January 5, 2011

Bill Nemitz: Inaugural time in rhyme from the mind of a poet

By Bill Nemitz bnemitz@pressherald.com

PORTLAND — So there I stood Tuesday in Longfellow Square, staring up with sympathy at the imposing statue of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Why sympathy?

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.

(Continued on page 2)

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