Genevieve Taggard

Ode in Time of Crisis

Published: The New Masses, October 29, 1940.
Transcribed: Sally Ryan for in 2001.

Now in the fright of change when bombed towns vanish
In fountains of debris
We say to the stranger coming across the sea
Not here, not here, go elsewhere!
Here we keep
Bars up. Wall out the danger, tightly seal
The ports, the intake from the alien world we fear.

It is a time of many errors now.
And this the error of children when they feel
But cannot say their terror. To shut off the stream
In which we moved and still move, if we move.
The alien is the nation, nothing more nor less.
How set ourselves at variance to prove
The alien is not the nation. And so end the dream.
Forbid our deep resource from whence we came,
And the very seed of greatness.

        This is to do
Something like suicide; to choose
Sterility–forget the secret of our past
Which like a magnet drew
A wealth of men and women hopeword. And now to lose
In ignorant blindness what we might hold fast.

The fright of change, not readiness. Instead
Inside our wall we will today pursue
The man we call the alien, take his print,
Give him a taste of the thing from which he fled,
Suspicion him. And again we fail.
How shall we release his virtue, his good-will
If by such pressure we hold his life in jail?
The alien is the nation, nothing more nor less.
And so we fail and so we jail ourselves.
Landlocked, the stagnant stream.
So ends the dream.

O countrymen, are we working to undo
Our lusty strength, our ounce proud victory?
Yes, if by this fright we break our strength in tow.
If we make of every man we fail the enemy.
If we make ourselves the jailer locked in jail.
Our laboring will, our brave, too brave to fail
Remember this nation by millions believed to be
Great and of mighty forces born, and resolve to be free,
To continue and renew.

(Written for the New York City Conference for Protection of Foreign Born.)