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The starbuckclassicalpoetry.com Classical Poetry Port is a place for ye to post yer favorite poems by the masters and discuss them. Voyage forth upon the net, looking for the poetry which exalts yer soul, and bring it on home to the starbuckclassicalpoetry.com Classical Poetry Port and the Classical Poet's Port. And too, in the rich context which develops, we hope that ye try yer own hand at expressing yer deepest sentiments. And may the best poet win the hearts and minds of this rising generation.
Nantuckets. For there is more than one island, mate. There's the quaint tourist town which awakens during the Nantucket Film Festival in mid-June and does not slumber until mid-September. This is the Nantucket of skyrocketing real-estate echoing a soaring stock market, where gas street lamps light the way along cobblestone roads for a regal parade of sport-utility vehicles. This is the pristine, slate-shingled town with the gabled bed and breakfasts, filled with Ivy-League college and Irish exchange students working summer jobs at theaters and outdoor restaurants, where cranberry-red lobsters are as prevalent as the patrons. This is the Nantucket where one shall find a few fleets of fifty foot yachts floating in the harbor, where the "rebel" sons and daughters of vacationing lawyers, doctors, and dignitaries blare this year's requisite rap, grunge, and ska from their parent's convertible Saabs, Mercedes, and Jeeps. This is the Nantucket where the $750 film festival passes are worn at all times as if they were medals of honor, where the cultural plebes attend the screenings of films yet seeking distributors, hoping to catch coveted glimpses of actors and actresses whose names are being dropped like autumn leaves on a windy day. This is the island that you may notice if you stay there for a few days or a week in the thick of a postmodern fog, mate. This is the Grey Lady you will come to know should you refrain from reading any Thoreau, Hawthorne, Emerson, or Melville during your retreat. But should ye see the mist begin to dissolve on a windy summer's eve and catch a glimpse of red on the horizon, ye musn't hesitate to break away from the madding crowd and ramble on down a dirt road.
The Two Nantuckets
by Drake Raft
Nantucket Northeasters blowing white fogs,
'cross the crimson red of cranberry bogs.
Choose a road leading towards the open ocean, away from the glamourous glare of the town, and if yer quick enough on a June twilight ye'll catch the Gemini Twins on the Western horizon, just before they dive on under into the deep blue. Look closely mate, for the twins, Pollux and Castor, are really only half-brothers. While Leda's the mother of both, Castor's father was the king of Sparta, Tyndareus, while Pollux's father was none other than Zeus, or Jupiter. Castor is the dimmer star, possessing a diameter of twice the sun's, at a distance of 47.2 lightyears, while Pollux is noticebly brighter, as it is ten times the sun's size, and only 35.1 lightyears away. So it is that many wayfarers also believe the two Nantuckets to be twin brothers, whereas in reality one of the islands is of immortal lineage. If the heaven's own Gemini Twins are so dissimilar, surely the two Nantuckets must also be. All these things may be clearly witnessed firsthand, on nights when one's mind is free from cloudy weather and the rambling fogs of popular opinion.
Emerson once distinguished between these two Nantuckets:In this distribution of functions, the scholar is the delegated intellect. In the right state, he is, Man Thinking. In the degenerate state, when the victim of society, he tends to become a mere thinker, or, still worse, the parrot of other men's thinking. . . . But the old oracle said, `All things have two handles: beware of the wrong one.' --Ralph Waldo Emerson, The American Scholar
To really acquaint (ackquaint) yourself with the deeper majesty of the other Nantucket, I would recommend that you spend a full year or two upon the island, preferably in an old farmhouse a few miles from town, with a Bible beside your bed that you may readily refer to in the middle of the night should the ghost of Jared Coffin or one of the Starbucks pass on through your room. For I have heard that the founding Quaker's troubled spirits are seeking Faith and Verse, rather than any buried gold, as that was the original Spirit by which they settled these shores. And if a phantom descended from one of the original Wampanog Indians should pay you an afterhours visit, ask them and they shall tell ye that "Natockete" means "the far off place." They'll tell you that most people only ever perceive the Nantucket that seems, while the deeper entity remains every bit as remote as Hamlet's perturbed spirit, which passes show.Seems, madam! nay it is; I know not 'seems.'
'Tis not alone my inky cloak, good mother,
Nor customary suits of solemn black,
Nor windy suspiration of forced breath,
No, nor the fruitful river in the eye,
Nor the dejected 'havior of the visage,
Together with all forms, moods, shapes of grief,
That can denote me truly: these indeed seem,
For they are actions that a man might play:
But I have that within which passeth show;
These but the trappings and the suits of woe.
--Hamlet I,ii (William Shakespeare)
I would suggest that you awaken with the sunrise as often as possible, or at least as often as you stay out late at the Box or Brotherhood of Thieves. Rent a bike from Young's Bikeshop if ye've forgotten yer own, and ride on past the rotunda and down Polpis to the Sankaty Head lighthouse. Take a dip in the shadow of the red and white sentinel, before anyone else steps foot upon the shore. Then circle around through Sconset and stop for lunch, before heading back along Milestone Rd. to Madaket Rd., whereabout you'll pass streets with ominous names such as Ahab Rd. and Starbuck Ln. before finally happening upon Madaket beach. Thus in less than a day ye will have completed an approximate orbit of the fourteen-mile island, and ye'll see that its physical presence is relatively small when compared to Melville's soul, which might take years to circumnavigate.
