Thursday, May 27, 2004

Favorite Poem Project

I encourage you to visit the Favorite Poem Project, where Americans from all over identify their favorite poem, read it, and provide some background. For example, Steve Conte-Aguero of Quantico, Virginia, writes: "Yeats' 'Politics,' which he requested be placed as the last piece in any collection of his poems, is my favorite poem simply because it struck me, in its brevity and style as a finer distillation of a fundamental truth that was already inside me.

In my childhood and adolescence, being at my father's side imprinted in me the significance of things political, first as they motivated his work as a voice for exiled Cubans and later as I tried to find my place in his personal history and our own American history. I thought that joining the military out of high school and traveling would disconnect me from the politics of home, but of course I was wrong. When I returned from my tour as an infantryman in the Gulf War, I was possessed of a clearer notion of my small role in history, and this clarity increased my desire to go back home and join the political debate surrounding my own country's attitude toward my father's country.

But this process of political familiarization and the accompanying feelings would seem like nothing compared to the flood of emotions that came with leaving the people whom I loved and with whom I was in love. When I read Thomas Mann's grandiose assertion shackling our destiny to politics followed by Yeats' very human and personal response, I felt for a moment as if I knew what Truth really was and how it lay inside of each of us and far away from politics."

Here is the poem he chose:

by William Butler Yeats

'In our time the destiny of man presents its meanings in political terms.' -Thomas Mann

How can I, that girl standing there,
My attention fix
On Roman or on Russian
Or on Spanish politics?
Yet here's a travelled man that knows
What he talks about,
And there's a politician
That has both read and thought,
And maybe what they say is true
Of war and war's alarms,
But O that I were young again
And held her in my arms.


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