Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Ithaka to the New World


Joyfully and happily without pride
That girl who’d be your second bride
Softly wed upon green hills,
Their contours mapped by stones and rills,

There where El Dorado shimmered
With golden dreams deceived and glimmered
There where history magnetized
Populations unbaptized:
Heroes all, immortalized
By Westerns quaintly synthesized:
Chinese adventurers, sojourner Jews,
Suppliers, Assayers, and Cowboy hopefuls too,
New-minted miners, Forty-niners,
Illustrate the birth of a state;

Softly wed upon green hills
Gracing the base of a mountain range:
Its fiery beauty passing strange,
To one born on an emerald island
Where the stark drama of even the Highlands
Measures time by its slow creation:
Gentle erosion for a sometime genteel nation;

In that rain-swept land you grew apace:
At age eleven claiming your place
In a world first seen (and heard) at war,
Now freed from fear, if grinding poor.
A whiz in maths and ancient tongues,
You chose the living path, the one
Giving you the chance to speak
Of humankind in Ancient Greek;
Scholarship boy, mother’s pride and joy,
And father’s too, never doubt it,
Though he understood but little about it.

In that rain-swept land you grew apace.
In London ran your early race,
Then Cambridge-bound you found your idyll
Your Camelot, your glory tribal,
Ancient knighthood devoted to books
Taught by men of piercing looks,
There a band of brothers, and a few sisters, too,
In knowledge and affection grew.

King’s College, unique of its kind,
Chose you among others,
Eight centuries of brothers,
Time out of mind;                                                                                 
Among scholars protected by the princely race,
Among myriad Etonians who took their place;
Then lords’ and merchants’ sons, Hungarians,
Poles enrolled; and before other colleges
Kingsmen from round the globe

Now you received a second formation,
Intellect’s gestation, group identification;
From elders like F.R. Leavis, Edmund Leach
You and your cohort modeled your reach,
Distinguished from the majority,
Learning to question authority,
Amidst the ferment of creation
You underwent sub-speciation.

First described by Wilkinson
From a 20th century sample,
Arrayed like a jolly cummerbund
Round starch-shirted virtues ample:
Traits such as tolerance proving salient
Matched originality’s steep-rise gradient;
Independent, liberal, unconventional,       
This species of man radiated potential.
(And even as early as 1972
This radiant species was one of woman, too.)
Surprisingly free of glories meretricious,
Bold, but only to a point ambitious;
Homo Regalis, glimpsed in writer E.M. Forester,
Displayed in musicians from Radcliffe to Gardiner,
All acquired a particular grace
Knowing they inhabited an exceptional place.

There not far from Londontown,
Sheltered by a chapel for gothic beauty renowned,
There Odysseus, that voyager soon to be,
Wed in all simplicity his clever Penelope,
And there might they have dwelt in comfort and peace,
Safely ensconced, to America’s East:
Free of the Beast. But for Mad Margaret’s benighted quest:
To stunt the formation of the brightest and the best.

In the name of Holy Capital did Maggie quell
Factory whistle, tower bell.
Youths packing lunch pails, students toting books,
Beheld their futures’ brave new look.
An iconoclast destroying idols,
She revoked positions to Learning entitled.
Misprizing princely obligation
To cultivate State education,
She rent the ancient charter
As wind dispersing water.

Insane or just inane, Thatcher triggered a brain drain.
Bereft of the second home with which he’d been blessed,
It was time for Odysseus to Go West.

Go West, as the disco song commands,
Go West, quoth the New England newspaperman,
Quoth Horace Greeley to American
Youth: Go West Young Man,
Quoth the namesake, forsooth,
Of Roman virtue uncompromising,
To Duty forsworn,
Love’s claims all misprizing.
Horace et les Curiaces: in a contest surprising,
He vanquished all three, the forbearer of Roman liberty.
A hero without question, his glory bore a cost;
Founder, soldier, patriot, a part of his soul was lost,
Did ghostly Horace, marching in step with the years,
Regret he failed to yield to his sister’s tears?

Go West: such simple advice it seems
Prompted by ambition or dreams:
“Together we will love the beach,
Together we will learn and teach.”
But our Odysseus traveled alone,
With his own Athena, and his own Poseidon.
Poseidon drove Odysseus from the shores of home,
Denying him comforts of the familiar, the known.
His Athena – always the stronger of the two godheads –
Lent him fortitude to outmatch dread.
She led him across the dark blue sea,
To the West, to the future, to victory,
And taking him softly by the hand,
Whispered kind memories of his native land.

Soon in California, Land of Sun,
Where pleasure beckoned: endless fun,
Good wine at dinner, a morning run,
And always the proximity
Of the turquoise, the sapphire, the lazuli sea.
Always too, from morning to night,
Graced by the white California light,
The sense of forever as time unfurled,
Full of tomorrows, on the Rim of the World.

Amidst such bedazzling, such brilliance on parade,
Your rain-swept homeland might have begun to fade,
But that your Athena filled your memory’s senses
With robust realities– no vague pretenses –
With indelible images of hedges, barges, pebbled beaches,
Parish churches and stately speeches,
Timber-framed dreams and hammer beams,
Mussels alive and Fleet Street’s noisy hive.

Now at  UC Berkeley in a teaching position,
Time to make a lifestyle decision.
Neither exclusively Brit nor Yankee,
Ni l’un ni l’autre, a mixture, but free:
What kind of ex-pat would you be?
Go rogue? Go bush? Go home for crumpets and tea?
Dilemma if it was, you solved it like the rest.
Keeping your cards close to your chest,
Never abandoning the sacred flame,
You played the tourist, an adventurer’s game.
Soon you played the tour guide too,
Friends you took to Yosemite, Death Valley, Mokelumne Hill,
To Inverness and Napa and Sutter’s Mill.
Journeys by the score you made,
All the while observing history’s parade.

But what of that girl, your second bride,
What did she joyfully, and without pride?
I swear that story of a passion true
Is yet to come, at last to you.
Your bride awaits, she is waiting for you still
In that place atop the winter-green hill.


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