We need ballast for our souls, moral weight that will stabilize us in the raging political storm. Poetry, as are all the arts, is the main part of that ballast for me. “When power leads man toward arrogance,” President John Kennedy said in 1963 at the groundbreaking for the Robert Frost Library at Amherst College, “poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the areas of man’s concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of his existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses, for art establishes the basic human truths which must serve as the touchstone of our judgment.”
Kennedy went on to say that “in a democratic society the highest duty of the writer, the composer, the artist, is to remain true to himself and to let the chips fall where they may. In serving his vision of the truth, the artist best serves his nation. And the nation which disdains the mission of art invites the fate of Robert Frost’s hired man – the fate of having ‘nothing to look backward to with pride, / And nothing to look forward to with hope.’” [“The Death of the Hired Man,” ll. 100-101]
I cannot say as Kennedy said at that groundbreaking that “I look forward to a great future for America.” Great nations rise and fall, and America will be no exception. But the spirit that lives in our poets – in our artists of every expression – will continue to call human greatness into existence. Those are the people to whom I am drawn. Like many others, I enjoy the occasional dose of well-aimed vitriol, especially in a political climate like today’s. But it soon makes me weary and dispirited. My soul is renewed and sustained by the poets, the musicians, the dancers, the painters and printmakers, the weavers, the potters, the actors, the landscapers, the artists of every ilk whose voices are never stilled. These are the companions I seek in my pilgrimage.