“This country will not be a permanent good place for any of us to live in unless we make it a reasonably good place for all of us to live in.”
by Thomas Bailey Aldrich (1836 – 1907)
Sick of myself and all that keeps the light
Of the blue skies away from me and mine,
I climb this ledge, and by this wind-swept pine
Lingering, watch the coming of the night.
‘Tis ever a new wonder to my sight.
Men look to God for some mysterious sign,
For other stars than those that nightly shine,
or some unnatural symbol of His might:
—Would’st see a miracle as grand as those
The prophets wrought of old in Palestine?
Come watch with me the shaft of fire that glows
In yonder West; the fair, frail palaces,
The fading alps and archipelagoes,
And great cloud-continents of sunset-seas.
I have been off the grid for most of the past week. I took a trip west camping in Utah, visiting some of the most spectacular places in the western lands; Arches National Park, Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park. Like Thomas Bailey Aldrich I had gotten sick of myself and needed a big bowl of silence to rejuvenate. The trip was a great reminder of what an amazing country we live in and the wisdom of conservationists long ago to set aside the best of the most beautiful places as National Parks to remain accessible for everyone.
There is no direct evidence that the Outward Bound program took it’s title from Aldrich’s sonnet, but given the tenor of it’s imagery I imagine there is a connection. Aldrich wrote the poem Ungaurded Gates and rewrote it several times in different forms. Given the polarizing debate around immigration today it is interesting to see contradictions in Aldrich’s poetry on the subject over a hundred years ago. The subject of immigration has always aroused strong passions and racist tendencies but what makes America great is eventually we tend to get it righter if not actually right. Some issues like immigration are so complicated they require a nuanced solution or a solution that is in the end the least worst, rather than the best. The version of the poem I find most compelling is the following:
Wide open and unguarded stand our gates,
Named of the four winds, North, South, East and West;
Portals that lead to an enchanted land…
Here, it is written, Toil shall have its wage
And Honor honor, and the humblest man
Stand level with the highest in the law.
Of such a land have men in dungeons dreamed
And with the vision brightening in their eyes
Gone smiling to the fagot and the sword.
O Liberty, white Goddess! is it well
To leave the gates unguarded? On thy breast
Fold Sorrow’s children, soothe the hurts of Fate,
Lift the down-trodden, but with hand of steel
Stay those who to thy sacred portals come
To waste the gifts of Freedom.
by Thomas Bailey Aldrich
I leave behind me the elm-shadowed square
And carven portals of the silent street,
And wander on with listless, vagrant feet
Through seaward-leading alleys, till the air
Smells of the sea, and straightway then the care
Slips from my heart, and life once more is sweet.
At the lane’s ending lie the white-winged fleet.
O restless Fancy, whither wouldst thou fare?
Here are brave pinions that shall take thee far—
Gaunt hulks of Norway; ships of red Ceylon;
Slim-masted lovers of the blue Azores!
‘Tis but an instant hence to Zanzibar,
Or to the regions of the Midnight Sun:
Ionian isles are thine, and all the fairy shores!