Saturday, July 5, 2008

I guess I can see that

A couple of days ago at Sadly, No, Mister Leonard Pierce looked at some responses to the National Review Onine's symposium on books. To the question "If there were only one book on conservatism you could recommend to a newcomer, what would it be and why?" Richard Brookheiser answered "The Complete Poetry of Robert Frost. Not very detailed at the policy level, but lots of reality."

I have my doubts about the reality part, but I'm guessing Brookheiser is referring to poems like "The Gift Outright" when it comes to his approval of Frost's poetry. After all, it's a paean to the British-centric view of US history.
But we were England's, still colonials,
Possessing what we still were unpossessed by,
Possessed by what we now no more possessed.
I can see why a conservative would like this poem. It simplifies the early history of the US down to a single people and ignores everyone else. Dutch, German, French, Spanish, even the slaves are disappeared from the narrative--"we were England's," according to this.

But that's nothing compared what Frost does to the natives who were living here when the Europeans showed up.
Such as we were we gave ourselves outright
(The deed of gift was many deeds of war)
To the land vaguely realizing westward,
But still unstoried, artless, unenhanced,
Such as she was, such as she would become.
Frost pulls off a nice double whammy here--without mentioning Native Americans directly, he has us give ourselves this land through "many deeds of war," thus acknowledging that there were people there before us who had a claim (one could include Mexicans in with this group as well), but then refers to the land as basically useless before we got there to improve it: "unstoried, artless, unenhanced." Of course conservatives like Brookheiser like this poem--it feeds into their sense of supremacy, of privilege, of the idea that until the white, English-speaking man came along, the land was crap, waiting for us to do something useful with it.

I think Brookheiser, at least with this poem, got it backwards. Plenty of policy--white, English supremacy, no mention of women or other ethnicities, genocidal policies toward native peoples, and revised history. Not much reality, though.

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