Libretto for the Republic of Liberia

Libretto for the Republic of Liberia

Libretto for the Republic of Liberia

Libretto for the Republic of Liberia

Excerpt

Coubtless, Mr Tolson does not expect his libretto to have a musical setting; or if he does, one wonders what an audience would make of it. Official celebrations in Liberia cannot differ greatly from those in Washington or Paris, where the apathy of polite inattention is usually all that an official poem deserves. One can imagine, in Washington, during the New Deal, a patriotic poem being read by the late Stephen Vincent Benèt; but not, I assume, by the late Hart Crane. That may be one difference between the literary culture of official Washington and that of Liberia: Mr. Tolson is in the direct succession from Crane. Here is something marvellous indeed. A small African republic founded by liberated slaves celebrates its centenary by getting an American Negro poet to write what, in the end, is an English Pindaric ode in a style derived from--but by no means merely imitative of--one of the most difficult modem poets.

What irony we are entitled to infer from Mr. Tolson's official appointment to this job I am not prepared to guess. I leave the question with the remark that I cannot imagine a white American poet of equal distinction being given a similar job by President Truman.

For there is a great gift for language, a profound historical sense, and a first-rate intelligence at work in this poem from first to last. On the first page I received a shock, in that region where bored scepticism awaits the new manuscript from a poet not clearly identified, when I saw Liberia invoked as

. . . the quicksilver sparrow that slips The eagle's claw!

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