Two Tea Parties: Ralph Waldo Emerson meets Bill Clinton in Poet's Notebook

As an extra bonus, when I told Jeanne the subject was tea parties, she was happy to do a drawing of another friend’s lovely teapot, made in town at our own St. Petersburg Clay Company.

Of course, “patriots” and “poetry lovers” aren’t exclusive categories. In any case, much as I didn’t  like the tea party crowd, I’m grateful that they led me back to Emerson.

Read Poet's Notebook and see Jeanne's illustration here.

My grandfather used “weak tea” as a catch-all phrase for anything he considered insubstantial, like cigarettes (he smoked cigars), whiskey sours (he preferred whiskey straight) or even people who seemed to him to lack backbones, which brings me to last month’s Tea Parties. I thought of Grandpa as I was writing my Poet’s Notebook on the anti-tax tea parties of April 15th. He would have thought they were “weak tea” doubled — a weak reaction to a weak idea. “No Taxation Without Representation” puts “Taxed Enough Already” to shame. The original slogan sounds logical and principled; the second sounds whiny and selfish, not to mention cute (T.E.A.). We have representation: We elected him, and them, by a large margin.

When I started to compare April’s demonstration with the Boston Tea Party, I remembered from high school Ralph Waldo Emerson’s poem “Boston,” reread it, and began with a quote from it about the original party: those Bostonians had backbones! I also stumbled across President Clinton reading, a bit lamely, Emerson’s patriotic “Concord Hymn.” Patriots would enjoy this (see the video after the jump), but while you’re with Emerson, poetry lovers should read his poem “Brahma,” certainly one of America’s greatest poems. (When I mentioned this to a friend, he promptly recited it, with more feeling than Clinton.)

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