To truly discover a place, one must discover all its personalities and come to know of all its shades, hues, dispositions, and nuances throughout all four seasons. I would suggest that you spend several solitary afternoons windsurfing in all conditions, learning of the whimsical ways of the wind and rain, and something about the fear which spawns the sailor's superstition. Take a walk on a brisk December dusk a few days before Christmas, and witness the woodsmoke in the wind, the sparkling lights along Union street, and the crossed oars and harpoons gracing the monuments and inns. It would be best if you sought to serve the Nantucket community in some way, to take a job and work for a living while there, whatever your occupation might be, for only in cheerful servitude and loyal labor does that all precious character emerge-- both your own and other's. Far more is learned by the sailor than the passenger, as duty's privilege introduces one to the majority of the memorable, meaningful situations in this life. For it has always been the sailor who has manned the mastheads, mate, not the passengers. To travel as a tourist is to stay in but one place, and one shall never glimpse the second Nantucket from such a vantage point. I taught tennis for a couple summers at the Brant Point Raquet Club, but I would become a landscaper for the summer, were I you, so as to befriend the rocks and roses, the trees and trellises, and the weeds and wheelbarrows-- for these native elements are sure to be privy to the deeper Nantucket's secrets.
Drop by the girl who works at the Nibset Inn, and pen a poem for her if she's still there, and if you should miss her by a few years, wait a few more, and by then someone as fair shall have replaced her, for that is the way of things on Nantucket. And I'll pray for ye that she's as honest and subtle as she is pretty. Or if you're lucky enough to find yourself missing someone yet even more serene, write them a poem. Capture the crisp, clear, carefree, colonial afternoon's sentiments on Main Street, and preserve them with a paper and pen-- write yer own ticket to eternity. To set your feelings down in ink is to think in a most profound manner, and thinking can only bring you closer to that second Nantucket. And more likely than not, any poem composed under such cherished conditions shall converge upon the sharp contrast between the two Nantuckets:
Compasses, weathervanes, and cobblestones,
I paused to rest against a great Oak tree,
Weathervane crowned the church, church crowned the stones,
The compass I held out in front of me,
The wind rose, the golden weathervane showed,
A Nantucket Northeaster blowing in,
The thunder roared while the horizon glowed,
I sat there, 'til I was soaked to my skin.
My thoughts turned towards a girl down in DC,
and how I'd once been like the weathervane,
But now I felt a compass within me,
where she was some force beyond wind and rain.
For though wind I feel, and the sun I see,
The wind shifts, and the sun sets everyday,
But governed by an unseen entity,
The iron needle shall point the same way.
I stayed 'til the storm broke with red at night,
And golden rays shot 'cross the deep blue sea,
And I'll say, beyond this sailor's delight,
The greater things are those we never see.
For politicians on pulpits shall twist,
Point where vice and vanity's winds command,
And if ye follow weathervanes in mist,
In this postmodern fog, ye shall be damned.
But instead mate, if ye should navigate,
by Faith, ye'll steer clear of temptation's shoal,
It's not the golden crown that makes men great,
But it's the iron deep within their soul.
Perhaps it was on a similar tempestuous afternoon, while passing through Nantucket on a whaling voyage, that Herman Melville also began to differentiate between the sincere and superficial Nantuckets:
But this august dignity I treat of, is not the dignity of kings and robes, but that abounding dignity which has no robed investiture. Thou shalt see it shining in the arm that wields a pick or drives a spike; that democratic dignity which, on all hands, radiates without end from God; Himself! The great God absolute! The centre and circumference of all democracy! His omnipresence, our divine equality!And as all poets and philosophers wander this same earth, it's no mystery that their prophetic souls are often inspired to record the same entities. Emerson alluded to the deeper Nantucket with:
--Chapter 26, Knights and Squires, MOBY DICKO poet! a new nobility is conferred in groves and pastures, and not in castles or by the sword-blade any longer. --Ralph Waldo Emerson's PoetryThis second Nantucket is that far rarer, haunted Nantucket known best by the young and young at heart. It is more a feeling than a place, and its ubiquity in the human soul is better captured in sentences than postcards. A mozaic of the resplendent Autumn colors highlighted by the blood-red October cranberry bogs, the blanketing ocean mists which can suddenly cast a pale grey shroud across the bright blue sky and a damp chill upon your skin, only to dissipate with the same immediacy, and leave the rolling moors as vividly green as the skies are immaculately blue. This definitive clarity belies the nature of that deeper Nantucket which so unexpectedly became so that one summer, as it gained an immutable permanence, now forever cemented in hindsight, and within A Nantucket Ghost Story. It all left me breathless as I returned to Hyannisport on the 6:30 AM ferry, as the sun rose before me, and my teenage years and Nantucket set behind me, joining the great leveling blue of Noah's lingering flood, which yet covers a good two-thirds of the earth.
I stood aft for a good while upon the Steamship Authority on that ineffable September morning, my stare stalwartly fixed upon the receding island. I had tossed two pennies overboard as we'd rounded Brant Point, and I solemnly watched on as the periodic red sweep of the Brant Point Light diminished. And while the more material Nantucket faded into the distance, and became indistinguishable from the leveling blue line marking the boundary of ocean and sky, the second Nantucket has not diminished nor dwindled with time's distance, but it has only grown. Such is the way of true love, that objects augment in their absence. While the material Nantucket cannot be perceived from land, the second Nantucket is ubiquitous, and even when a fog obscures the first Nantucket from passing ships, any seasoned sailor shall tell ye that the second may still be seen. This second Nantucket has been sighted as far off as North Carolina, where upon Ocracoke Island it has sometimes suddenly manifested itself, and too, its green, rolling moors have appeared as far inland as Ohio. For its splendor is known upon all islands, and as every man's soul is an island, it can be seen from there, mate. It can be seen wherever a poet's words are resurrected by reading.
