The American Revolution: An Epic Poem

Chapter I

by Andrew Benson Brown


Chapter II: Thomas Jefferson in Hell

On July Fourth of Eighteen Twenty-Six,
Old Thomas Jefferson was sent to Hell
In his pajamas. At the river Styx
He idled, slippers soggy from the swell
Of wrathful souls abounding in the slime
Whereon Phlegyas rowed, traversing waves
To ferry worldlings taken in their prime.
Tom had been bad—he didn’t free his slaves.
Where three-fifths persons should be whole unchained,
A mob of creditors can make intent constrained.

The fire and brimstone dappled yellow, red,
And orange around him, wafting like the leaves
In autumn, crumbling embers flames had shed
To blow into Tom’s face and singe his sleeves,
An underworld of Indian summer.
Some voices in the water whispered sighs
And shameful secrets to the newcomer,
Like soft wind from a hurricane’s calm eye;
Still others shrieked like flapping birds in pitch,
Or screeching sirens that no longer can bewitch.

Dead Thomas waited on the riverbank
Amidst a crowd of criminals and whores.
This had to be a nightmare, or a prank.
Why was he not upon that whiter shore?
While pondering his soul’s collected dross,
The boatman docked and beckoned them to board.
One sullen shade affirmed he would not cross;
Phlegyas marked his tears, and threw him toward
Those brooding in the marsh, who pulled him down.
Tom, horrified, decided it best not to drown.

But stepping forward on the boat to join
The rest, his further progress was declined.
“You can’t get on unless you pay a coin,”
He heard a voice advising from behind.
Tom turned his head to view a crimson robe
Topped by a bearded, dark-complexioned scowl
With candid melancholy eyes that probed
Tom’s soul, and nose perched like a hunting fowl.
He eyed the figure without commentary.
It was quite obviously Dante Alighieri.

“I haven’t got a coin,” said Tom, who turned
The empty pockets of his fuzzy pants.
“I died flat broke, it must be why I burn
Here in this hot and miserable expanse.”
Once tender Dante would commiserate
With fools down here, but now he only walked
Bent over with a grave and gentle gait
Up to the boat and managed to concoct
A gold piece from his robe still somehow clean,
Despite his wading through the bowels of Earth’s latrine.

The pair squeezed in the craft and moved downstream
As Thomas hummed a hymn under his breath.
Said Dante: “Men don’t sing in Hell, they scream.
No melodies are found in endless death.”
—“Old habits are impossible to cure,”
And Tom resumed his song, now amplified.
—“You have some questions,” Dante said, “I’m sure.
It’s best you follow me, I’ll be your guide.
The place we’re headed isn’t Monticello;
It’s no philosopher’s retreat serene and mellow.”

Then Silent Thomas asked, “Why are you here,
Exiled so far from heaven’s memory?”
—“Old habits, same as you. I was a seer
When I described Hell in my reverie,
Narrating, as it is, my future fate:
I helped defend my faction, the White Guelphs—
But it was the wrong side to advocate.
So now, like Virgil once did for myself,
I show all those with loyalties misplaced
Their punishment for the fine virtue they disgraced.”

“And what is mine?” asked Tom. “Please do regale.”
—“When you arrived, your deepest sin’s amount
Was judged by Minos when he whipped his tail.”
—“It flopped this way and that, I didn’t count.”
Dante: “I understand you are nonplussed.
There’s six or seven circles I could guess
You might go to—first there’s the one for lust.
Francesca da Rimini flirted less
Than you…and then there was that Hemings girl.
For that alone you should be cast on winds awhirl.”

—“I promised Martha never to re-wed,
And was to her fond memory sincere.
What wrongs I did, I did for her,” Tom said.
—“You think a weak excuse can wipe sin clear?
Let’s turn to greed—how many creditors
Crept on the patio of your plantation
To chase your debts like stalking predators,
And you paid them with ratiocination?
In logic as with cash you’re a spendthrift;
You could be rolling stones on the fourth circle’s shift.”

