All Art is a gift of the Holy Spirit. When this light shines through the mind of a musician, it manifests itself in beautiful harmonies. Again, shining through the mind of a poet, it is seen in fine poetry and poetic prose. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Chosen Highway, p. 167.

During America’s Bicentennial celebration of the Declaration of Independence in 1976, Baha’i poet Robert Hayden served as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. That same position later became known as “Poet Laureate of the United States” in 1985. As America’s Bicentennial poet, Hayden rose to the occasion by offering a poem about America called “American Journal”:

American Journal

Robert Hayden

Robert E. Hayden

Robert E. Hayden

here among them the americans this baffling
multi people extremes and variegations their
noise restlessness their almost frightening
energy how best describe these aliens in my
reports to The Counselors

disguise myself in order to study them unobserved
adapting their varied pigmentations white black
red brown yellow the imprecise and strangering
distinctions by which they live by which they
justify their cruelties to one another

charming savages enlightened primitives brash
new comers lately sprung up in our galaxy how
describe them do they indeed know what or who
they are do not seem to yet no other beings
in the universe make more extravagant claims
for their importance and identity

like us they have created a veritable populace
of machines that serve and soothe and pamper
and entertain we have seen their flags and
foot prints on the moon also the intricate
rubbish left behind a wastefully ingenious
people many it appears worship the Unknowable
Essence the same for them as for us but are
more faithful to their machine made gods
technologists their shamans

oceans deserts mountains grain fields canyons
forests variousness of landscapes weathers
sun light moon light as at home much here is
beautiful dream like vistas reminding me of
home item have seen the rock place known
as garden of the gods and sacred to the first
indigenes red monoliths of home despite
the tensions i breath in i am attracted to
the vigorous americans disturbing sensuous
appeal of so many never to be admitted

something they call the american dream sure
we still believe in it i guess an earth man
in the tavern said irregardless of the some
times night mare facts we always try to double
talk our way around and its okay the dreams
okay and means whats good could be a damn sight
better means every body in the good old u s a
should have the chance to get ahead or at least
should have three squares a day as for myself
i do okay not crying hunger with a loaf of
bread tucked under my arm you understand i
fear one does not clearly follow i replied
notice you got a funny accent pal like where
you from he asked far from here i mumbled
he stared hard i left

must be more careful item learn to use okay
their pass word okay

crowds gathering in the streets today for some
reason obscure to me noise and violent motion
repulsive physical contact sentinels pigs
i heard them called with flailing clubs rage
and bleeding and frenzy and screaming machines
wailing unbearable decibels i fled lest
vibrations of the brutal scene do further harm
to my metabolism already over taxed

The Counselors would never permit such barbarous
confusion they know what is best for our sereni
ty we are an ancient race and have outgrown
illusions cherished here item their vaunted
liberty no body pushes me around i have heard
them say land of the free they sing what do
they fear mistrust betray more than the freedom
they boast of in their ignorant pride have seen
the squalid ghettoes in their violent cities
paradox on paradox how have the americans
managed to survive

parades fireworks displays video spectacles
much grandiloquence much buying and selling
they are celebrating their history earth men
in antique uniforms play at the carnage whereby
the americans achieved identity we too recall
that struggle as enterprise of suffering and
faith uniquely theirs blonde miss teen age
america waving from a red white and blue flower
float as the goddess of liberty a divided
people seeking reassurance from a past few under
stand and many scorn why should we sanction
old hypocrisies thus dissenters The Counse
lors would silence them

a decadent people The Counselors believe i
do not find them decadent a refutation not
permitted me but for all their knowledge
power and inventiveness not yet more than raw
crude neophytes like earthlings everywhere

though i have easily passed for an american in
bankers grey afro and dashiki long hair and jeans
hard hat yarmulka mini skirt describe in some
detail for the amusement of The Counselors and
though my skill in mimicry is impeccable as
indeed The Counselors are aware some thing
eludes me some constant amid the variables
defies analysis and imitation will i be judged
incompetent

america as much a problem in metaphysics as
it is a nation earthly entity an iota in our
galaxy an organism that changes even as i
examine it fact and fantasy never twice the
same so many variables

exert greater caution twice have aroused
suspicion returned to the ship until rumors
of humanoids from outer space so their scoff
ing media voices termed us had been laughed
away my crew and i laughed too of course

confess i am curiously drawn unmentionable to
the americans doubt i could exist among them for
long however psychic demands far too severe
much violence much that repels i am attracted
none the less their variousness their ingenuity
their elan vital and that some thing essence
quiddity i cannot penetrate or name

Hayden’s thought-provoking poem on America spills over with rich imagery and science fiction and humor and sharp observation. Like his Faith, Hayden’s poetry inhabits the spiritual realm alongside the social realm, calling all of us to a higher purpose and a greater vision.

Read the next article in the series: Poet Laureate Robert Hayden’s Poem on America

Read the previous article in the series: The First Baha’i College

The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author only and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of BahaiTeachings.org or any institution of the Baha’i Faith.

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