PORTLAND — So there I stood Tuesday in Longfellow Square, staring up with sympathy at the imposing statue of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
Because a few days ago, inaugural director Brent Littlefield announced in no uncertain terms that “we’re not going to have any poems being read” at today’s swearing-in of Gov.-elect Paul LePage.
In response, the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance has invited poetry lovers statewide to gather here today, in the shadow of Longfellow himself, to read their favorite verses throughout the very hour that LePage takes the oath of office in Augusta and delivers his first address (presumably not in iambic pentameter) as Maine’s chief executive.
In other words, old Henry is back in the limelight. And while I’m by no means a poetry aficionado, I couldn’t help but wonder what’s going through his mind at this pivotal moment in Maine history …
Thanks for agreeing to chat, Mr. Longfellow. First and foremost, could you share your thoughts on the decision by the governor-elect’s team to explicitly exclude poetry from the inaugural program?
HWL: All are architects of Fate,
Working in these walls of Time;
Some with massive deeds and great,
Some with ornaments of rhyme.
Couldn’t agree more! Sounds like you’re taking it like a true gentleman.
HWL: Into each life some rain must fall.
Indeed. Speaking of rain falling, I’m sure you, as a longtime resident of the West End, have overheard a thing or two about how Portland’s liberal Democrats are feeling right about now.
HWL: Solemnly, mournfully,
Dealing its dole,
The Curfew Bell Is beginning to toll.
Any advice for your left-of-center neighbors?
HWL: In the world’s broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!
Hmmm … I don’t think they’re feeling particularly heroic right about now. All I’m seeing is a lot of hand-wringing about where Maine may be headed for the next four years. I take it you don’t like hand-wringing?
HWL: If ever ye return this way,
With your mournful company,
A curse be on ye, and the day
That brings ye moping back to me!
Got it. How about our new governor? Any thoughts?
HWL: There’s a brave fellow!
There’s a man of pluck!
A man who’s not afraid to say his say,
Though a whole town’s against him.
Wow. Not the answer I expected. Although I do admit Gov.-elect LePage’s up-from-the-bootstraps story has a lot of appeal. Ditto for that stealthy primary campaign he ran last spring.
HWL: The heights by great men reached and kept
Were not attained by sudden flight,
But they, while their companions slept,
Were toiling upward in the night.
And their toiling is just beginning. Have you checked out Maine’s economy lately?
HWL: Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.
You’re starting to sound like Gov.-elect LePage himself – except for that “wait” part. All LePage talks about is how he wants to make Maine more business-friendly – and the sooner, the better.
HWL: Ah, to build, to build!
That is the noblest art of all the arts.
So you see better days ahead?
HWL: Build today, then strong and sure,
With a firm and ample base;
And ascending and secure
Shall tomorrow find its place.
All due respect, Mr. Longfellow, I don’t think it’s going to be that simple. We still have that massive budget deficit staring us in the face. Do you really think Gov. LePage can balance the budget and still meet the needs of the truly needy without raising taxes?
HWL: How busily each passing hour
Should we exert that magic power.
Magic power? I’m thinking hardball politics.
HWL: In this world, a man must either be anvil or hammer.
No doubt. The Legislature may look like a bipartisan place now, but this session has a middle-of-the-night budget showdown written all over it, don’t you think?
HWL: Between the dark and the daylight,
When the night is beginning to lower,
Comes a pause in the day’s occupations,
That is known as the Children’s Hour.
Kind of makes you wonder what Maine will look like when it’s all over, doesn’t it?
HWL: All things must change
To something new, to something strange.
Well, Mr. Longfellow, I sure wish you could get off that big chair up there and share your pearls of wisdom directly with the folks in Augusta. What would you tell them if you had the chance?
HWL: Thou, too, sail on,
O Ship of State! Sail on, O Union, strong and great!
Humanity with all its fears,
With all the hopes of future years,
Is hanging breathless on thy fate!
And any parting words for Governor LePage and his Cabinet?
HWL: Being all fashioned of the self-same dust,
Let us be merciful as well as just.
Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at: firstname.lastname@example.org