So familiar, but you've never been,
And you know it, though you've never been told,
You recognize it, though you've never seen,
As you reach for what you can never hold.
Approaching Nantucket for the first time,
As she emerges from the ocean blue,
From the depthless depths and the salty brime,
Like all the poems that she brought forth from you.
Her magic haunts you as the ferry leaves,
As time's ocean comes between you and her,
It's so true, and yet nobody believes,
You'll never know her 'til she isn't there.
And all you can think is O, what a shame,
That you were in love, and never knew her name.
I wheeled my bike off the Hyannis ferry on that rising September day, and the spell was broken. I was Princeton-bound, where an ambitious regiment postmodernists lay awaiting me, headed by proud, indifferent economists, anxious to scuttle the souls of all wayfaring romantics and literary privateers, and convince them that the second Nantucket's deeper splendor did not exist independent of their certificates, pseudo-science, stocks, and politics. Since then I have born witness to Socrates, Madison, Adams, Franklin, Hamilton, de'Toqueville, and Jesus all testifying against the binding camraderie felt by mediocre minds in their democratic destruction of the nobler forms and higher ideals. But finding myself back on Nantucket again, on a bright, clear, austere June afternoon, I found it easy to forgive their sad oligarchic ignorance, for having never ventured beyond the fog of their polemics, they never witnessed the perfect form and majesty of the true Nantucket:To them, I said, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images. --Socrates, PLATO'S REPUBLIC, Book VII.
Now it so happened that this past June had been the first time I'd returned to Nantucket in close to ten years, and I found myself sharing the island with the third annual Nantucket Film Festival. The Nantucket Film Festival is the one annual film festival purported to honor the screenwriter and celebrate the art of writing for film, which I found a curious entity to be celebrating, as I have always considered screenwriting to be a most dismal form of literature. For tell me sailor, where is there room in the contemporary screenplay for rhyme and meter, for assonance and alliteration, for metaphor and simile, for those deep, portentous thoughts which define the most noble aspects of man, which anchor our morality, exalt our aspirations, and sometimes provide us coveted glimpses of that Truth which sets all free? What forces can compel an author to allow these vital literary devices to lay idle and rust, while pursuing an end that in the end he does not even own? What privateer would engage in battle without his cutlass or pistol, only to give up the ship, even if it was won? In film the final product lies not in the script but in the script which has been interpreted by producers, directors, and actors themselves, while in literature the final product is that which was composed by the writer. Literature, in its supreme silence and invisibility, is the most haunting, intimate form of art.
Indeed it may be said that screenwriters are far more generous than all the philosophers and poets who keep the creation of their art a private matter, but who steps forth to deny that the classical literary writer plumbs far deeper and soars far higher than the screen writer? Just because ye can't fathom the profound depths of the wild blue doesn't mean that ye wouldn't drown if ye were to dive in. While the classic novel can be chopped, abridged, whittled, and paired down down until it resembles a screenplay, the latter has yet to be built up or raised to the level of the former. And the world's most profound novel, Plato's Dialogues, has yet to be adapted. Visual truths only ever touch the surface, and all elements and entities have surface, but words alone can fathom that uniqueness of man which was created in God's intangible image, the soul.
Are we not fortunate that Thomas "I cannot live without books" Jefferson was influenced by the classical literature, religion, and philosophy of antiquity, from the Bible to Cicero to Plato to Shakespeare, rather than MTV? Are we not thankful that J.D. Salinger shunned the visual medium and more pagan dispositions and honored his private vision by the precision of the printed word, so much so that he asked an editor to send back The Catcher in The Rye when the editor attempted to edit it? And this was after the novel had finally been accepted after having been rejected over fifteen times by the literary experts of the day. The same immortal, nameless experts who a few years earlier had seen it fit to condemn Melville to literary anonymity, and who had long ago exiled Anaxagoras. And though ye search long and hard at the corner Blockbuster, matie, ye won't find The Catcher in The Rye there, and ye never shall, unless ye find it beside Aristotle's Poetics. And though ye may rent Moby Dick and enjoy Gregory Peck's Ahab or Father Mapple's Sermon, the difference between the novel and the movie is every bit as great as that yawning divide between the two Nantuckets.
Where else can one glimpse the rugged individual's wisdom and infinite independence in all it's glory but in the printed word? Was it not in the founding document's and original American scripture's best interest that Hamilton, Madison, and Jay studied Aristotle, Homer, and Moses, rather than Pulp Fiction and Good Will Hunting? In the movies poets, scientists and philosophers are often portrayed, but the actual poetry, science, and philosophy which comprises the essence of genius is absent. How many statesmen or scientists needed a shrink or Robin Williams to unlock their full potential? The hallmark of genius is not the ability to solve math problems, but it is the Will to Understand the Universe. Genius originates not in answering, but in asking. Did not Einstein say that curiosity is more important than knowledge? We inhabit a culture that honors the actor, or the seemer, far more than those who are-- most would rather watch or act in Dead Poet's Society than live it-- for living requires work, vision, dedication, ardor, committment, and character. And let us ponder the true nature and intellect of people who play poets and prophets. Contrast the temporal pop-culture-profanity-laden dialogue of the young writer's (screenwriter's) interview in Details with the resounding private correspondence of our founding fathers, and there ye shall see that fame and fortune did once favor the more profound, humbler men. Why is it that after having gained publicity's podium these modern "Southpark" celebrities refrain from announcing that freedom is a gift that God granted to the moral and righteous? Is their spiritual, intellectual, and moral indifference a prerequisite for appearing in the pages? Then I have been utterly banned and resolutely censored by the modern liberal elite. Did not the words of Locke and the prophets quite aptly capture the sentiments of our fundamental freedoms and Natural Law without any special effects, lighting, camera angles, cartoons, or movie stars? How is it that University Presidents can smile and present Martin Scorsese with honorary degrees while the chief officers aboard their ships teach that these words mean nothing? Do not get me wrong here, mate-- for I very much enjoy a good episode of Seinfeld, just as I enjoy a stroll along the pristine Main Street in Nantucket on a dry June afternoon, sipping on a Nantucket Nectar, but yet I find myself unsatiated at the end of the sojourn. I wish to see something more, to hear something which resonates a little deeper within my soul, to witness something which leaves a more permanent and enchanting after-image in me mind's eye. I seek both the experience and the meaning. I seek character beneath every cobblestone, and significance under every slate shingle. For I need that more fundamental Nantucket, mate, and I feel far less alone when in the company of others who seek it too. I find myself perpetually attracted to the island within the island, the heart of the soul, the fundamental iron that distinguishes all men of character, independence, and creativity. Perhaps that's why you and I make such good shipmates.
