Song of America’s Most Prominent Republican.

Double, double toil and trouble
Ginsburg was a body double
Rothschild did a fire make
Parkland massacre’s a fake
Spawn of Newt and and scourge of Hogg

Neo-fascist demagogue
Vampire bat with blind-worm’s sting
Not a human but a thing
Ginsburg was a body double
Double, double toil and trouble.

UD Writes an Inaugural Letter from DJT to President Biden.

Of course DJT hasn’t written an inaugural letter, to be read by his successor. This is one of many departures from tradition for which DJT will fail to be remembered.

Already a Chicago Tribune writer has tried his hand at a satirical inaugural letter. UD offers a letter in the form of a poem – a poem in which DJT shows remarkable literary culture.



They say you’re giving the place a deep clean.

Good call.  I wish I could explain how I

Soiled the great gift of the presidency.

Didn’t want to! I swear I didn’t mean

To leave it like this: a moral pigsty.

But of course I know you don’t believe me.

Consider, though, how human beings lean

Toward self-destruction.  Don’t believe me?  Try

Kafka.  Cioran.  Freud.  Dostoevsky.

From a review of an odd film I’ve seen:

“The film focuses on psycho-bi-

ological forces that make you your own enemy.

The lust for chaos; the lust to demean …

To demean yourself!  You self-glorify,

But in a sick way.  But only outwardly.

The hunger for colossal failure in

The drive for success; and for death in any

Vigilant and violent hypochondry.”

Raskolnikov skulks away; the final scene

A shabby nothing as I hiss goodbye.

Some day you’ll find a way to pity me.


UPDATE: He did write a letter after all.

Probably a lot like the one I wrote.

Former Ontario Finance Minister Sings His Christmas Song.

Sing along.

You’re as cold as ice!
You sacrifice
When you’re asked.
You always heed advice
You always pay the price,
I know.

I’ve skipped out before
It happens all the time. I’m closing the door
To leave the cold behind. I’m warm in St Bart
But posting each day
Fake Canadian tweets
Makes you think I stayed.

You’re as cold as ice!
But peons must sacrifice. 
I’m in paradise
And your taxes pay the price
Ho ho.

Faithful Readers Know that at the End of Every Year UD Provides, with Commentary…

… an uplifting New Year poem full of wholesome wisdom.

Nah. Google New Year and you’ll get a zillion pages of those. No one with half a brain comes to University Diaries in search of uplift. Here’s this year’s year-end poem, which appeared in 2002.


By Philip Levine


You can hate the sea as it floods

the shingle, draws back, swims up,

again; it goes on night and day

all your life, and when your life

is over it’s still going. A young priest

sat by my bed and asked, did I know

what Cardinal Newman said

about the sea. This merry little chap

with his round pink hands entwined

told me I should change my life.

“I like my life,” I said. “Holidays

are stressful in my line of work,” he said.

Within the week he was going off

to Carmel to watch the sea come on

and on and on as Newman wrote.

“I hate the sea,” I said, and I did

at that moment, the way the waves

go on and on without a care.

In silence we watched the night

Spread from the corners of the room.

“You should change your life,”

he repeated. I asked had he been

reading Rilke. The man in the next bed,

a retired landscaper from Chowchilla,

let out a great groan and rolled over

to face the blank wall. I felt bad

for the little priest: both of us

he called “my sons” were failing

him, slipping gracelessly from our lives

to abandon him to face eternity

as it came on and on and on.


So a little anecdote, a wee life narrative, from Philip Levine, a Jewish guy who spent some life-endangered time in a shared hospital room entered into one early evening by a cheer-spreading (but not really) priest. Those of us who know Matthew Arnold’s famous Dover Beach may read Levine’s first lines as a kind of modern affectless highly concentrated summary of that angsty Victorian verse. Both poets consider the seeming pointlessness of life, nicely visually captured by the eternal in and out of ocean waves expiring on the shore:

[T]he grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin…

Every day a little death; then, for no particular reason, even maybe stupidly, a gulp of air and another plunge back to the brine, only to dissolve yet again. One More New Botched Beginning. Levine even takes the word shingles from Arnold, who laments

the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world

Naked because these fragile piles of sea stones have been abandoned again and again on the shore by the always-retreating, always-betraying waves of “new” existence. In Levine, you hate the sea as it “floods the shingle,” dousing it with possibility, and then – (Lucy: football; Sisphyus: rock; etc. etc. etc. ) – stranding it. And then the ultimate insult: Not enough that life is drear; there’s the insult of life – even crappy life – “still going” when “your life is over.”

