Saturday, May 23, 2009

A Great Poem About the Sixties

My friend Bob once remarked that all poetry is about how things used to be better in the past than they are now. I read a wonderful poem by Robert Bly today on The Writer's Almanac which fits Bob's formulation: "Driving West in 1970" (it's really, I think, about the 1960s; perhaps, like the "long nineteenth century," that decade was the "long" 1960s).


My dear children, do you remember the morning
When we climbed into the old Plymouth
And drove west straight toward the Pacific?

We were all the people there were.
We followed Dylan's songs all the way west.
It was Seventy; the war was over, almost;

And we were driving to the sea.
We had closed the farm, tucked in
The flap, and we were eating the honey

Of distance and the word "there."
Oh whee, we're gonna fly
Down into the easy chair.
We sang that

Over and over. That's what the early
Seventies were like. We weren't afraid.
And a hole had opened in the world.

We laughed at Las Vegas.
There was enough gaiety
For all of us, and ahead of us was

The ocean. Tomorrow's
The day my bride's gonna come.

And the war was over, almost.


I love the way that Bly begins the poem with innocence and hope, and ends it, masterfully, as a quasi-elegy with the repetition of the line "the war was over, almost." The crux of the poem is carried in that one line at the end, and it has, to me, almost the tragic weight of Homer in miniature.

Some of my commenters lived through the 1960s. If you are reading this, Maclin, I'd love to know if that sense of elegy was really in the air as the sixties turned to the seventies.


Maclin Horton said...

Just this evening read the post. I don't have time to say much right now--maybe tomorrow sometime--but a quick response to your closing question is "sort of". Definitely a sense of something ending. I think Joan Didion's view in The White Album is closer to mine but most people didn't have such a dark view.

Pentimento said...

Maclin, I wrote a little about Didion's essays on the sixties here last year, and we had an interesting discussion then, as I recall. I found her essays profoundly disturbing. Robert Bly is certainly much more wistful than Didion. I suppose the "men's work" he pioneered subsequent to all of that might be an indication that his faith in what the sixties seemed to promise continued in another form.

I wonder if the entire enterprise of the sixties failed. I suppose that it continued, though, in people of faith.

Maclin said...

Oh I *definitely* think it failed. I could write a book...heh...what a concept--I started one once, and have been thinking of taking it up again.

Sorry to have been so scarce--I've had a *really* busy two weeks or so, but things should be back to just normal hectic-ness soon. Now that you mention it I do recall having that discussion, but not much of the substance--I'll locate it and comment further this weekend, if possible.

Pentimento said...

No worries, Mac, I've been busy too. I just received my doctorate at CUNY's commencement yesterday and am still in NYC. I look forward to hearing your thoughts when you have time.