They disembarked from off the boat, compelled
Towards heavy smog from factories at Dis.
The gates spread open to the citadel
Where Philadelphia stood all amiss:
The library stockpiled with shelves of dust,
The fire brigade that tends eternal blazes.
Then Dante showed the bell covered with rust
Forever knelling to those abject phrases
Tom wrote, its tower’s bricks now charred and black.
(Cities are born with souls, as men are built with cracks.)

The two walked through this polis of the damned
To where a frontier framed a busy scene
That sketched no space for solace to be crammed:
Ships scuttled in a stagnant lake between
A junkyard full of coaches, wagons, trains
Derailed from tracks receding clockwise far
To the horizon of this dim domain.
The pictured wasteland moves like flowing tar.
Pale pilgrims pull their broken transports west
Then east again, a futile migratory quest.

Brushed in a sheer dark gown, horned Baphomet
Flaps high above, and bears on its goat’s head
A pentagram where evil is inset.
From its left hand a rope unfurls that threads
Behind on through an endless trail of gallows
Where swinging settlers flail legs in despair.
Its right hand a memento mori hallows,
And chiaroscuro fogs the sulf’rous air.
The view runs red and black beneath Hell’s skies,
A painting dripping blood and oil that never dries.

“A grim sight,” Dante said, “don’t you agree?
The master of design drew shadows where
The wave of progress ends in heresy.
Political machines won’t fail to spare
Folk shrines that mass-produce some cheerful psalm
Chanted by subjects crushed in mills like seed.”
—“Why are you showing me all this?” said Tom.
—“You lost arcadia, renounced its deed
When France sold vast Louisiana cheap
To British hands that turned it to a garbage heap.”

Upon a broken wagon moving east
They hitched a ride, hauled by a pioneer
Who colonized this land of the deceased
And dragged a mountainous supply o’ gear.
Thomas: “You’re really blaming this on me?”
—“In my time we had mostly Florentines.
But Hell’s frontier will always need grantees.
Your negligence brought varied foreign miens
From Europe and beyond that we embrace,
Expanding far and wide damnation’s motley race.”

The pair dismounted in a barren field
With rows of flaming holes dug in the ground
Where tombs were densely packed and left unsealed,
And from each fissure thrived a plaintive sound.
“Your faith’s another theme where you went rogue,”
Said Dante. “The souls inside this furrowed trench
All held the stock enlightenment new vogue.
There’s lots of deists here (they’re mostly French).
Why there’s Voltaire, Rousseau, and Diderot.
And here, I think, is someone that you know.”

A balding head rose from a fiery tomb
And squinted through bifocals fogged and cracked.
“What, is that you, Minette? Will you exhume
My offer for a marital contract?”
—“Ben Franklin!” came Tom’s mortified reply.
“How did you come to be in this mine hole?
It’s Thomas Jefferson, your old ally.”
But Ben just stared at him like a blind mole.
He leaned in, peering through the cloud of smoke.
He rubbed his specs, his eyes went wide, and then he spoke:

“Poor Richard said be practical and shrewd
To reap the industry your labor earns.
Poor Richard said the Puritan subdued
Will boost your trade’s diminishing returns.
Poor Richard said think scientifically
To give life higher purpose here within.
Poor Richard advertised terrifically,
A prophet with no wig upon his chin.
Poor Richard was too vague in his Lord’s Prayer—
The Deity, it turns out, is quite doctrinaire.”

Ben then reached out and gave Tom a slim book.
“Carry my wit below,” he said, and fell
Back in his pot to simmer and slow-cook.
Tom glanced at his new gift, and couldn’t tell
Why he should ever need predict the weather
Here where the nude abyss was cast to model.
“Were it my choice, I’d throw you in this nether
Region with him, but we’ve no time to dawdle,”
Said Dante. “You’ve great sins of intellect,
But private views can’t compass all the lives you’ve wrecked.”

Tom tiptoed in his slippers round the flames
Like a fine lady loath to drop her tea.
“I get your hint,” he said, “stop playing games.
For owning other men as property,
I’m going to where neighbors are pernicious.”
The heavy-lidded lips of Dante winked
A grin. “Your hands aren’t clean, but they aren’t vicious.
From when the ease of Eden went extinct
Men have yoked other men—‘twas a sad start.
More tragic, though, are men enslaved to their bad art.”

