Poetry & Democracy

Tocqueville & the Sorry State of the Arts
by Anthony Esolen

On January 20, 2021, a young woman named Amanda Gorman recited a poem she had written to celebrate the inauguration of Joseph Biden as president of the United States. It was a pretty bad poem, breathlessly vague and full of platitudes about the promise we are going to “glade” [sic], for “when day comes, we step out of the shade, aflame and unafraid.”

I could point out that, if you think about what night and day are, you see that until the day comes, there isn’t any shade to come out of. I could point out that the rhyme in that line I have quoted is sing-song, and it is made worse by the assonance with “day” and “aflame.” I could point out how likely we are to embarrass ourselves when we are all full of how glorious we are. I could point out every cliché, every fuzzy use of a term, every word that shouts, “Hey, look at me; I’m a rhyme!”

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Anthony Esolen is a professor and writer-in-residence at Magdalene College of the Liberal Arts in Warner, New Hampshire. His many books include Sex in the Unreal City: The Demolition of the Western Mind, Life Under Compulsion: Ten Ways to Destroy the Humanity of Your Child, Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture, and The Hundredfold: Songs for the Lord. He is a regular contributor to Chronicles, Crisis Magazine, The Claremont Review, Inside the Vatican Things, The Catholic Thing, and American Greatness. He has translated Dante's Divine Comedy. He is a Roman Catholic and lives with his wife in New Hampshire. He is a senior editor of Touchstone.


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more from the online archives

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