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 "Belittle" was one of the words we coined When we were
still colonials that came in handy When fending off jibes at our
ambitions. So what if our English cousins belittled Franklin For his
youthful program of self-improvement. Yes, the virtues he chose to make
his own Were more appropriate to a tradesman Than to a hero. Yes, his
weekly grades suggest He saw the soul as something made to order By
extra homework. But at least he was willing To acknowledge a gap between
the man He aspired to be and the man he was. Think how belittled
we'd feel today If informed that all we can hope to be Is what we
are, that to love ourselves we must love The less-than-noble chapters of
our biography. And while Franklin charted his private progress, He found
time at meetings of the club he founded To share with his fellow
journeymen his notions For improving the streets, the schools, The tire
departments, the hospitals. Why not a lending library so men of spirit
Who wore leather aprons during the work day Could sit at a table all
evening and learn All they needed to be the equal of gentlemen In
judging the soundness of any policy? How belittling he considered it to
be told Governors enjoyed a conduit to the truth That the common folk
were cut off from. How belittling he would find it now To be asked to
believe what we're told About our enemies, that they despise us For
our devotion to the true and beautiful, Not for any wrong we have ever
done them. To admit even one failure of tact, One ostensible breach of
courtesy, Is a step that ought not to be belittled By anyone who hopes
it's the first of many, However late in the day it's taken.
And at the end of a journey like that, Who knows what other journey
begins? Think of the changes in store for Franklin As he vows in his
eighties, on his voyage home, His tours of duty in Europe finally behind
him, To devote the rest of his life to science. There he goes, hobbling
from his cabin, When his gout and gallstones allow it, To measure the
temperature of the Gulf Stream. Let no one belittle him for not knowing
What we know, that as soon as he steps on shore The people of
Pennsylvania will prevail on him To be their president. Good for him,
When he's sent to the Convention to help With shaping a
constitution, if he drowses off During the longer speeches to dream Of
the laboratory he'd planned to add to his house And the many
experiments that might have proven We needn't content ourselves
with one life only. 

CARL DENNIS is the author of ten books of poetry, including, most recently, Unknown Friends (Penguin, 2007), and New and Selected Poems 1974 to 2004 (Penguin, 2004). The poems included here are part of a manuscript entitled Callings to be published by Penguin next year.
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Title Annotation:three poems
Author:Dennis, Carl
Publication:The American Poetry Review
Article Type:Poem
Date:Mar 1, 2009
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