So with that general statement done, Levine proceeds to his story. The visiting priest asks Levine (this seems an autobiographical poem) if he knows what Arnold’s fellow Victorian, the great Catholic poet John Henry Cardinal Newman said about the sea. The poem never says exactly what that was, but take it that the priest might have had this in mind:

[My conversion] was like coming into port after a rough sea; and my happiness on that score remains to this day without interruption.

But Newman spoke too soon; he experienced very serious depressions in his later years, and wrote one of the most-cited poems about that condition. And here’s a sample of his late-in-life prose.

I have so depressing a feeling that I have done nothing through my long life, and especially that now I am doing nothing at all. … What am I? my time is out. I am passé. I may have done something in my day—but I can do nothing now. It is the turn of others. … It is enough for me to prepare for death, for, as it would appear, nothing else awaits me—there is nothing else to do.

The merry priest tells Levine to change his life – consider conversion, one imagines, in order to be happier, and situated in a meaningful deathless world – but Levine replies that he likes his life, bitter existential betrayal and all. The priest then complains that holidays like New Year’s Eve are “stressful” for priests – presumably because everyone’s miserably reflecting on their lives the way Levine (who has the double whammy of illness and end of year to get him going) is. So the priest himself ain’t so jolly, having to gad about from drear hospital room to drear hospital room attempting to spread cheer. In fact he needs a break and is off to the biblically and californically rich “Carmel” to decompress.

The priest is now silent; together he and Levine watch the night “spread from the corners of the room.” They are being engulfed by metaphysical darkness… The priest can only repeat himself: The poet should change his life. “I asked had he been reading Rilke,” Levine sardonically responds. Rilke’s famous sonnet, Archaic Torso of Apollo, ends with that imperative: You must change your life. But it seems unlikely that the priest would be quoting Rilke’s erotic, non-religious, hyper-aesthetic poem; it seems likely that Levine is having a little fun with the little priest.

Not that we’ve ever left it, but the poem ends with a big thudding return to godless modernity, with the retired landscaper in the next bed (he’s given up trying to alter the earth), who hails from a town with a random unartful name, groaning with emptiness (“blank wall”) and defeat. And who does the poet feel bad for? The priest, with his absurd “my sons” designation (he’s much younger, one presumes, than either of these old sick men) and his disappointment that these two sinners seem to be failing big time at eternal life. Not only are they dying without grace (“gracelessly”); they are, more problematically, robbing the priest of his much-needed certainty of their salvation – hence his need to retreat to Carmel and deal with his stress.

Darkest of all is the priest’s own peculiar metaphysical fate, meted out in the last two lines: Salvific eternity itself may present to our sublunary minds as another hideous Sisyphean tableau, the chilling endlessness of … endlessness.

Sunday Morning, Stanzas One and Two.

Complainancies of the loseur, and late

Burgers and Diet Coke in a baby chair,

And a gold eagle with its wings outspread

Upon a rug mingle to dissipate

The violent rush of avenging hatred.

He dreams a little, and he feels the dark

Encroachment of this new catastrophe,

As a calm darkens among water-lights.

His rooms of opulence and fine bright blings

Seem things in some procession of the dead
Winding across wide water, without sound.
The day is like wide water, without sound,
Stilled for the passing of his dreaming feet
Over the seas, to silent Bedminster,
Dominion of the trap and fairway bunker.


Why should he give his country to the Dems?
What is autocracy if it can fail
After they hold free and fair elections?
Shall he not find in motions of the court,
In pungent tweets and chicken wings, or else
In any balm or beauty of the earth,
Things to be cherished like the thought of winning?
Malignity must live within himself:
Passions of rage, or moods in falling polls;
Grievings in loneliness, or unsubdued
Vexations when the Bidens come; nasty
Emotions on wet roads on autumn nights;
No pleasures and all pains, remembering
The past of glory and the present doom.
These are the measures destined for his soul.



The tweets are calm tonight.

The vote is bull, and so unfair

And full of hate.  On coastal elites the light

Gleams.  So wrong … The cliffs of Alabama stand

Glimmering and vast, ready to vote another day.

Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!

Only, from the long line of fake

Media, where scum weave their grand

Conspiracies against me …

Listen! You hear the grating roar

Of traitors, which a red wave will draw back, and fling,

In 2024, into the desert sand.

O sorrow cease!  And then again begin

With tremulous cadence slow, to bring

A future dawn of gladness in.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Louise Gluck…

… gets the Lit Nobel. I’ll look at one of her poems after my Instacart shopper and I conclude our brief affair.

And put an umlaut over her U, dammit.


Since Halloween is close, here’s “All Hallows.”