As I was strolling on down Whaler's Lane one soft dusk, conducting a Spirit Search and pausing before houses to listen for histories being blown upon the whispering wind, all of a sudden I thought I recognized a dog up ahead. Ophelia. A distinguished cross between a German Shepherd and Golden Retriever, it looked like my x-girlfriend Wyoming's dog, and sure enough, a little further on down the street, calling after Ophelia, I sighted Wyoming. Wyoming McAllister. I'd noticed posters all over the island for a movie she'd been in, Chicago Cab, and I'd figured Wy might be on the island for the screenings. It was by complete coincidence that I happened upon the island during the festival, as it was that I happened upon her on Whaler's Lane, whereupon she invited me to tag along with her and Ophelia to a party honoring the film festival's sponsors. Although I was somewhat underdressed, sporting shorts, a classic jollyroger.com Herman Melville t-shirt, and a baseball cap, I figured it'd be fun to check out the prevailing cultural winds.
Hosted at the Point Breeze hotel, the party was basically the Vanity Fair/Conde Nast crowd, adorned with a few familiar faces and a couple big-time directors, though none as infinite as Shakespeare. We mingled a bit while getting all caught up with one-another, and Wy told me how she'd recently broken off an engagement, perhaps with a little more wistfullness than she had meant to exude. That same tender, regretful wistfulness echoed by so many in my generation who had all but given up searching for that second Nantucket.
Wy pointed out a big-time "publisher-feminist-editor-professional-decliner" or somebody who had helped captain The New Yorker to losses in the tens of millions of dollars over the past few years-- the magazine had lost eleven million dollars last year alone, and over three hundred million since it was bought out by Conde Nast. And thar she blew in her Calvin Klein designer dress and heels-- spouting the postmodern fog from her blowhole, hoping that in the ever-thickening mist she would be able to pass the degraded Nantucket off as the superior Nantucket. For have not the short-sighted salesmen, the Dukes and Dauphins of "Huckleberry Finn", always sought to benefit from selling inferior products at high prices, before being run out of town? And are not the modern liberals little more than short-sighted salesmen, with no regard for heritage nor posterity, relentlessly playing upon the postmodern paradox, beating it like a dead horse? The postmodern paradox arises from the fact that both Shakespeare and nihilism are difficult to understand, just as both Nantuckets are islands. Although neither Nantucket can bee seen from land, one of them-- the Nantucket which is mired in a thick, potent fog-- cannot be seen at all. I have even heard some sailors of the highest integrity state that the liberal elite just pretend that there's solid ground 'neath the encompassing gray. Legend has it that behind the postmodern fog they maintain the presence of an artistic and cultural vacuum to this day, for the sole purpose of excluding art and culture.
Now take a group of people whose talents are overshadowed by their ambitions-- will they not be jealous of those who truly apprehend the Sublimity of Shakespeare and the Divinity of God? Will they not covet the distinctions and respect gained by the hard-working, honorable, reflective, conscientious, noble, and righteous poets? Was not Cain jealous of Abel? Will they not seek to take action against the noble souls, and in the spirit of revenge, will they not institute inferior artists and erect arbitrary gods of their own? And as they favor power over prudence and aesthetics, their artists and gods shall lack the prudent and aesthetic consistencies which might get in the way of power-- their artists and gods shall lack Character, and as nature often imitates art, they shall be created in their own image. As they are shallow men and women to begin with, Divinity and Profundity are not necessary for their Happiness. Honor, commitment, and duty are not essential to their pursuit of Life and Liberty. They appeal to the baser material sentiments, because they only know what they themselves hunger for. I think they once said, "It's the economy stupid." Their creations are inspired by negation. Their truths are founded in falsehoods. They replace substance with sex, literature with lesbians, and then they tell you that you're a sexist, uncultured homophobe when you stop reading The New Yorker, and start spending more time in used bookstores and on the internet. Their heroes are private villains, and their artists are mediocre nihilists at best, and pandering politicians at worst. Their women will gladly exchange oral sex for the right to have abortions, and the paragons of their men will cheat on their wives with girls the age of their children. Their happiness is often little more than shared misery, their liberty is licentiousness. They find virtue in vulgaritry and scholarship in stupidity. They've replaced abstinence for children with adultery for adults. They've substituted lawyers for the Law, and common stupidity for common sense. Their politicians and novels lack character, significance, and meaning. Everything they touch becomes demoralized and dumbed-down, from the military to marriage, from schools to the senate. They muddy the waters so as to appear deeper, they thicken the postmodern fog so as to render the printed word indiscernable, and they prefer the rule of pleasure and pain over that of God's grace and reason. Their leaders are followers of the same popular opinion they relentlessly dumb-down and degrade, their men are often women, their women are often men, their children are marketed to as if they were adults, and their adults behave like children, all of which I'm getting used to. But that which pits my eternal soul against them in pronounced opposition, that which goes against the fundamental grain of all manhood and all womanhood, is their fundamental, shameless, irreverent dishonesty.
