Published on Academy of American Poets (

Tocqueville [excerpt]

Dear B:

To say all the new thinking resembles all the old thinking is to say the fork in the road where one stood indecisive was not a crossroad at all, because one has not moved. Rather it's the earth that has lurched under us like a moving sidewalk in an airport, some passengers standing, others rushing past, the bleep-bleep of the golf carts joyriding the elderly to one of their final destinations. Or when the airliner or the train next to yours moves and you think you've moved. This is not to say that it is only a matter of perception, but that the classics do not console enough. Or maybe that they console too much. You talk about Brutus's purple mantle, and Anthony's decision to behead the poor soul who stole it. If you don't think it's about consolation then why revert back to that code? And Horace's farm, a gift from a patron who loved his poetry, or merely loved the idea of befriending a poet and patronizing him. You'd only have to watch TV to see traces of that, "the artist" surrounded by his entourage, the affluence factor a tax deduction, the drugs an entertainment expense, a hedge fund exec with a salary (payment made in salt) of five hundred million dollars, the acreage outside his mansion the size of modern day Carthage. You only have to see the present to realize how false the past can be. Again, Horace's farm, his free-range cows feeding on acorns. Acorns! and the spring was mere superstition, or nostalgia steeped in superstition, and the cows an easy romanticism. But what of the air that feeds the thinking? This country will consume forty five million metric tons of beef, thirty two million of pork. Maybe you're thinking of Ulysses now, doing a cameo as a swineherd a few miles downwind from you where the levels of sulfur in the nearby springs are three thousand times what is humanly tolerable. To wish upon dying a happy man having lived in virtue and having died, if need be, holding fast to, or because of holding fast, to one's conviction...Virtue, (antonym: vice, impurity). Something in me says "Fortune" instead, which is another way of saying "Fat Chance," which is to say, each particular just about erases the luminous clarity of a general ideal.


From Tocqueville by Khaled Mattawa, published by New Issues Poetry & Prose. Copyright © 2010 Khaled Mattawa. Used with permission of New Issues Poetry & Prose.


Khaled Mattawa

Born in Benghazi, Libya, in 1964, Khaled Mattawa is a poet and translator of contemporary Arabic poetry. He served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 2014 to 2020.

Date Published: 2010-01-01

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