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Comment on 9/ll

I have an itch to scratch about the response to 9/11.

In the days after the buildings went down, several pundits quoted a line from W.H. Auden’s poem “September 1, 1939”(The date Hitler invaded Poland and started WW2.). The line they quoted was, “We must love one another or die,” chosen I’m sure to warn us deplorables against Islamophobia. (Not even they could not have supposed it would have any affect on our enemies.) It is a line that sums up the secular Liberal belief that survival is more important than sacrifice, that there are no disagreements that can’t be cured by therapeutic love, and that everything bad that happens is America’s fault.

Auden came to feel strongly that that particular line was “a damned lie.” He tried to revise it. He tried leaving out the whole stanza. Nothing worked. He decided the whole poem was “infected with incurable dishonesty and must be scrapped.” He was right. The poem includes wonderful lines and stanzas. But it is an argumentative poem that tries to do too much in too little space.

I read posts by one or two bloggers who quoted Kipling after 9/11, but the lines they quoted didn’t get wide circulation. Our political betters have decided Kipling (the author of Kim!) is a deplorable and no amount of quoting from his poems is ever going to change their minds. Our literary betters also tell us his poems are not really poems (except for a half dozen or so) but merely verse, i.e. minor league stuff.

But two of Kipling’s poems are far more relevant to 9/11 than Auden’s mawkish admonition that we really must love one another. One is “The Gods of the Copybook Headings” that judges us to heed the trite but true old sayings that students were once required to write at the top of each page of their copybooks. If we did, we would learn: “That Water would certainly wet us, as Fire would certainly burn.” But we didn’t learn those things. We found the Gods of the Copybook headings “lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind,” so we deserted them for the Gods of the Market place who promised us a “Fuller Life,”

(Which started by loving our neighbor and ended by loving his wife)

Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith.”

David Goldman, Mark Steyn, and others have pointed out that this is what is happening. People in Europe and America have stopped having babies. We are headed for a time when there will be four retirees and eight caregivers for every worker. Of course, the country will collapse long before that, but that’s where we are heading, And Kipling, that bigoted mere versifier, saw it all a hundred years ago,

The Gods of the Market Place promised “abundance for all, / By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul.”

"And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins

When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,

As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will bum,

The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return."

The other Kipling poem that bears on 9/11 is “Tommy,” a generic name for the British soldier.

"Then it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' 'Tommy, 'ow's yer soul?'

But it's 'Thin red line of 'eroes' when the drums begin to roll . . ."

That poem is too critical of the better sort who look down on men in uniform to ever be widely quoted today, but as I watched Manhattan eulogize the policemen and firemen who died in the twin towers—men whom the better sort had regarded just the day before as sexist louts and racist bigots in need of “sensitivity training”—I remembered “Tommy,”

"For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Chuck him out, the brute!”

But it's "Saviour of 'is country" when the guns begin to shoot;

An' it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' anything you please;

An' Tommy ain't a bloomin' fool -- you bet that Tommy sees!"

Here’s my poem about 9/!!


I’ve tried and tried

to write about the towers burning

and the leapers dropping, dropping,

dropping through the morning light.

But nothing works. The job’s too much for me.

And maybe it’s too much for poetry

the way it’s done today. The subject’s like

a sturdy country girl among the sleek

glamazons of Fashion Week.

Oh, she would be a wow

wearing a Kipling or a Julia Howe.

But those styles aren’t just dated. They’re obscene.

Imagine it. The arts community

would have a cow.


Poem about a visit to an Apple Store

Extra, Extra, Read All About it! Apple to unveil its new line of smartphones.September 12.The new phones are expected to be larger and pricier The new top tier iPhone will cost $999, which is about $300 more than the current top tier phone.I don’t care how other people spend their money. Actually, I’m glad they have it to spend. But where do all these people come from who are willing and able to pay a thousand dollars for a phone? The economy has only recently begun to recover from the doldrums of the last eight years. I’m not being snarky. It’s just that I can’t imagine myself spending that much money on a phone no matter how many tricks it can do. Well, I’m not a techie nor do I want to be. I grew up in another era.


Shopping at an Apple store,

I got looks I’ve got before

and realized I’d been consigned

to former times when poems rhymed

and you would find on every drugstore rack

a paperback anthology of verse,

along with Nana, Topper, Bamboo Blonde,

and The Mummy’s Curse.

Presidents led us in prayer,

Kipling was quoted in bars.

Underwear was under wear and there

were running boards on cars.

No one sported decals of his college.

People weren’t so classified.

We expected more from life than knowledge,

sorted, cut, and dried.

No seat belts then, no gun-free zones.

And no one wore a helmet on a bike.

But little girls kept memory books

where little friends wrote little verses like:

A little health, a little wealth,

A little house and freedom,

A few good friends for certain ends,

And little use to need ‘em.”

Go back? Oh, no. The poor were really poor,

not like today,

and there were fewer possibilities

for work or play.

People died of scarlet fever.

Aspirin was our only pill.

And after forty everyone

was over the hill.

Technology has improved my health

but impaired my vision,

has increased my wealth

but sunk me in “a stupor of precision.”

So, I, pursued by no one

but remembering those looks,

have closed the door

and taken refuge in old books

defaced by doodles, dogears, coffee stains.

and runes no one can digitize.

They link me to another world

that I alone can realize.


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