And as there are two Nantuckets, there are also two kinds of modern liberals-- those who are oblivious to the decline, and those who rejoice in decline, allow the decline, demand the decline, and usher it ever-further. The relativists think themselves to be rising when in reality the culture about them is falling. And tell me mate, if the foundational documents are desecrated, how much shall the monetary documents be worth? For all money is founded upon promises, and thus ultimately governed by the Word.
It's not the liberals who have never glimpsed the second Nantucket who I am so stalwartly opposed to, but rather it's the ones who have seen the second Nantucket, and yet wish to conceal it from all forever, 'neath a blanket of postmodern fog, because they themselves never gained its shore. They wished for it once long ago, but they lacked the Character or Integrity to Work for it. And they know that upon the pristine shores, the sun's shining Truth, unimpeded by the postmodern fog, would burn right thought their pretense and expose their decrepidness. I speak of the postmodern poets and poltroons who know that their work falls far short of the eternal, the postmodern politicians who know that their declarations and depositions are lies, and the University Presidents/Liberal Economists who shamelessly inherit all the perks and pomp associated with Intellectual Leadership, while forfeiting upon their sacred duty of following God, and passing His judgement. I speak of the elite liberal club which appeals to the baser instincts, who believe that because they think that there is no God, they have inherited the right to deconstruct and destroy all the old cultural masterpieces, and prevent the creation of new ones. The liar is the leader, and believing him is considered teamwork. Because they can so freely promise one thing and perform another, they think themselves superior to you. Because they can look you in the eye and tell you that nihilism and pornography are art, they believe themselves more highly evolved. Conscience hath made me a conservative, and thus I'm a coward in their world, as I'm a coward when it comes to both telling and believing lies. I fear for my soul, mates. But I'm not a coward when it comes to speaking righteously, and thus I step forth to distinguish between the two Nantuckets, and claim the better one. And I say it's the phony duplicity and self-serving dishonesty of the supposed intellectual leaders, Presidents, and publishers, which makes me feel as Achilles did over three thousand years ago, as he cursed the duality of heart which so often empowers the wicked:
"For as I detest the doorways of Death, I detest that man, who hides one thing in the depths of his heart, and speaks forth another."--Achilles
Homer, The IliadIX,312-27
I fully detest that postmodern liberal spirit which against all Rhyme and Reason can smile at me, shake my hand, donne a cap and gown, inhabit the White House, climb upon the pulpit, stand before the bar, sit in Justice's high chair, edit magazines, publish books, and look me in the eye, buoyed by my tax and tuition dollars, and tell me that the following's poetry:
& Goodby America
The flagless pole, what relief!
I love it, the eye lifting skyward to nothing
Never to pledge allegiance to the United States of America again
--Joyce Carol Oates, The New Yorker, July 27th, 1998 (Italics are the author's)
Is it any wonder they're going under? Seriously now, mates, when's the last time you bought The New Yorker to be exalted by the poetry? When's the last time you perused its pages seeking to have yer soul enhanced by the fiction? If they really wanted to see something provocative, something modern, something bold, refreshing, and new, rather than sticking to the shallow shoals of the sixties, they'd let me captain the publication for a few issues. First thing I'd do is I'd get the senior editors to man the pumps below and rid the vessel of all the bilge water. Then when we're riding high again, I'll have 'em swab the deck-- just to keep 'em away from the helm and out the Captain's Cabin. But it would be far more prudent, from an intellectual, moral, and economical standpoint, to build a new ship with decks sturdy enough to support the entire Western Canon.
I walked up to the publisher/editor/boomer-decliner who'd jumped aboard the sinking ship and run it aground, I introduced myself as a Captain of The Jolly Roger, and I politely informed her that the island was ours. I'm pretty sure she had no idea what I was talking about, but that is of little consequence, for their understanding cannot affect Reality.
Know ye that the highest ideals, though eternal in form, are the most easily corrupted upon this earth. So it is that teachers or those entrusted with the cultural helms might replace Shakespeare with political nihilism, and the administrators who never read, and those students who only ever read to regurgitate, will be just as content. Perhaps intellectually-indifferent fashion-oriented administrators will even gain the upper hand, as reading for strictly superficial reasons will play right along with their showmanship and "seeming." Race and gender are props for those who cannot fathom the glorious equality of all human souls. Rather than pretending to read Shakespeare and the Bible, the fundraisers can pretend to read lackluster works centered about the author's gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. And the typical student will gladly return the favor for an A. Perhaps this is why deconstruction works so well at institutions lead by modern liberal economists: for them the immortal, immutable words that were were dictated by God are as truely meaningless as those penned by all those they enjoy thinking of as minorities. And though the often demoralized children in their schools and colleges will be content and grateful to receive their dumbed-down A's for agreeing, as the administrators collect $100,000 assurances from the students that they will never speak out that their education lacked all rhyme and reason, such a superficial society shall drift ever further from that more fundamental Nantucket.
