Empires are not created — and do not decline — in a day or two. Neither are free republics lost so quickly. It takes time. Years ago, in going through old journals, I found this poem copied out, by Archibald MacLeish, titled “Conversation in a Belfry,” from Ten Conversations, written post-Watergate. Each passing year only goes to show how truly he saw.
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?
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.