in a foul mood, bringing to mind the mordant New Year’s Eve wish of the Poles struggling under Communism when we lived in Warsaw; translated to today, the toast as the bells rang out would be: “May 2017 be worse than 2018.”  That was as optimistic as the Poles could get.

But for the last two weeks, we’ve had a rich, invigorating, and inspiring holiday visit from our farflung children and four grandchildren (Sophie, 11; Julian, 9; Tai, 8; and Kai 6). It was impossible to sit around our overflowing table, looking at these healthy, handsome, intelligent and responsible citizens without being optimistic about America in spite of everything.  (It was also impossible to sit there without spilling a glass.) We want to be responsible, too, so our beautiful grandkids will live long and happy lives, and grow up proud of their country.

So although it’s true that from the beginning of 2016, we began calling our president-elect a nut case, we’re going to begin this year by letting the grandeur and dignity of his office wash over him, at least for a while. We’ll keep our eyes open, naturally, remembering one of a poet’s inherited tasks is speaking truth to power. With President Trump, this will become tricky.

Everyone says, for example, that we should take him seriously, but not literally. I’ve taught English all my life and know that kind of sentence is aimed at giving the person, in this case Trump, a passing grade; but what it means exactly is  Although he’s continually lying his gold teeth out, don’t worry: in the end it will turn out all right. Well, OK. He won, didn’t he? Because of the office, we shall hold off a bit, but keep our eyes wide open, like his mouth. (We’ll still allow room for a little snarkiness.)

President-elect Trump has already chosen a cabinet that looks like it’s ready to whisk insurance out from under the ragged shoes of the poor; make further cuts to our struggling public school system; undermine our progress with climate change; and rescind rights from women that have taken a century to achieve.  This list could go on — but as they haven’t actually done anything yet, we’ll wait, and hope somehow they’ll behave better than their records indicate.

The Russian novelist and outspoken critic of authority Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008) said in a 2005 interview on Russian television, “Democracy is not worth a brass farthing if it is installed by bayonet.” He was talking about our efforts to influence Iraq and other countries, but looking at our recent Russian-flavored election, I’d suggest that democracy isn’t worth a tin ruble when installed by fake news, misleading government announcements, blatant lies, and an archaic system. Both candidates played in the same game, of course, like football players in a snowstorm. But in this particular game, Trump was the professional and Clinton the amateur.

No one likes a poor loser, shouting “The system’s rigged.”  Let’s wish Trump and his gang, and all of us citizens, the best of luck in 2017.  And may their luck and our luck coincide.

O living will that shall endure

   When all that seems shall suffer shock,

   Rise in the spiritual rock,

Flow through our deeds and make them pure . . .


With faith that comes of self-control,

   The truths that never can be proved

   Until we close with all we loved,

And all we flow from, soul in soul.

—both quotes from “In Memoriam A.H.H.” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)

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