Even now this landscape is assembling.
The hills darken. The oxen
sleep in their blue yoke,
the fields having been
picked clean, the sheaves
bound evenly and piled at the roadside
among cinquefoil, as the toothed moon rises:

This is the barrenness
of harvest or pestilence.
And the wife leaning out the window
with her hand extended, as in payment,
and the seeds
distinct, gold, calling
Come here
Come here, little one

And the soul creeps out of the tree.


So Glück writes brief lyrics in the key of longing. She’d prefer a world infused with religious spirit (one where cinquefoil is not merely a plant but – remember? – a common decorative motif in churches), but will take, with a sigh, the secular modern one she was handed. All Hallows is typical of this attitude, evoking an all-hollowed-out landscape – but hollowed almost in a gesture of propitiation: I’ve assembled a pure world of new possibility for you, oh hallowed ones: Come!

Or: Once you see precisely how nakedly dispirited this world is, you’re going to be compelled to respiritualize it!

And one of the saints does: a soul creeps out of a tree — ready, with the turn of the season, to respond to the imminent reseeding of the world.

The farmer in other words stages the landscape in order (holding treats in her hand) to coax the dubious soul-kitten out of the tree.

It’s all very Veni Creator Spiritus, in other words. If you’d prefer a more… ample version of this come-hither, go here.

A Poem with the Word “Chrysalis” in it

UD returned to her Garrett Park garden from a week at the beach to discover, on a long curved strand of one of her grasses, the white husk left by a dethroned monarch. A facsimile is on the far right of this image; and

though UD missed the moment when the butterfly twisted out of it and flew off, she felt privileged anyway to have seen in the first season of her garden the beginnings of this metamorphosis, the eggs and caterpillars and pupa, and then to have collected yesterday and held up to the light the thin discarded shell.

She found a very good poem with the word chrysalis in it; in the first line! It’s by John Unterecker. Title: …Within, Into, Inside, Under, Within…

UD will interrupt each of its five parts (each word of its five-word title corresponds to a form of movement in each part) to comment in brackets.


Beginnings: a chrysalis improvisation
in the wings, roles
taking on flesh before a role begins…

as light begins in the elm,
pushing the long elm branches into night,
a ghost light pressing sky…

or actors, swollen with strange selves,
distended to the edges of tight skin,
a brightness under moth-wing fingertips.

White arms stretch out toward truth.
The stage is full of light.
Your brightness gloves my skin.

[Soooo – Here you have a poet considering the mysterious elasticity of identity — in particular, the way an actor can become, can embody, an entirely other identity from her own. A bizarre human metamorphosis, getting inside another skin, goes on, and no one, including the actor, has much of an idea how it’s accomplished. She waits in the wing (wonderful pun!), improvising this new role before she even steps on the stage to perform it. And it’s like – how does the tree become rooted and become a tree and grow into a full-bodied elm under the influence of the sun? How does that start, that ghost light casting existence on something that’s still nothing? … Grappling here, in other words, with nothing less than the mystery of creation as well as the mystery of multiple identities — the question of why and how there’s something rather than nothing, how a ghost takes from the light in some way and stops being a ghost and assumes not merely existence, but several forms and attributes of existence.

How? Haven’t a ghost of an idea. As in a more famous formulation of this problem —

O chestnut tree, great rooted blossomer,
Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?

(Unterecker wrote a guide to Yeats.)

But – yes – we do have a ghost of an idea, which somehow in Unterecker’s poem successfully becomes a fully formed idea. This poem has an idea. An idea which, as the poem proceeds, branches out like an enormous elm.

In embodying that new role, that new identity, the actor conveys to the audience the mystery and excitement and illumination of being and becoming: Your brightness gloves my skin.]


Alice, grown huge, swollen to fit of the tunnels,
tiny, unable to reach a gold key,
knew what gardens were for—

yet never knelt in tunnels of rough sunlight
to will flamboyance from green buds.
The swollen poppy twists within its cap,

a pink invention wrestling light.
How often I think of tunneling roots,
curtains of roots, white ropes

that stroked our hair when we entered tunnels.
Here, we are rubbed on gold.
This wedge of pink beginnings troubles gardens.

[Well, he would think of Alice, wouldn’t he? Her surreal metamorphoses in wonderland amplify in vivid dream the dreams of all of us — to be human is to sleep and watch oneself in dream contort to the dimensions of various spectral tunnels and rooms and lakes and caves and bridges. A reassuring exercise, perhaps, in the business of possibility, enterprise, strategy, reincarnation, foxiness. Alice understands that gardens stage the impossible overabundance of being, and she floats around in them throughout the adventures; the poet, however, is a material, sublunary sort who gets his knees dirty as he plants pink poppy seeds in a mood of desperate hope that these lowly tiny dark nothings will somehow morph into flamboyant color, insanely infused being. Let’s make this happen, people!

