Inauguration Day: January 1953
by Robert Lowell (1917 – 1977)
The snow had buried Stuyvesant.
The subways drummed the vaults. I heard
the El’s green girders charge on Third,
Manhattan’s truss of adamant,
that groaned in ermine, slummed on want….
Cyclonic zero of the word,
God of our armies, who interred
Cold Harbor’s blue immortals, Grant!
Horseman, your sword is in the groove!
Ice, ice. Our wheels no longer move.
Look, the fixed stars, all just alike
as lack-land atoms, split apart,
and the Republic summons Ike,
the mausoleum in her heart.
History has a way of repeating itself. The urban, intellectual liberal democrat candidate for President, Stevenson, lost to the war hawk demagogue conservative, Eisenhower in the 1952 Presidential election. Lowell marked Eisenhower’s 1953 inauguration with this sonnet, a satirical sharp-tongued intelligent critique of the icy death of American values while the negativity of McCarthyism held sway over our country in the midst of the Korean war. All of this sounds familiar. But we need not be stuck in our current icy path. Its time to move forward with a simple reminder of our better selves:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”