They came upon a den filled with antique
Bohemians, the lesser followers
From minor periods: Alexandrine Greeks
Rewriting grammar errors, wallowers
Aborted ere rebirths had lit their spark.
“There swaggers one of the Caravaggisti
Who soaks his copied masterworks in dark.
(The light can’t rise—his spirit isn’t yeasty.)
Here similes are shaped by Pseudo-Homers
Who call creative violence ‘art,’ but speak misnomers.”

Then Dante named one of these nobodies:
The diplomat-turned-radical in France,
Joel Barlow, blinded by false truths he sees.
“An honest man,” said Tom. “What happenstance
Occurred since then for which he’s punished now?”
—“His epic poem had horrendous flaws:
The dull Columbiad.” —“Ah yes, I’ll vow
It wasn’t very good. But still…” Tom saw
That Barlow, eyes pressed to the page, had penned
Some words into his book: he scribbled to the end

Illegibly, then turned to start again.
—“The poem is so bad, for all of time
He has to edit it, and even then
He can’t improve its repetitious rhymes
On the delusion that religions buy,
Or wars derided as impassioned schemes.
A cautionary tale for those who’d try
Their hand at writing epic with grand themes:
Make it a cultural repository,
Or you’ll end up in Hell for writing a weird story.”

Thus Dante. Thomas turned from his old friend
And said, “This journey’s getting wearisome.
How many detours must I apprehend
Before we reach my dear own dreary slum?”
They slid below past the eighth circle’s brink.
Dante: “What day is this, are you aware?”
Tom shrugged. “I died on a Tuesday, I think.”
—“Too bad your funeral will lack fanfare.
Your state was strangled in its nursery;
This marks its fiftieth year antiversary.”

A group of people walking single-file
Came into view, their features undisclosed
By long dress coats with wigs, in sad profile.
—“An ‘anti-versary?’ Am I supposed
To know about some date that ne’er occurred?”
—“‘Twas when you wrote that wretched document.”
—“Ah, that—my masterpiece! I wrote each word
To make the followers of Locke repent.”
—“‘The Declaration of True Loyalty?’
It’s crap, not fit for chamber pots of royalty.”

While Tom and Dante loitered in dispute
The line of coats moped closer, glints of gold
Reflecting off the dust of their commute.
Thomas began to quote himself: “We hold
These probabilities to be obscure,
That men are all unequal to the king,
And need to be reminded to secure
The necessary duties their lives bring:
Compliance, fealty…all those synonyms.
We trust God’s servant George, and his mysterious whims.”

—“One emperor would boost our earthly bliss,”
Said Dante, “strengthening the public weal,
It’s true, I wrote words similar—and this
Has landed me in Hell without appeal.
My error’s also yours, with this contrast:
The papacy I always did abhor,
But you once loved a good regal lambaste.”
—“Expediency won,” said Tom. “The war
Was going badly—Boston and New York
Were overrun, and Valley Forge would pitch a fork

In the strewn straw of freedom’s loosened bale.
Poor Washington was just too undermanned.”
A heavy gilded coat had crushed a frail
Sinner among those laboring to stand
Before the pair where the formation stopped.
Tom looked at them. “Who are these weeping courtiers?”
—“One view they’d laugh about, then they’d adopt
A different stance with some to win more cheers,
Wearing beliefs as the occasion fits.
They’re diplomats by trade—we call them hypocrites.”

A tailcoat fell at Tom’s feet with a thud.
“It’s lined with lead,” said Dante, “Same as you.
Foul politics makes veins run thick with mud
In those who trail the flow of lies they spew.”
The line of shadows parted just enough
To form a space that fit Tom’s contrapasso.
“Come on, let’s put this arm through that sleeve cuff.
Those for whom falsehood was a mantra lasso
Their bodies to these sluggish shrouds of pain.
Your life is gone, and you’ve eternity to gain.”