In the name of "modernization" and "progress" liberal crews about the great watery globe replaced substance with sex, as the focus of their culture shifted away from the immortal words of the Apollonian writers and towards the glossy pictures and transient gossip of the Dionysian editors, publishers, and models. How completely embarrassed I would be if as a writer I relied on superficial sensationalism and fleeting gossip to sell my work! How degraded I would feel if the magazine which published my verse lost tens of millions of dollars each year! For these shameless, degrading "literary" tactics and base accomplishments, the publisher/editor/professional-decliner is adored as a "smart business woman" in a man's world. And in return the liberal men surrounding her can feel vast pride in admiring a woman. The liberal elite society adors the literary figure who is subsidized by sex, as it is a central theory of their leading economists that sex and politics are everything, while the word of God is meaningless. They theorized that everything is but politics, sex, and money, and then they set about enforcing it. And while money may be made by thieves during rampages, pillages, and decline, the wealth of our heritage is dissipated, and no new cultural wealth is created.
Decline was not always the chosen destination. When Salinger and Hemingway and Fitzgerald published in The New Yorker, their magnificent work sold the magazines, rather than the buzz surrounding the editor's name and gender, the brash covers, and the obligatory publicity parties, parades, poetic propaganda, and patronizing psuedo-shock. When Salinger and Hemingway and Fitzgerald published in The New Yorker, the magazine turned a profit. And if we look back a bit earlier to the winning strategies of profitable American publishers, when character and integrity sought to mary the bottom line to the more sublime virtues, we encounter America's premier printer, publisher, editor, entreprenuer, and writer, Benjamin Franklin. Contrast the New Yorker Nantucket of Joyce Carol Oates's nihilsim and pessimism, with the Nantucket hinted at in Benjamin Franklin's words:There seems to me at present to be great occasion for raising a United Party for Virtue, by forming the virtuous and good men of all nations into a regular body, to be govern'd by suitable good and wise rules, which good and wise men may probably be more unanimous in their obedience to, than common people are to common laws.
I at present think that whoever attempts this aright, and is well qualified, can not fail of pleasing God, and of meeting with success.
Revolving this project in my mind, as to be undertaken hereafter, when my circumstances should afford me the necessary leisure, I put down from time to time, on pieces of paper, such thoughts as occurr'd to me respecting it. Most of these are lost; but I find one purporting to be the substance of an intended creed) containing, as I thought, the essentials of every known religion, and being free of every thing that might shock the professors of any religion. It is express'd in these words, viz.:
That there is one God, who made all things.
That he governs the world by his providence.
That he ought to be worshiped by adoration, prayer, and thanksgiving.
But that the most acceptable service of God is doing good to man.
That the soul is immortal.
And that God will certainly reward virtue and punish vice either here or hereafter.
--Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography
Throughout the tender evening at the Point Breeze Hotel I kept hearing about so-and-so from such-and-such TV show, but none of the names nor faces were recognizable to me, as my entire TV budget is regularly spent at a used bookstore. What was interesting to watch was the awe and esteem with which these people were beheld from afar by the NYU film students and pass-bearers. While the sentinel celebrities all seemed nice and pleasant enough, and shook my hand and commented that Chapel Hill was a beautiful place when I stated that that the Southern part of heaven was from where I was hailing, I could not comprehend the prevailing fascination and enchantment. For while one could at most shake hands and exchange pleasant commonplaces here, one could acquaint oneself with Melville's immortal soul and the deeper Nantucket night by carrying one of his works out to the end of a dock, and reading aloud to a friend, or to the night herself. The fact that so many seemed to be numbing their senses by partaking in drink served to assure me of the lesser nature of this gallant gathering compared to the eternal gathering of souls provided in the canon of Western Literature. Is not the greatest beauty apprehended well enough in perfect sobriety? For I say that the greatest poetry and prose was composed by the most sober poets and prophets, from Abraham to Abraham Lincoln, and too, one can be assured that their words have always been best enjoyed and utilized in the sober state. Now I enjoyed the party for awhile, along with a bit of Captain Morgan's company, as I've always enjoyed those festivities where the air's rarefied and all is a bit more vivid and the lines sharper, with features emboldened by the finer attention paid towards jewelry and dress, and the accompanying heightened formalities of speech and cordiality. The colonial slate-shingled setting of the Point Breeze Hotel provided a canvas, with the black-tied producers and directors providing the background, and an augmenting group of wafe models striving for critical mass formed the brilliant overture. And standing beside me at the edge of it all was Wyoming; with the way the light lingered on her hair, and her far-off stare and the glass of champagne in her hand, I could tell that she was looking for something-- she'd come here looking for that other Nantucket, but it'd turned out to be just a picture, mate.
These pretty things are perhaps sometimes rare to a physics grad student, but I knew of feelings greater than these sights, and of silences greater than these sounds. And I bid Wy farewell, gave her a card with a web address, and slipped away just after midnight, subtly missing a girl down in DC. I ducked into the Club Car, I borrowed a pen and a piece of paper from the waitress, and I set out down a darkened road. And it lead me to one of those things which faith often leads us to, when in the midst of crowded rooms we feel alone, when at the heights of our acumen and habitude we somehow mysteriously feel low. When what is solid splendor to so many seems dulled, sullied, and fabricated to us. When we reflect on the bittersweet whims, pride, and short-winded elations and exertions of our fellow men, only to sail offshore and drop anchor towards the rock of ages, which we instinctually know to be somewhere far below the surface of things. I speak of that faith which navigates us along our individuality, which somehow ordains that much of what we gain in the way of pleasure will be lost in the way of peace. A good half of writing is knowing when to leave parties. I turned from the party, and I gained a poem.
With cobblestone roads and gaslights all glowing,
Nantucket night in the middle of June,
Pretty party where everyone's worth knowing,
I leave for a promenade with the moon.
Passing pristine strangers on pristine streets,
It seems that none of them can see the ghosts,
Though the teen couples good Ishmael greets,
They're blind to things beyond material hosts.
