May 4, 2023

Never a man of the left, I’ve always envied how they have all the good tropes when it comes to the arts. Poetry, songs, paintings. It’s so easy to create such stuff: anti-war, anti-pollution, anti-capitalist, etc., etc.

I remarked upon this to my wife when I first started going to poetry open mics with her. She said I should write a poem expressing my own different point of view. Well, it proved quite a challenge. What I finally came up with was an extreme parody of a poem cursing out America. Its first line was “Amerika — be sure to spell it with a K.”

But it was a failure. I knew that when, after I read the poem at an open mic, a gal gushed her praise for it. And I realized she didn’t realize it was a parody.

A 1966 Gordon Lightfoot song begins:

There was a time in this fair land when the railroad did not run
When the wild majestic mountains stood alone against the sun
Long before the white man and long before the wheel
When the green dark forest was too silent to be real.

When first hearing it, I expected this song would continue as an all too familiar lament, at civilization’s despoliation of that “wild majestic” nature.

But time has no beginning and history has no bound
As to this verdant country they came from all around
They sailed upon her waterways and they walked the forest tall
Built the mines, the mills and the factories, for the good of us all.

Wait, what? Is that tongue-in-cheek? “For the good of us all?” Mines! Mills! Factories! Not Blake’s “dark satanic mills?” Are you kidding me?

But it goes on —

For they looked to the future and what did they see?
They saw an iron road running from the sea to the sea
Bringing the goods to a young growing land
All up from the seaports and into their hands.

An iron road running from the sea to the sea. Something . . . beautiful. Something wonderful! And people buying stuff — “consumerism!” Yes, here we have a ballad celebrating commerce and industry! And the people who sacrificed for its sake. Imagine that!

Building to its emotive peak, speaking to an idea of human struggle and triumph:

On the mountaintops we stand
All the world at our command
We have opened up this soil
With our teardrops and our toil.

A powerful message we don’t get often in the arts. Gosh I love it. Gordon Lightfoot died May 1. Thank you, Gordon, for a song that lifts my heart and soul.*

* I eventually wrote my own poem invoking the old “sailor’s prayer” —
O God, your sea is so vast, and our boats are so small.
But with our courage, hopes and dreams,
Our eyes to the horizon,
And our faces to the wind,
We set out upon our journey.