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Updating the great poets for our times | Christine Flowers

What would Rudyard Kipling, Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson and others say about our times?

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh testifies on the first day of his confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill Sept. 4.
Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh testifies on the first day of his confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill Sept. 4.Read moreOlivier Douliery / Abaca Press (custom credit)

Every columnist puts his or her own unique spin on the “end of year” column. Since I have a particular affection for poetry, I decided to channel the greatest writers in the English lexicon to help me comment upon some of the last year’s events.

To me, the most noteworthy thing that happened in 2018 was our newfound appreciation for the high school yearbook. Brett Kavanaugh was judged by what he wrote, what was written to him, the kind of hair gel he used in his photo, the beer stains on the album’s cover, and the fact that he kept a monthly calendar tucked inside the cover. If Rudyard Kipling were to rework “If” to describe his epic confirmation hearing, it might have gone something like this:

If you can snag that job, when men around you

Are losing theirs, ‘cause someone said #MeToo!

If you can trust yourself when women doubt you

And think you’re much too cozy with the brew

If you can wait, and not be tired of waiting

Or being lied about, cut down to size

Or being hated, and the butt of baiting

As Spartacus from Jersey sits and sighs

If you can fill the unforgiving minutes

Until old Lindsey gives that great retort

You’ll make Dianne and all the pink hats crazy

And you, my son, will end up on the court.

During the latter part of the year, we had President Donald Trump grappling with the Democrats who, due to some midterm victories, were going to make life very difficult for him in 2019 and beyond. One point of contention was the budget, and the wall that the president insisted must be included in any funding package. If Robert Frost were watching CNN, MSNBC and Fox on a loop, he might revise his Mending Wall” for Donald:

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall

That stops the human ground swell under it

And spills the children, crying, in the sun

And makes gaps that the desperate will exploit.

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know

What was I walling in or walling out

And to whom I was like to give offence

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.

When the president wasn’t talking about the wall, he was tweeting about some of his ex-friends who ended up tweeting to the feds. In particular, we were mesmerized by the saga of Michael Cohen, who went from being Trump’s main cheerleader to Brutus with a Bronx accent. If William Ernest Henley were to revamp “Invictus,” here is how it might sound:

Out of the night that covers me

Black as a pit, and filled with loss

I thank whatever Feds there be

Who let me plead, and screw my boss.

Locally, there were a few other things that happened in 2018 that merit passing mention. For example, Pennsylvania’s attorney general came out with a blistering grand jury report against a bunch of rogue Buddhist Temples. Only kidding, there was yet another investigation and castigation of the Catholic Church. If Emily Dickinson were to adapt “I Never Saw a Moor” to describe the grand jury proceedings where due process is at a minimum, she might put it this way:

I never saw reports

Of crimes they blamed on me

Yet know I that my guilt was based

On proof concealed from me

Then we had Larry Krasner, our district attorney, who decided that there was no such thing as a hardened criminal, and that people who are accused of stabbing other people in the back are just depraved because they were deprived. If Tennyson had changed “The Charge of the Light Brigade to reflect the city and its citizens under Krasner, it might go like this:

Bullets to the right of them

Bullets to the left of them

Bullets behind them

North Broad to South

Aimed at with shots from hell

While blue-clad heroes fell

And our DA shrugs, “Oh well.”

Still locally, we had activists trying to convince the good people of Philadelphia that it was fine to have places where addicts could shoot up in broad daylight, even though federal law made that a crime. Here is what Lewis Carroll wrote in “A Strange Wild Song,” and since Safe Injection Sites are already nonsensical, I didn’t have to change a word:

He thought he saw a Kangaroo

That worked a coffee-mill:

He looked again and found it was

A Vegetable-Pill.

“Were I to swallow this,” he said,

“I should be very ill!”

Happy New Year.