So I find myself upon Starbuck road,
Three miles from town, upon the island's edge,
And there a silvery plume does explode,
As a whale blows an ocean-splitting wedge.
I feel to put the wedge 'tween land and me,
Trade these cobblestones for the open sea.
And here is that deeper lesson mate. For there are choices to be made in this world, and the Nantucket that ye eventually inhabit and inherit depends upon the manner in which ye navigate. It has ever and anon been the Writer's duty to set this down. To serve as a beacon and shout it down from from the rooftops that the two Nantuckets are as disparate as night and day, as land and sea, as body and soul, as heaven and hell. For there are two gates and there are two masters, and there are good trees and bad trees which bear good and bad fruit. There's the high road and the low road. There are true prophets and false prophets, as there are sheep and wolves in sheep's clothing. There are leaders who lead, and there are those leaders who only ever follow their temporary desires, the prevailing winds, their petty peers, and the mob. There are those sailors who serve God by following their moral compass, even if they must sometimes tack, and there are those who have abandoned their helm to the whimsies of popular opinion. There are those who stand at the gates of hell, and those who walk through them. There are those teachers who exalt, kindle, and encourage, and there are those teachers who stifle, degrade, extinguish, and disparage. There are those who use educational institutions as barriers, as walls, and as fortresses, and there are those who use them as ladders. There are those lawyers who defend the righteous, and those lawyers who relentlessly defend villains at the humble, pious man's expense. There are those politicians who appeal to man's nobler aspirations and ideals, who seek to inspire confidence and self-reliance, and there are those politicians who prey upon the people's fears and weaknesses, who seek to create dependency, replace morality with money, and loyalty to God and Truth with loyalty to them. There are those administrators who will tell you that there is no difference between the two Nantuckets, and there are those who would meet death to define the difference. There are those scholars who create, and those scholars who only ever memorize and administrate, as there are those scientists and engineers who create, and those scientists and engineers who seek to ride some bureaucracy's chariot, weighted down by reams of paper and legions of lawyers, pulled by the Working, Thinking, Creating man. This is America, mate, and the Working, Thinking, Creating man is free the moment he chooses to be so. There are those who labor their entire lives to create spiritual wealth which shall be enjoyed by eternity, prepared to perish poor, and there are those who obtain vast material fortunes by the desecration of or indifference towards the spiritual wealth created by yesterday's pennieless prophets. There are those who die for freedom and those who use that same freedom to belittle, berate, and diminish their country. There are those who create, who build, who contribute, and there are those who commandeer, beguile, and take. There are those who aspire to the helms of institutions for purposes of pomp and circumstance, and there are those who lay the foundations for the institutions, with blood, sweat, and tears. There are those noble and righteous who smile through times of private despair, and there are those who smile, smile, and smile, and yet are still villains. There are those who Pledge their Lives, their Fortunes, and their Sacred Honors to a Noble Cause, and there are those whose only cause in this life is to pursue the fortunes and political power that can be made by defying, defiling, and corrupting our inherited notion of sacred honor. There are even two ways to die, mate, and know ye that yer soul can perish while yer body yet lingers on. Socrates reminds us:I am speaking now not to all of you but only to those who have condemned me to death. And I have another thing to say to them: You think that I was convicted because I had no words of the sort which would have procured my acquittal - I mean, if I had thought fit to leave nothing undone or unsaid.Robert Frost recognized these two paths, the two fundamental choices, the two ways to live and these two ways to perish, along with the vital, ennobling realization that the nature of mortal life allows us to only ever choose but one:
Not so; the deficiency which led to my conviction was not of words - certainly not. But I had not the boldness or impudence or inclination to address you as you would have liked me to do, weeping and wailing and lamenting, and saying and doing many things which you have been accustomed to hear from others, and which, as I maintain, are unworthy of me. I thought at the time that I ought not to do anything common or mean when in danger: nor do I now repent of the style of my defence; I would rather die having spoken after my manner, than speak in your manner and live. For neither in war nor yet at law ought I or any man to use every way of escaping death.
Often in battle there can be no doubt that if a man will throw away his arms, and fall on his knees before his pursuers, he may escape death; and in other dangers there are other ways of escaping death, if a man is willing to say and do anything. The difficulty, my friends, is not to avoid death, but to avoid unrighteousness; for that runs faster than death. I am old and move slowly, and the slower runner has overtaken me, and my accusers are keen and quick, and the faster runner, who is unrighteousness, has overtaken them. And now I depart hence condemned by you to suffer the penalty of death, - they too go their ways condemned by the truth to suffer the penalty of villainy and wrong; and I must abide by my award - let them abide by theirs. I suppose that these things may be regarded as fated, - and I think that they are well. --Socrates, Apology,: Plato's DialoguesTwo roads diverged in a yellow wood,And this is that deepest lesson of all, the source of all intrinisic majesty in this mortal life, the vital wellspring from which all character issues, the notion which grants our lives meaning, the divinity which grants our souls peace, the singular internal, eternal light which strives to shine on through the thickest of fogs, if ye only let it. Though we are surrounded by dualities and duplicities in this world, though there are two gates, two forms of dignity, two handles, two types of prophets, two masters, two ways to perish, two roads, two choices, and two Nantuckets, there is only but one God, mate. Ponder this when ye come to precipes and points of juncture, and I have faith ye'll choose nobly. Though tossed about in stormy seas and lost in the heaviest sea fogs from time to time, I have faith that ye'll eventually come across that second island, one fine day when the pristine sea's mirroring the Carolina Blue sky you lost long ago, when her eyes clouded over.
