Rousseau’s bastard sons sit off,
signing their suicide pacts—
man born free yet everywhere
in subclauses and stipulations.

They think their words to be light poured
from their palms and expect fronds
to be thrown before them. “Did we not free you,”
they ask, “from the light yoke

you knew in darkness, that a greater light
might come upon you from the depths
of your own selves? Did we not form
your rays through the prism of reason

into a dragon of the east? —an all-
consuming fortune fed
by forests filled in olden times
with wolves and fell imaginings?

Did we not free the mountains from the fairy
terror with ferrous arms,
transmute their coal to gold in vindication
of the alchemists, refine the black

and breathless blood of earth ‘til it caught
fire in the sun to match
the clearest wine? And, thus drunk,
was it not we who made torches

of the pitched steeples of medieval Paris,
of Boston and of Moscow—oriflammic
offerings to Reason’s bacchante deity?
Is the heat not proof

our light is not illusion? Will you not
confess your singes as stigmata?
For we have made you holy in the bonfire
of the vanities of the past. And your sweat

shall be for a cilice upon your brow,
that even the burning hells
might know your sanctity! Do you not know
the seraphim are sunk in rivers

of flame? What sinner now would speak
of lakes and leafy shades
—of putting out the lights the night
before eternal day?”

So saying, they turn back to their bellows and cry,
“Choose! the end of progress,
or us and the flame!” With wild glints
of wind the wilted grasses

sigh. For darkness now to take
the Earth would be a sweep
of angels’ wings.

The Imaginative Conservative applies the principle of appreciation to the discussion of culture and politics—we approach dialogue with magnanimity rather than with mere civility. Will you help us remain a refreshing oasis in the increasingly contentious arena of modern discourse? Please consider donating now.

We hope you will join us in The Imaginative Conservative community. The Imaginative Conservative is an online journal for those who seek the True, the Good, and the Beautiful. We address culture, liberal learning, politics, political economy, literature, the arts and the American Republic in the tradition of Russell Kirk, T.S. Eliot, Edmund Burke, Irving Babbitt, Wilhelm Roepke, Robert Nisbet, Richard Weaver, M.E. Bradford, Eric Voegelin, Christopher Dawson, Paul Elmer More, and other leaders of Imaginative Conservatism. Some conservatives may look at the state of Western culture and the American Republic and see a huge dark cloud which seems ready to unleash a storm that may well wash away what we most treasure of our inherited ways. Others focus on the silver lining which may be found in the next generation of traditional conservatives who have been inspired by Dr. Kirk and his like. We hope that The Imaginative Conservative answers T.S. Eliot’s call to “redeem the time, redeem the dream.” The Imaginative Conservative offers to our families, our communities, and the Republic, a conservatism of hope, grace, charity, gratitude, and prayer.

The featured image is “The Great Fire of London” (c. 1797) by Philip James de Loutherbourg (1740-1812) and is in the public domain, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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