As the contented yeoman farmer wakes
To find a blighted field of crops, and sobs
For having nothing stored, and then forsakes
The plough to go and look for city jobs,
Enjoying no more self-sufficiency
Or natural abundance, glum to hoard
A wage that prizes mean efficiency,
Exchanging rural values once adored
For urban vices, free and verdant climes
For smoke and crowded avenues and violent crimes,

So was the face of Jefferson’s world changed
That very moment as he lost his marred
Illusions, weeping for his soul estranged.
“I won’t say that ‘forever’ isn’t hard,
But you lose track of time after a while.”
The bard’s small comfort didn’t mean a fig.
Tom sighed, and ready to begin his trial,
He donned the heavy coat and periwig.
But then, about to take his place in line,
A candle in the scarlet air appeared to shine.

The sphere enlarged, its flicker glowed more bright
As if it seemed the sun began to fall.
It set ablaze the sky with blinding light,
Unveiling darkness where the damned did sprawl.
A feather floated down from the white orb,
And one among that circle stretched his palm
To touch this piece of heaven and absorb
Its softness—bursting like he’d caught a bomb.
Two wings were then outstretched with golden tips
That flapped a zephyr through the calm apocalypse.

Wise Dante’s singing joints swelled on bent knee,
Inflamed to praise this bird of paradise.
Old Thomas aped his motions silently,
Disdaining the new Common Era vice
Of deists keen to keep their hands apart.
He said a prayer, and then and there renounced
The rational perspective of Descartes.
The rays from Gabriel’s white nimbus bounced
Around an open hand that sacrificed
A page of vellum fashioned from the lamb of Christ.

Tom took the parchment and the angel fled.
The light receded and was soon snuffed out,
Enwrapping them in that which evil bred.
Bright stems of lettered lines began to sprout
And bulb upon the page that Thomas gripped,
The words made lambent by the love of God.
He tried to read the Anglo-Saxon script
That linked him to his fatherland abroad.
Dante, impatient, snatched it from his hand
And read (Tom knew not how) the heavenly command.

“It seems your shade won’t march here after all.”
—“Why?” Thomas said. “What does the letter say?”
—“We have to go, take off that leaden pall.
There’s something you must see without delay.”
Descending to the lowest sphere, it seemed
That darkness with more darkness did collide,
Which spread more blankets on the unredeemed
As if the boundless void were multiplied.
The frigid air made Tom hug tight his garment
As shadows under ice felt grace’s worst debarment.

The poet stopped before a figure trapped
Behind the arctic glass that mirrored shame
In Old Tom’s pupils struggling to adapt:
A man of high stature whom sin did maim
Was gleaming there, his well-proportioned form
Dismembered, with a floating out-turned arm
Saluting those who traveled past his warm
And modest eyes that raised no wide alarm
When Tom appeared, but kept a distant gaze,
A shepherd who woolgathers as his lost sheep graze.

The ice smoothed over his slight facial scars,
The black cockade froze proudly on his hat,
His coat’s rich epaulets were shining stars,
His sword hung sheathed and ready for combat.
“Witness the traitor’s marshal dignity,”
Said Dante, “poised so noble and majestic
Amidst degenerate malignity
Where countrymen betray affairs domestic.”
Tom placed a wrinkled hand against the ice.
“I’m sorry, George,” he said, and sought looks of advice

From those blue eyes that cast a vacant stare.
“Why do his senses not refer to us?”
—“His distant manner always made it rare
To share emotions deemed superfluous.
He was interred here after being drawn
And quartered by the British crown for treason
To contemplate his tragic denouement.”
Tom: “Will I also bear this glacial season?”
The great shade raised the heaven-sent epistle.
—“Not anymore. You have been granted a dismissal.”

He went on: “Don’t abandon hope just yet.
Our God has heard your cries and tearful songs;
He’s letting you repay your moral debt—
You’re being sent back home to right your wrongs.
Ah subject colonies, a place of toil,
A ship that bears nutritional disease
And bleeds into the waves that roll and roil,
The scurvied crew of She who rules the seas.
Go pluck a lime from liberty, take health—
Do what I yearned for Italy’s lost commonwealth.”