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
--Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken
So join me now, brave shipmates, in dedicating the Nantuckets.com Campfires to the merry crew of The Jolly Roger. I hope that a few more friendships are made upon these virtual shores, that a few more souls are exalted, that a few more eyes are opened, and that a few more philosophers, poets, and statesmen are inspired by seeing their thoughts set down in print and shared across the watery globe. Without all of ye out there, up in the rigging, working the deck, and captaining sister ships and fleets of yer own, the Good Ship would have never made it this far. Yer eloquent letters are the wind in our sails, and yer good wishes are the stars by which we navigate. Future statesmen, literary entreprenuers, poets, and philosophers, this deeper island is ours. And may we begin to lead a nation as it was once lead, to lead a nation as it should be lead, and to lead a nation as it will be lead. To lead it in religion, art, and literature, and then, as day follows night, in government, prudence, and politics. May we return the poetry to the people, and remove the politics from the poetry. For this is the True meaning of the separation of State and Church. For while states and bureaucracies are man's creations, Morality, Freedom, and Nantucket were created by by God, and thus the latter fall under His jurisdiction. Such are the things that a solitary sailor might see on a summer Nantucket night.
Privateer Poet, Drake Raft, July, 1998
Date: Mon, 6 Jul 1998 11:13:48 -0400 (EDT)
THE CREW REPORTS FOR DUTY
To: Red Avenger
Subject: I love you guys
I love ya man!!!
Ever since I can remember I have had this great love affair with reading. The first book that I can remember reading that left on impression was "Great Expectations." (My random memory) I am really glad to have found people who have a sense of passion about reading and writing. Now I am on this mission at my university to establish a reading and discussion session between Junior High, High School, and College students. I received this inspiration from you guys and just wanted to say thank you.
THE CAPTAIN RESPONDS: Ahoy there! And we receive our inspiration from ye!
Date: Fri, 10 Jul 1998 13:17:59 -0400 (EDT)
From: Charles Sullivan
To: Red Avenger
Subject: writing and Freedom 4th of July Poem
O Cap'n me Cap'n,
Great poem, Drake!! Just read yer message from 7/1. I were in the 82nd Airborne meself. 'BOUT TIME A POEM OR TWO STARTED TELLIN' 'BOUT PRIDE IN YER LAND!!! Hey - do ANY of those who hate the blessed U.S. of A. stop to realize that we are the ONLY country to protect their right to insult us like they do?
ANYWAY, I been meanin' to ask ye - does the good ship JollyRoger have need of a Chaplain? I be an evangelist when I be 'on the beach' , and I'll be all for any of the mateys who need some comfort or advice from the Good Lord or His Good Book. Give 'em me address if ye will.
Keep up the good fight - a country that can't take pride in its literature WON'T take pride in much else about itself, either !!
THE CAPTAINS RESPONDS: Ahoy there mate! It's always an honor to have members of the armed services aboard, and we're also blessed to have a Chaplain in ye. I will definitely post your message, along with yer email, in our next issue. It's because of ye that our ship has a destination.
From: Jeremiah X McEnerney/NVSPHQ/NAVSUP
To: Red Avenger
Subject: Re: THE JOLLY ROGER: IN THE NAME OF FREEDOM
Drake, with all that salty lingo, I'm ready to head back to sea!
Thought you might enjoy the following verse which every plebe at the Naval Academy has to memorize during plebe summer. Go Navy!
How long have you been in the Navy?
"All me bloomin' life!
Me mother was a mermaid, me father was King Neptune. I was born on the crest of a wave, and rocked in the cradle of the deep.
Sea weed and barnacles are me clothes, every hair in me head is hemp, every bone in me body is a spar, and when I spits, I spits tar.
I'm hard, I is, I am, I are."
THE CAPTAIN RESPONDS: Thanks for the line, mate! I know the feeling-- I've been on this ship since the dawn of time.
Date: Wed, 22 Apr 1998 21:38:32 -0400 (EDT)
I like your web page.
Your story reminded me of a similar experience. A few years back I was working for the Army Corps. of Engineers at the Field research Facility in Duck.
During the fall, I decided to read Moby Dick for the first time -- it was a knock out. The beginning was slow for me, but soon I was reading it during every moment I could steal. I will never forget the morning I finished Melville's yarn ...
Part of my job at the research pier included taking daily weather measurements. I was still a little hazy in the mind (a wee bit before sunrise) so I don't recall all the details of my half mile treck to the pier's end, but I remember the end of the walk like it happened yesterday... a large whale was swimming at the end of the pier. It was the first time I ever saw one in the wild. This was one of those moments in life where you realize there is a bigger picture. A lot of folks don't understand what I mean.
W. Terry Lease
THE CAPTAIN RESPONDS: Argrhrgr there sailor! I understand what ye mean! Avast!
Date: Thu, 9 Jul 1998 15:12:22 -0400 (EDT)
To: Red Avenger
Subject: Freedom Poem
I just got my email up and running again after an awful experience with trying to upgrade to win98. i read your poem that was posted in the jolly roger E newsletter and had to let you know that i haven't read such a grand original poem since ... jeez! maybe college (for me that was a while ago). i was an English major, so i had exposure to a lot of good original works. this was a true touch to the little patriot that still wanders around inside me. if you don't mind, i'd like to send it off to my dad.
THE CAPTAIN RESPONDS: Thank ye, thank ye. Please feel free to send it off to everyone! If it weren't for ye out there, we wouldn't be here! At yer service!
Date: Mon, 20 Jul 1998 16:48:09 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Re: In The Name of Freedom poem
On Mon, 20 Jul 1998, Pamela Benich wrote:
In The Name of Freedom, is truly a beautiful poem. Can one purchase a copy?
THE CAPTAIN RESPONDS: Argrhgrh! It's as free as the wind!
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