Dark hills at evening in the west,
Where sunset hovers like a sound
Of golden horns that sang to rest
Old bones of warriors under ground,
Far now from all the bannered ways
Where flash the legions of the sun,
You fade—as if the last of days
Were fading, and all wars were done.
The Dark Hills, by Edwin Arlington Robinson
That’s always been my favourite poem, ever since I first read it as a teenager and put it to memory.
It’s a poem with more than one level of meaning, including the most obvious one that usually brings Second World War General Douglas McArthur to mind – mine, anyway. I don’t know if he was recalling this poem when he uttered his famous, “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away” line in his farewell address to Congress after being relieved of command during the Korea War by President Harry Truman.
If so, his sentimental reference didn’t do justice to a great poem.
Though it certainly works on the literal level, it’s always moved me – and I hesitate to risk breaking the spell by trying to explain what really doesn’t require explanation and, God forbid, analysis – on a deeper level of pathos that speaks to being alive in the world, and then the end of it. Perhaps even the end of all things.
That may sound morbid. But I sometimes find myself, like tonight as sunset approached here at Cathedral Drive Farm, reciting it quietly over and over to myself, for spiritual consolation.
It’s comforting as well to know that their was a man – an American, by the way – who once lived in the world and was so wonderfully inspired to write such a great poem, so simple and accessible, yet so utterly, and mysteriously profound.
I am reminded of my favourite moment in music, a few minutes into the first movement of Sergei Prokoviev’s last piano sonata, the 9th. I first heard that too as a teenager listening to a recording of it played by Sviatoslav Richter. Prokoviev dedicated the work to Richter.
I am approaching an age now where the poem is becoming more meaningful for me, and the state of the world, which I confess I find depressing. But that’s not helpful, either for me or the world. So I’ve got to do something about that.
And one thing I do, perhaps too often, is bear witness here to the reason why I, and, I think, a lot of other people are also feeling discouraged about hopeful prospects for the future.
It has a name, and it’s called Trump.
I must be getting old. But, “What’s the world coming to?” is a question I’ve been asking myself a lot lately.
Heaven knows, there’s lots of reasons to ask the question, and lots of things that would have been outrageous, and otherwise much more than a bubble off-level, that now seem part of the new “normal” in Donald Trump’s World.
The U.S. presidential candidate, now president, who said during the campaign with wide-eyed, child-like wonder that he could stand in the middle of Times Square in New York City and shoot someone, and it wouldn’t affect his basic popularity, has done it again: he has fired Jim Comey, the now-former director of the FBI, the very law-enforcement organization in the midst of investigating possibly treasonous connections between the Trump campaign and Russia before last fall’s election.
Trump, strangely, referenced that investigation in the letter of dismissal he had hand-delivered to the Justice Department. But he has continued to offer other reasons for his decision, such as Comey mishandled the Hillary Clinton e-mail case, or just that he “wasn’t doing his job.”
As an old-fashioned “news hound” I may qualify for the Trumpian definition of poorly educated, as in “I love the poorly educated.” Trump blurted that out impulsively at one of his rabble-rousing rallies. Great multitudes of people are better educated than I am, but that doesn’t mean I can’t see through the blatant hypocrisy of Trump’s action this week.
And I expect a lot of his base of “poorly educated” supporters – meaning people without a university degree or college diploma – will also see through it.
Within a day or so of his, I predict, fateful mistake, well-attributed, news reports – of the sort he dismisses as “fake news” – were already exploring the inside dynamics of Trump’s decision. His deputy-press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, actually told reporters at a press briefing in the White House Wednesday that Trump had been considering firing Comey since election day.
Still, reports describe an impulsive decision stemming from a meeting Trump had in the Oval Office with Attorney-General Jeff Sessions and his recently-appointed Deputy Attorney-General Rod Rosenstein. The next day Trump received a three-page memo written by Rosenstein and highly critical of Comey entitled “Restoring Public Confidence in the FBI.”
That same day Comey was fired. It so happened Comey was in California on a recruitment drive and first heard about it on a television news report that happened to be playing in the background as he was talking to FBI staff.
Many White House officials were also taken by surprise and scrambled afterwards to respond to the rapidly emerging, largely critical backlash to the news. Even Trump was taken aback by the extent of it, his deputy press secretary admitted.
The day after the optics – coincidental or not – were stranger than fiction, or “surreal,” one report called it, as Trump and his Russian-connected Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson met with Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, and Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the U.S.
Kislyak is regarded as a key person-of-interest in the ongoing investigations into Russia’s alleged meddling in the U.S. election to help elect Trump.
“The White House closed off press access to the Oval Office meeting with Lavrov, not even allowing photographers in. So it was left to the Russian state press to put out pictures of Trump and Lavrov shaking hands and beaming,” reported The Guardian, a highly regarded, U.K.-based news source.
“Was he fired? You’re kidding! You’re kidding!” the Lavrov exclaimed outside Tillerson’s State Department office when a journalist asked him whether Comey’s downfall might throw a shadow over the Russian’s visit.
He of course already knew what had happened, and was literally smirking in delight.
Lavrov also took the opportunity to call allegations of Russian interference in the U.S. election “fake news.”
Time and time again in the past year, before and now after last November’s election victory, Trump has tested the limits of the official and public response to his behaviour. And each time he has gotten away with words and actions that would have derailed any other politician in a normal, grown-up world.
Sooner or later he was going to go too far. That time has come. He might as well have admitted wrong-doing – to put it mildly – in connection with Russian interference in the U.S. election.
I am not surprised. It will take some time yet for this strange and dangerous Trumpian moment in history to play itself out. In the meantime we will all continue to live in a dangerous world and say our quiet prayers.
Now that I think of it, that’s what my recitation of The Dark Hills really is for me, a kind of prayer.
This blog was partly inspired by today’s daily prompt, final.
A version of this was originally published in The Sun Times in May, 2017