Thursday, July 3, 2014

Real American Poetry By Ellin Anderson: Happy 4th of July 2014

(Editor's note: Nothing could be more appropriate for us to publish this 4th of July holiday, than the work of Ellin Anderson. She is a New England-based poet whose work artistically and eloquently captures the very essence of the America that we know. At a time when the arts are dominated by counter-cultural, usually anti-American, hacks and poseurs, her work is as genuinely refreshing as it is beautiful. We present it here by permission along with an exclusive foreword from the author.)

Foreword by Ellin Anderson

The elegant wineglass elm — “wineglass” referring to its shape — was once a symbol of New England, where I have lived all my life.

In his book, Republic of Shade: New England and the American Elm (Yale University Press, 2003), Thomas J. Campanella tells us that “…the American elm was something of paramount significance for the people of the United States, and of New England in particular.”

It “was” something of significance, because starting in the 1920s, a beetle-borne disease out of Asia decimated our native elms. New England’s streets, over arched with beautiful colonnades and canopies of elms, and the lone wineglass elm shading cows in a pasture, are no more.

The age of the elm is associated in my mind with civility: a paradox of the period when America still took itself dead seriously.

When our patrician President Teddy Roosevelt (1901–1909) told us to “Speak softly” but “carry a big stick” so as to “go far,” the “big stick” in question was a mighty U.S. Navy, pledged by Roosevelt to enforce the Monroe Doctrine in this hemisphere, and to make us a world power around the globe.

When society was decent and manners were an art, America was brutal, by modern standards, in controlling its southern border. During the aptly named “Border War” (1910–1916), we enlisted General John J. Pershing and the future General George S. Patton to chase Pancho Villa and his posse back to Mexico.

That happened when elms last graced New England in all their glory.

Look at us now.

Look at Mexico. (If you can’t see the Mexican border from your window, just be patient.)

Look at Iraq.

Rudeness and lewdness, transmitted via the mainstream media, are our parasitic beetles. National impotence is a co-morbidity of the diseases they impart.

The little town in Massachusetts where I spent most of my childhood has an “Elm Park” dating to the 19th century.  By the time I was skating there, the elms were long gone, having succumbed to the ghastly bug.

But elms of a new and hardy species were recently planted to replace them. Today I live in northern Vermont, and on the hill where I like to walk, I seem to have found a survivor elm in an old pasture. I have written a poem about it.


By Ellin Anderson

The wineglass elm
Of storied praise
That graced the realm
Of kinder days,

And rose to pledge
An endless toast
At empire’s edge,
Is now a ghost.

But on a day
Before the fall,
I made my way
Past wood and wall,

And from the grass
The pasture wore,
That graceful wineglass
Rose once more.

Vines wrapped the tree
As round a sheaf,
Quite prettily,
With flaming leaf

And pendant from
Its tapered shape,
Hung hue of plum:
The ripened grape.

Could there be mist
In that warm shade?
White vapors kissed
A promenade

Of stateliness
In summer white
Where numberless
As stars at night

Were all the stitches,
Ruffles, pearls,
The handmade riches
Countless girls

Had sewn, by candles,
For rituals
Of courtesy.

As fine as ever,
Nod and bow,
The graces never
Thought of now;

Men tipped straw hats,
And ladies smiled.
White canes, white spats;
Each man, and child

And woman seemed
To walk in bliss;
No dream I’d dreamed
Was quite like this.

What gods held sway
With canes and fans
To rule the day?

Who lightly stepped,
And softly spoke
Through vigils kept.
More modern folk

Carry a stick
Whose core is rotten;
Weak and sick,
And soon forgotten.

It was late,
The light soon killed.
I could not wait.
The wineglass filled

With sunset’s tranquil
Against the chill
Come over me.

And home I went
To gather wood
For time well spent
In doing good,

And here’s my thought,
A lesson learned:
The worse the rot,
The sooner burned.

© 2014 by Ellin Anderson. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be copied or used in any way without written permission from the author.

You can experience more of Ellin Anderson's poetry at her personal sites:

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