Friday, November 13, 2009

Shining Inheritance #3

I don't think there's ever been a better statement of rugged individualism than this. This was the American sense of life, back when America was great.

I don't know what to make of the line, "I grant him a white man's room on earth." It is shortly followed by "all clean men are as good as I," which does not exclude anyone on the basis of race. If the first statement is racist, I condemn it. At any rate, the rest of the poem is magnificent.

The Westerner,
by Badger Clark, 1947

My fathers sleep on the sunrise plains,
And each one sleeps alone.
Their trails may dim to the grass and rains,
For I choose to make my own.
I lay proud claim to their blood and name,
But I lean on no dead kin;
My name is mine for the praise or scorn,
And the world began when I was born
And the world is mine to win.

They built high towns on their old log sills,
Where the great, slow rivers gleamed,
But with new, live rock from the savage hills
I’ll build as they only dreamed.
The smoke scarce dies where the trail camp lies,
Till rails glint down the pass;
The desert springs into fruit and wheat
And I lay the stones of a solid street
Over yesterday’s untrod grass.

I waste no thought on my neighbor’s birth
Or the way he makes his prayer.
I grant him a white man’s room on earth
If his game is only square.
While he plays it straight I’ll call him mate;
If he cheats I drop him flat.
Old class and rank are a worn-out lie,
For all clean men are as good as I,
And a king is only that.

I dream no dreams of a nursemaid State
That will spoon me out my food.
A stout heart sings in the fray with fate
And the shock and sweat are good.
From noon to noon all the earthly boon
That I ask my God to spare
Is a little daily bread in store,
With the room to fight the strong for more,
And the weak shall get their share.

The sunrise plains are a tender haze
And the sunset seas are gray,
But I stand here, where the bright skies blaze
Over me and the big today.
What good to me is a vague “maybe”
Or a mournful “might have been,”
For the sun wheels swift from morn to morn
And the world began when I was born
And the world is mine to win.


Charles T. said...

Wow, thanks for posting that, I think it is excellent for the most part.

I don't have any reservations about the "white man's room" line. In fact, I think he's just recognizing that while many people are racist, he's not, his concern is only that a person's "game is square" and that they don't cheat. He's just concerned with a person's character and honesty.

What does annoy me is, as usual, the reference to God, "all the earthly boon that I ask my God to spare." Religion poisons everything, to quote Christopher Hitchens. Any mystical belief in some sort of omnipotent deity contradicts and undermines all the wonderful talk of self-determination and self-assertion, to some degree.

It doesn't by any means ruin all its value, but it is inconsistent, as it always must be. In this case, it strikes me as something of a cop-out, something Christians often toss out there to cover their asses in order to appear compassionate or avoid appearing uncaring toward "those less fortunate." Have to make sure you say something about "the weak" getting their "fair share." Although, he's pretty much leaving that task for God to take care of, isn't he. Lip service, anyone?

If he'd left out everything from "From noon to noon . . . get their fair share," I would criticize nothing. Really good poem, I'm glad you posted it.

Chuck said...

You are probably right about the "white man's room" phrase. It is surrounded by languge of fairness and justice.

I remembered the two most famous lines from this poem "The world began when I was born/ and the world is mine to win," because Ayn Rand quoted it somewhere or other.