And now a tendril of Roethke appears as the poet goes deeper, recalling the creepy/delightful feel of dangling roots against your skin in the dark, in tunnels (UD, a snorkeler, thinks of the skin-crawling/fantastic feel of seagrass) — all that dark life suddenly welling up out of the dark and fingering you.]


A robin listens to darkness.
I think of worms, grubs, moles,
the slow ballet of rootlets twisting down,

of cave fish, blacksnakes,
and, asleep at Nieux, the great black bulls
that thunder on dark walls.

When we wear another self,
do our souls darken? On a bright stage,
do we enter darkest places?

[Robins feed by listening for worms underground; UD watches them do this every day. So an expansion of the poet’s theme – life lurks, crawls, twists, unaccountably begins, in darkness, and we listen for it. A beautiful line occurs in this part of the poem:

the slow ballet of rootlets twisting down

All those L‘s – their gentle insinuating liquidity – somehow enact the strange grace (ballet) of organic processes… Yet the poet is after not merely passive, natural, coming to life; the reference to ballet reminds us that he’s keeping going at the same time a meditation on art as the active, deliberate, human instance of this earthy alchemy. Think of the palaeolithic caves at Niaux (the poet has incorrectly rendered the town Nieux). You can burrow down there and think you’re simply getting deeper into the earth; but we’ve taken our animating and transformative energies even there, and made of dead walls immortal, thundering art.

So is the actor who assumes new being in fact consorting with – listening like the robin to – these deeply rooted, mysterious, even insidious places? The question, for those who think about the incomparable, enigmatic, transformative power of art, welling up from our depths, answers itself.]


There is darkness clinging to the undersides of leaves.

For we are entering darkness. It skuffs along cave walls,
stumbling and skuffing fingertips.
At Mycenae, it is a heavy must,
a musty heavy breath in the hundred-step cistern.

They wait, dark passageways in old houses, their worn
silence frayed under a blur
of footsteps. Our stretched-out hands
manipulate evasive cellar shadows.

Within the garden, silence darkens windblown leaves.

[The eggs of the butterfly cling to the undersides of leaves. We can’t see them, they rest in darkness, but they live a vivid life in that shade. So too the long-resting-in-darkness ruins at Mycenae, whose deep cistern the poet visits, thinking as he moves along its walls of all the life – the generations of human breath – hidden in it. See here, also, this poem; and this one.]


Oh I think of Alice gone down, down
under groundcover dreams,
a man’s tunneled night.

Who are these actors? On dream stages, I forget
lines. My tongue-tied
silence foundering…     Stage props
mumble rigidities.        The audience…

I think of silences at Nieux,
at Mycenae, the tourists
gone, guides returned
to wives, houses….

And those silences of capricious light.
The calex splits, an abrupt pink flame.
Orpheus’ torch descends and still descends through
    arias of reddest blossom.

[And how does the poet conclude? He brings all his images and allusions together (Alice, dream, theater, ancient caves with paintings of bulls in them, the Mycenae cistern, the poppy) and gets personal, takes us into his own not at all Carrollian dreamlife, where his all-too-human, pre-aesthetic reality is just a blurry mess: Who are these people I’m seeing in this dream? What was I supposed to say in this dream? Why are the objects around me silent and dead rather than expressive and figurative?

Hopeless. Niaux and Mycenae, left to themselves alone, are also silent…

Yet even abandoned by tourists and guides, they breathe the bright aura of all those artists and audiences along the walls; the dark poppy’s calyx suddenly falls off and out flashes bright pink… And yes, art is the torch that takes us down there, Orpheus in the underworld scoping out amid the dreadful chaos high-builded arias.]

Yeats called. He wants his inspirational quote back.

[Goldie Hawn] took to Instagram to share a photo of Ken [Robinson], which had been edited with one of his inspirational quotes. It read: “Every day, everywhere, our children spread their dreams under our feet. We should tread softly because we tread on their dreams. – Sir Ken Robinson.”


Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

There are two nonsense poems in Reading Claudius…

… the memoir about UD’s Northwestern University professor, Erich Heller. I’ll have more to say today about the book and the memories it stirred, but the nonsense poems inspired me to try one of my own.


Every black pit bull speaks some Lithuanian. 
If you try to engage them in Lett, or Ukrainian 
They’ll look at you rudely, as if you’re insanian. 

