CLASS OF 1945 | 2018 | ISSUE 3

As far back as my memory takes me, I’ve wanted to be a poem. Barely a toddler, I was a blipping “Bad Sir Brian” for several tickly stanzas, and as a sturdy young couplet I knocked things off our mantelpiece. I grew apace to where, as a single quatrain, I met grave Alice and laughing Allegra, each saccharine enough to gag a goat, so I punched their lights out. By high school I was pretty much a ballad In the Yukon, but I sobered up enough to become a sonnet; alas, I couldn’t abide the heart-scalding decisions of abab, abba, 8-6, three 4s-plus-2 living, and so retreated to the sanctuary of becoming an elegy. That funereal life so fretted my natural inclinations that I burst from my cell with a limerickal yell to seek the company of a young man from Boston, another from Sparta, and their friend Titian, who seemed fixed on mixing rosematta. Briefly, then, I dallied in passionate uncertainty with Emily until she set me straight and sent me off to Wesleyan, where Frost and Snow gave me every day conversational skill and a permanent sense of the necessity ever to demonstrate good form.

War took me for nearly four years with the 10th Mountain Division, but I never found time to be any sort of poem except as a raggedy 90-pounds-of-rucksack chanty and a bit of R and R with Shapiro. Once back at Wesleyan, then grad school at Northwestern, and finally at the Royal Irish Academy I found my identity in the old world of the Celts: I turned out to be an epic. History of a people; pride in ancestry; desire to live in history; exhortations to followers; sustained majestic verse—all churning in me when I sang Achilles and Aeneas, when El Cid and Roland stood fast, when Cú Chullainn singlehandedly took on Maeve’s gang of cattle rustlers. I really came into my own when Neihardt needed me to go up the Missouri with friends Carpenter, Talbeau, and Fink, to crawl desperately with Hugh Glass, to voice Jed Smith’s wilderness gospel, and to mourn the murder of Crazy Horse and the tragic end of the Indian wars of protest. Yes, in this cultural dust storm we’re living in today, that’s what I am: an epic poem in a society that has no heroic’s mood.

Slán go fóill.


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