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.

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5 Responses to “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.””

  1. Ravi Narasimhan Says:

    The oaths will come in soon enough under the flags of Export Controls, Intellectual Property protection, and computer security.


  2. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Ravi: They’re always a threat. Eternal vigilance…

  3. Ravi Narasimhan Says:

    Won’t help. Export Controls/ITAR/EAR rely on the concept of a “U.S. Person” to determine who can say what to whom and where.


    The loyalty oath is required to become a naturalized U.S. Citizen. Permanent residents don’t have to at present but that could be changed pretty quickly. In both cases the University doesn’t have to do anything and it sets up automatic tiers with native born, naturalized citizens, permanent residents, and regular foreign students will have different requirements and levels of access to resources and opportunities.

  4. Elizabeth Says:

    The poem took my breath away β€” though given the subject matter and this plague time, I should probably find a different metaphor. Thanks, UD.

  5. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Elizabeth: You’re most welcome.

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