The custom’s quite different among Pomeranians: 
With them it is Latvian during their trainian. 
Polish? Or German? They claim it’s arcanian. 

With lhasas it’s loopy because they’re Lacanian. 
They’ll mirror your speech act whatever you’re sayingin – 
A curious feature too hard to explainian. 

Whatever the tongue of your canine campanian 
Conversing with them will transcend entertainingian 
And move straight to the realm of the supermundanian.
For the Fourth, a beautiful American poem by a poet who is “is actually the reason loyalty oaths are illegal in the United States. When the State University of New York-Buffalo fired him in 1963 for refusing to sign one, he fought the university all the way to the Supreme Court and prevailed.”

UD never takes her freedom of speech and conscience for granted.

She has people like George Starbuck to thank for them.

A brave and principled man, he wrote some of America’s most impressive poems. Here’s one, published in 1965.


For An American Burial

Slowly out of the dusk-bedeviled air,

and off the passing blades of the gang plow,

and suddenly in state, as here and now,

the earth gathers the earth. The earth is fair;

all that the earth demands is the earth’s share;

all we pervade, and revel in, and vow

never to lose, always to hold somehow,

we hold of earth, in temporary care.

Baby the sun goes up the sun goes down,

the roads turn into rivers under your wheels,

houses go spinning by, the lights of town

scatter and close, a galaxy unreels,

this endlessness, this readiness to drown,

this is the death he stood off, how it feels.


Baby, this is the way an American poem, of our time, takes on the big D – modestly, marking death’s descent upon the oblivious fully grounded farmer who suddenly shifts from in deep harness to in state. So you know big deal it’s like that what goes up must go down but now Starbuck surprisingly steps on the cosmic gas, describes an American apocalypse – roads turn into rivers under your wheels… and, best of all after all this earthbound domesticity, a galaxy unreels! Unreal. Our automatically spooling life, our daily round and round, suddenly goes off the rails and we’re hurled galactically head over heels, and we’re not going to be able to invoke spiritually or romantically or classically how this vortex feels – we’re going to have our modest sublunary idiom for this insane thing happening to us: endlessless; readiness to drown; rivers under your wheels – that beloved familiar hardscrabble earth suddenly liquifying… All your life deliberately tending the earth and not a thought beyond the earth and bam. Turns out you too are earth and the earth demands its share. Who knew? This American poem marks an American burial simply by imagining hard and empathically what it maybe feels like to die.

Twenty-First Century Robert Herrick.

Delight in Deletion

A sweet deletion of excess
Kindles in me a wantonness;
A bomb upon the inbox thrown
Into a fine distraction;
An erring text, which here and there
Excites the inner editor;
A noun neglectful, and thereby
Words to flow confusedly;
A massive wave, deserving frowns,
Of mad, tempestuous ‘moticons;
An email-string’s infinity
Creating incivility:
Do more amuse me, than when art
Is too correct in every part.

I sought an excerpt and sought for it in vain…

… (to paraphrase Yeats), as I looked around for language about tea in order to honor the first International Tea Day,

I finally remembered “Lament” by Thom Gunn. One of the most beautiful AIDS-era poems, it recalls the long sad death of a friend, and among its lines are these:

… Your cough grew thick and rich, its strength increased.   
Four nights, and on the fifth we drove you down   
To the Emergency Room. That frown, that frown:   
I’d never seen such rage in you before
As when they wheeled you through the swinging door.   
For you knew, rightly, they conveyed you from   
Those normal pleasures of the sun’s kingdom   
The hedonistic body basks within
And takes for granted—summer on the skin,   
Sleep without break, the moderate taste of tea   
In a dry mouth.

Lyrics for a Stay-at-Home Order

Time passes slowly up here in the mountains
We sit beside bridges and walk beside fountains
And catch the wild fishes that float through the stream
Time passes slow when you’re lost in a dream

Once I had a sweetheart, he was fine and good-lookin’
We sat in the kitchen while his mama was cookin’
And stared out the window to the stars high above
Time passes slow when you’re searchin’ for love

Ain’t no reason to go in a wagon to town
Ain’t no reason to go to the fair
Ain’t no reason to go up, ain’t no reason to go down
Ain’t no reason to go anywhere

Time passes slowly up here in the daylight
We stare straight ahead and try so hard to stay right
Like the red rose of summer that blooms in the day
Time passes slow and then fades away

Lyrics for Self-Isolation

I have my books
And my poetry to protect me
I am shielded in my armor
Hiding in my room, safe within my womb
I touch no one and no one touches me
I am a rock
I am an island

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