Sunday, October 29, 2006

Glad to have gone, glad to be back

I'm back, after having gotten an eyeful and an earful of Paris. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

That's just hyperbole, for the sake of a literary reference; but the truth is that it was both exhilarating and sobering. I plan quite a few more ruminations on topics stirred up by my visit, but right now I'm just glad to be back.

Glad to be back, indeed.

I've written before about how, when I was a schoolkid, our teachers made us memorize tons of poetry, much of it with about as much literary merit as a Hallmark greeting card. Due to the idiosyncrasies of my brain, much of this stuff is still with me and pops into my head at the oddest times, unbidden.

When I was in Europe, this was the verse (memorized in fifth grade, as I recall) that acted as a rather mild earworm:

AMERICA FOR ME by Henry Van Dyke

'Tis fine to see the Old World, and travel up and down
Among the famous palaces and cities of renown
To admire the crumbly castles and the statues of the kings, --
But now I think I've had enough of antiquated things.
So it's home again, and home again, America for me!
My heart is turning home again, and there I long to be
In the land of youth and freedom beyond the ocean bars
Where the air is full of sunlight and the flag is full of stars.

It ain't great poetry, that's for sure. It was exactly the sort of thing teachers were fond of force-feeding their students back in the 50s. It was a pre-ironic age; patriotism was sincere, and it was considered part of the job of the educational system to inspire it in our young--with second-rate verse, if need be.

We're all so jaded and cynical now that a poem like this seems hopelessly outdated. But the sentiment is a classic; America really is one of the freest countries on earth, despite Bushhitler and the evil Rove. One feels it even more strongly after only a brief exposure to French justice.

[NOTE: Henry van Dyke, author of "America for Me," was--suprisingly--a professor of English literature at Princeton, a Presbyterian clergyman, a lecturer at the University of Paris, and Minister to the Netherlands and Luxembourg. I guess he knew whereof he spoke.

Can you imagine these sorts of sentiments emerging--in populist verse, or otherwise--from the pen of an academic similarly situated today?]

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