But Thomas sighed and said, “I’ve grown too old,
My life is spent, my weary mind can’t plumb
The grand significance that you foretold.”
—“You’ll need help, yes—your friend Ben gave you some.
It’s there inside your pocket to discover.”
Thomas withdrew the curious bric-a-brac
Inside his fuzzy pants and read the cover:
‘Poor Richard’s Most Infernal Almanack.’
He scoffed. “Can I have something less didactic?
We won’t be freed by proverbs or new farming tactics.”

Dante: “This little book has special charm.
Hell’s climate guide and cosmic counselor,
Its bits of wisdom guard you whole from harm,
A trapper swaddled in an ounce of fur.
It steers you through an odyssey when clouds
Engulf the sun and navigators freeze
Like statues at their spinning helms, endowed
With marbled death to stand the lawless breeze.
There’s just one caveat to this dark horse:
You must know how to read it properly, of course.”

The crispy book was bound in human skin.
Tom opened to a page that flames did etch:
‘Crouching gently forward on hand and shin,
Virgo’s head is turning around to catch
Eager starry gazers with their spying glass.
Rashly judged as pleasing, their thirst will wring
Little astral fantasies from withered grass,
Finding April’s shower in a former spring.
Foolish men will shamelessly recall the past;
Wiser stands the conjurer whom time has not harassed.

Look to waning crescents that didn’t wax,
Bask in shadows forested by stones and stumps.
Fate has better grooves when it’s lacking tracks,
Overlooking history that skips and jumps.’
Tom stared. “I can’t make sense of this a whit.”
—“Some see the future, while the present’s dim.
Poor Richard only sees a past forfeit,
Lost in a stream of time where none can swim,”
Said Dante. “That there book can show you, maybe,
Where you went wrong miscarrying your earthen baby.”

Tom flipped the book and read another page:
Of kneeling Washington victorious
At Valley Forge; now Ben—the world’s his stage!
A diplomat with purpose glorious.
Dante: “You made your general an outlaw,
If not for you he might have had a chance.
And Franklin isn’t doomed to that bourgeois
Materialistic life of mere finance.
Now leave this place and go back home to fight
A righteous cause that will confirm your country’s might.”

Tom’s slippers sloshed in puddles at his feet.
The air was tranquil, and long beads of sweat
Were trickling down from Washington’s ice sheet.
“The lake is melting, try not to get wet,”
Said Dante. “Our king isn’t here to flap
His wings, he’s busy these last fifty years
Up in the world.” The poet gave a clap
And teams of devils entered pulling gears,
Assembling there a windmill in the zone
That would do Satan’s work and spin all on its own.

Bespectacled old demons holding quills
And ledgers gathered round the bard to write
Down orders: “Let’s please circulate more bills
Of currency to sinners here tonight
To bankroll our new mill. Let them have fun,
Then punish those who don’t abstain—oh rats!
Reroute the second circle’s winds, someone.”
To Thomas: “Even hell needs bureaucrats.
Beelzebub charged me to help preserve
His new system—it’s called the Federal Reserve.”

Thomas: “Will we head back the way we came?”
—“I don’t have time to lead you, I’m afraid.”
A signal cued a devil to proclaim
The need for quick transit, who loudly played
A tarnished trumpet badly out of tune.
A chariot with horses snorting fire
Plummeted towards them, driven by a loon.
A crown of sunbeams made his head a pyre
Of burning auburn hair and beat-red brow.
Not slowing down, the chariot turned to a plough

As golden wheels collided with the frost,
Displacing bodies from the ice below.
“You’ve no doubt read of Phoebus’ son, who lost
Control of what he pleaded to borrow,
And ravaged all the earth as a result,”
Said Dante. “Phaethon is his name, condemned
To chauffeur famous sinners to occult
Torture and terrorize all those close-hemmed
In girdled ground with airborne fusillades.
He’s just a bit unhinged—in Hell we’ve few so odd.”

Tom eyed with caution the berserk young boy.
He gave his solemn guide an awkward hug
And mounted onto Vulcan’s crafted toy
Behind its cocky driver looking smug.
“A word of warning: Satan’s changes wrought
Down here are soon reflected up above,”
Said Dante. “One may come among your lot,
A bird of prey, though passing as a dove,
A man whom Washington will have employed.
Should he rise high, all your ideals will be destroyed.

