Archibald MacLeish — seeing our future

In going through old journals, I found this poem copied out, by Archibald MacLeish, titled “Conversation in a Belfry,” from Ten Conversations. It was written more than 30 years ago, and is, unfortunately, truer now than then, even.

Conversation in a Belfry

Centennial bell that will not ring,

Tell me why your iron tongue

Rusts in the rain, your mouth is dumb.

Why are you silent, bell?

                                                For shame.

You are not shamed.

                                    Not I but you.

We? With all we’ve done and do?

We’ve ruled ourselves two hundred years.

No name on earth is proud as ours.


It was your fathers’ pride that ruled:

Their sons are tricked and lied to, fooled

As Lincoln said no people could be –

All of them – always – for their good!


But still we’re free. Ring out, O ring!


What man is free when fraud is king?


Our souls are ours: our minds our own.


While someone listens on the telephone?


This is John Adams’ holy land…


John Adams would have seen you damned!


When Jefferson’s immortal word…


Jefferson’s immortal word

Is yet to hear. It will be heard

But not by those who sell his soul.


You ring now, bell.

                                    I toll, I toll.


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