Well, it may not really be poetry—even though it’s a poem by a master of poetry: Robert Frost. It’s more in the vein of light verse, which Frost sometimes also wrote.
The treatment is light, that is. Not the subject matter:
Harrison loves my country too,
But wants it all made over new.
He’s Freudian Viennese by night.
By day he’s Marxian Muscovite.
It isn’t because he’s Russian Jew.
He’s Puritan Yankee through and through.
He dotes on Saturday pork and beans.
But his mind is hardly out of his teens:
With him the love of country means
Blowing it all to smithereens
And having it all made over new.
By the way, the “Russian Jew” reference in the poem is not, IMHO, anti-Semitic. Frost is suggesting that “Harrison” (not ordinarily a Jewish name) doesn’t even have the excuse for his radicalism of being a Jew in Russia, subject to the pressures and ethos there. Harrison’s “Puritan Yankee through and through.”
More background on the poem and Frost’s politics:
Frost held that not traditional religion and culture, but revolutionary Marxism and reforming liberalism were the true opiates of the people. Marxists and secular liberals rejected or were often agnostic about God, but they deified the party or the state; they rejected the traditional religious concept of heaven, but they believed in an eventual heaven on earth. They rejected religion and much in Western culture as superstition, but were themselves superstitiously addicted by the idea of progress through science and revolutionary ideology. What Frost called “the sweep to collectivism in our time,” which characterized the totalitarian ideologies of the twentieth century, could destroy the principle of limited political power even in America, through the growth of the federal bureaucracy under the New Deal. Frost attributed the political wisdom of dividing and balancing political power against itself to the religious orthodoxy of the Founding Fathers. They knew that only God had or should have absolute power, and their religion taught them that the moral and intellectual weaknesses of man required putting bounds to political power. When modern politicians play God they invariably promise far more than they can achieve as men, and the gap between their promises and their achievements is filled by the abstract slogans and dialectics of ideological propaganda. The language of revolutionists and reformers is characterized by the jargon of rationalized deceit. In a letter to Bernard De Voto in 1936 Frost wrote: “The great politicians are having their fun with us. They’ve picked up just enough of the New Republic and Nation jargon to seem original to the simple.” In 1939, in “The Figure a Poem Makes,” Frost said: “More than once I should have lost my soul to radicalism if it had been the originality it was mistaken for by its young converts.”
I knew absolutely nothing of Frost’s politics when I began to admire his poetry, and nothing of them when I started this blog and designed the photograph at the top, which features Frost’s collected works as the book with the dark cover above the Churchill biography.
“A Case for Jefferon” was first published in 1947, but I can’t find anything that says when it might have been written, although obviously it was prior to that. Frost later disavowed it as “dated,” (although he wasn’t able to see the future—the late 60s—in which it became undated again), and thought it was bad as a poem.
Well, as I said, it’s not really a poem. It’s a ditty, a verse—but unfortunately, it’s not dated. I’m not sure it ever will be, because the strains in human thought it was describing seem to have a certain staying power.
[ADDENDUM: Some commenters have wondered why it’s called “A Case for Jefferson.” I’m not sure, but I found this:
To Thomas Jefferson, such would indeed be a case of democracy gone wrong…
[Frost is quoted as having said to Reginald Cook]: “I said to a person high up in the government lately, I said “As long as all my educated friends and Mrs. Roosevelt think that socialism is inevitable and can’t be avoided and has got to come that way, why don’t you and I hurry it up and get it over with? It couldn’t last…I wouldn’t favor that policy.”
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.]