Sunday, July 19, 2009

And That's The Way It Is

I won't try to compete with all of the broadcast and cable news programs who have paid tribute to the passing of Walter Cronkite, the man whose example they pay lip service to but do not follow. His passing is also the passing of an era, and we mourn for him and also for the past that is irretrievable. Anyway, here's the poem that I wrote immediately after learning of his death on Friday, which I've already posted over on my MySpace poetry blog.

And That's The Way It Is

And that's the way it is.
They shout their warning:
Low water! Low water!
To no avail…
The ship has run aground.
Sands have barred your way.
They say, this far, and no further.

And that's the way it is.
When fiduciary strains filled the air,
And the sure-handed steersman
Summoned and dismissed
The gods and demons of the day.
Now the evening meal is over,
And the long night thins the air.

And that's the way it is.
As one ritual bleeds into another,
Breaking bread and news and earth.
Our father now in heaven,
How hollow are the men and women who
Followed in your wake,
False-faced, fair-featured and unbalanced
Minds, unmeasured,
Punch drunkards who have
Replaced report with retort,
And trust with the bluster of fools.

And that's the way it is.
Seabee essence!
Adjourn nihilism!
Low water! Low water!
Goodbye, night chronicler, you can
Sail high to the stars now, and
Steer clear of this angry, noisy age.
Sail high to the stars now…
And that's the way it is.

And I thought I would add some of the more salient responses I wrote to comments left on my MySpace blog:

we will not see his like again, the most trusted man in America. He could have been president if he wanted to.

I used the nautical metaphor because Cronkite liked to go sailing, and one of his anecdotes about his hobby was a wonderful reflection on fame and hubris. He was on vacation, steering a sailboat at some resort, and he "heard" the people on the beach shouting to him, "Hello, Walter! Hello Walter!" So he smiled and waved back at them. And then ran aground, and realized that what they were really shouting was, "Low water! Low water!" The story stuck with me, and struck me as the perfect metaphor to mark his passing, and the quality of his successors.

the phrase [And that's the way it is] summed up the concept of objectivity in journalism, which we all rightly critiqued for as long as I've been a student of media. And the criticism took hold, so now we are flooded with news personalities who have thrown all pretense of objectivity out the window, and it doesn't seem that we are better off for it. For me, the phrase speaks of a simpler time when someone could make an honest effort of reporting facts as a professional responsibiity, trying as best as possible to eliminate bias and opinion, and the audience could take comfort in the moral certainty that provided, however fallible. But it is only a precious few, it turns out, who can even approach being a fair witness to history, and he certainly benefited from working at a time when the separation of "church and state," as journalists referred to the separation of news as public service and commercial entertainment as business, was still maintained, by executives like Fred Friendly and William Paley.

an interesting icon for the youth culture, but he conveyed a sense of authenticity and honesty that we longed for and felt was missing, for the most part, from the older generation. And when he gave his assessment of the Vietnam War, he cemented his image as one who speaks truth to power, and to the powerless alike.

of course, he was the anchor, the anchor's anchor really--as a nautical metaphor, that would have been a bit too obvious, though.

Trust is sacred, without it what do we have? Cynicism? Suspicion? Paranoia? At a certain point in this process, a society can disintegrate.

He was trained as a print journalist, unlike today's talking hair-dos, and print is what gives us a sense of objectivity and adherence to facts. And now we are facing up to the fact that print itself is passing away.

"So passes the glory of the world" indeed, and we shall never see his like again. This brings to mind the poem by that title that Emily Dickinson wrote:

"Sic transit gloria mundi"
Emily Dickinson

"Sic transit gloria mundi,"
"How doth the busy bee,"
"Dum vivimus vivamus,"
I stay mine enemy!

Oh "veni, vidi, vici!"
Oh caput cap-a-pie!
And oh "memento mori"
When I am far from thee!

Hurrah for Peter Parley!
Hurrah for Daniel Boone!
Three cheers, sir, for the gentleman
Who first observed the moon!

Peter, put up the sunshine;
Patti, arrange the stars;
Tell Luna, tea is waiting,
And call your brother Mars!

Put down the apple, Adam,
And come away with me,
So shalt thou have a pippin
From off my father's tree!

I climb the "Hill of Science,"
I "view the landscape o'er;"
Such transcendental prospect,
I ne'er beheld before!

Unto the Legislature
My country bids me go;
I'll take my india rubbers,
In case the wind should blow!

During my education,
It was announced to me
That gravitation, stumbling,
Fell from an apple tree!

The earth upon an axis
Was once supposed to turn,
By way of a gymnastic
In honor of the sun!

It was the brave Columbus,
A sailing o'er the tide,
Who notified the nations
Of where I would reside!

Mortality is fatal --
Gentility is fine,
Rascality, heroic,
Insolvency, sublime!

Our Fathers being weary,
Laid down on Bunker Hill;
And tho' full many a morning,
Yet they are sleeping still, --

The trumpet, sir, shall wake them,
In dreams I see them rise,
Each with a solemn musket
A marching to the skies!

A coward will remain, Sir,
Until the fight is done;
But an immortal hero
Will take his hat, and run!

Good bye, Sir, I am going;
My country calleth me;
Allow me, Sir, at parting,
To wipe my weeping e'e.

In token of our friendship
Accept this "Bonnie Doon,"
And when the hand that plucked it
Hath passed beyond the moon,

The memory of my ashes
Will consolation be;
Then, farewell, Tuscarora,
And farewell, Sir, to thee!

And what more is there left to say but, And that's the way it is!

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