I came across Robert Hayden’s moving poem to Frederick Douglass etched on a stone in the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx today. As I bent over to read the poem amid the many colors of fall, I was surprised to hear its recitation over a speaker nearby. What a treat, not to mention a moment of Inspiration! And, Lord knows, don’t we need the latter in these troubled times in which democracy, truth, and freedom are the targets of a furious assault from the MAGA movement and Republican Party.
When it is finally ours, this freedom, this liberty, this beautiful
and terrible thing, needful to man as air,
usable as earth; when it belongs at last to all,
when it is truly instinct, brain matter, diastole, systole,
reflex action; when it is finally won; when it is more
than the gaudy mumbo jumbo of politicians:
this man, this Douglass, this former slave, this Negro
beaten to his knees, exiled, visioning a world
where none is lonely, none hunted, alien,
this man, superb in love and logic, this man
shall be remembered. Oh, not with statues’ rhetoric,
not with legends and poems and wreaths of bronze alone,
but with the lives grown out of his life, the lives
fleshing his dream of the beautiful, needful thing.