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!”


Anthony Esolen is the author of over thirty books, including Real Music: A Guide to the Timeless Hymns of the Church (Tan, with a CD), Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture (Regnery), and The Hundredfold: Songs for the Lord (Ignatius). He has also translated Dante’s Divine Comedy (Random House). He and his wife Debra publish a web magazine, Word and Song (anthonyesolen.substack.com), on poetry, hymnody, language, classic films, and music. He is a senior editor of Touchstone.

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