Like many people, I’ve been appalled by the rise of nativist racism in the US in the last couple of years & in particular in the current presidential campaigns. I’ve wanted to write something & have twice sat down to attempt some kind of statement, if not an analysis, of the phenomenon, but both times I just wound up sputtering helplessly & inarticulately. This morning, though, I was working on the syllabus for my Modern American Poetry class next semester, when I came across “Ode in Time of Crisis” by Genevieve Taggard in Cary Nelson’s anthology [follow link for complete text]. Taggard, writing during the Second World War, eloquently expresses my own feelings. Here are the first two stanzas:
Now in the fright of change when bombed towns vanish
In fountains of debris
We say to the stranger coming across the sea
Not here, not here, go elsewhere!
Here we keep
Bars up. Wall out the danger, tightly seal
The ports, the intake from the alien world we fear.
It is a time of many errors now.
And this the error of children when they feel
But cannot say their terror. To shut off the stream
In which we moved and still move, if we move.
The alien is the nation, nothing more nor less.
How set ourselves at variance to prove
The alien is not the nation. And so end the dream.
Forbid our deep resource from whence we came,
And the very seed of greatness.
Note: The companion website for Nelson’s Modern American Poetry is well worth looking at, providing commentary & background information on the poets in the anthology itself.