He bears the name of Hamilton—beware.
We’ll meet again, remember, if you stray
And nurture your old habits, so take care.”
—“Thank you for everything, I shall prevai—”
But Thomas was cut off by Phaethon’s rash
Departure, and the hand that waved goodbye
Now flew to grip the sidebar in a flash.
“Just don’t let go, my horses are quite spry,”
Said Phaethon, as the thund’rous beating hooves
Cleaved poisonous green clouds of gas as lightning moves.

He wrestled with the reins and couldn’t steer;
He called the steeds their wrong names one by one
With gleeful eyes where prudence would show fear.
Thomas: “Do you know where you’re going, son?”
—“Yes—up!” Tom glanced behind the chariot:
A trail of fire had melted the ninth ring
And carbonized Judas Iscariot,
Whom once the jaws of Dis did chew and fling.
The bloody Phlegethon had boiled away
To paste, and steam baths scalded killers on display.

The carriage bounced the weightless shades about,
And Tom held tight as his feet dangled off.
The team defied their master’s simple route;
They corkscrewed right, inducing Tom to cough
When passing through the wood of suicides
Now smoldering in ashes of self-pity.
“Whoops,” Phaethon said as their careening strides
Crashed through and crumbled the infernal city.
“I’ll grant I’m no expert equestrian,
But doesn’t this beat being a pedestrian?”

He laughed and snorted with his neighing steeds
As the third circle’s downpour vaporized,
And gluttons, mired in their indulgent needs,
Were baked inside the mud and fossilized.
He spread fire through the second circle’s gale
Where lovers, like a lantern sea, were lit.
He smashed Hell’s gates, proceeding thence to sail
Into the sky away from the dark pit.
Although this daft coachman was overzealous,
Tom’s long ascent would make even Elijah jealous.

Tom patted out the flames on his wool shirt
And gazed on the empyrean’s light trails.
They passed near Virgo standing at alert,
Presenting Libra’s fairly balanced scales.
“Please take me home,” said Thomas, “on the double.”
“But why?” said Phaethon. “I want to explore!”
God saw the grin of mischief that spelled trouble
For His creation, though, and did implore
Tom, looking down at the New World, to faint
As lightning purged the sky of old myths and their taint.

Thomas awoke at his library desk.
A cry escaped the chasm of his throat
As fiery visions danced of the grotesque.
“What’s wrong, my love?” He heard a soft voice float
Behind and turned to see his Martha there.
He took her in his arms and twirled her round.
He ran smooth fingers through her auburn hair.
He stared into her hazel eyes spellbound,
And kissed a finger pricked from stitching seams.
“It’s nothing,” he said. “Just been having some bad dreams.”

“Then come to bed,” she said, and pecked his lips.
“I will,” said Thomas as she left the room.
Just like the sun’s edge after an eclipse
He grew a smile and let his eyes consume
The candlelight against the windowpane
Reflecting his red hair and youthful face.
The dream had seemed so real—was he insane?
The bulge within his pocket did erase
All happy thoughts of madness as he reached
Inside and saw the almanac that darkness breeched.

There on his desk a quill with a black plume
Was balanced in an inkwell swirling slow,
A whirlpool drawing him to death and doom.
Its hypnotizing clockwise spiral flow
Caused words to bubble and stir up in him.
The quill beckoned his hand, but he recalled
His promise to his wife, and drew his limb
Away from that by which he was enthralled.
He glanced outside where stars above were spread,
Then closed the satin curtains, and went off to bed.


Poet’s Notes:

Sally Hemings was one of the slaves of Thomas Jefferson. Even in his own lifetime he was scandalized by speculation that he had fathered a number of her children, and the debate has raged ever since.

‘Minette’ was the nickname of Madame Helvetius, widow of the Enlightenment philosopher of the same name. She ran a salon for freethinkers and her promiscuous inclinations led her to take many lovers, including Ben Franklin, who was smitten with her and once asked for her hand in marriage. Abigail Adams called her a “very bad” woman and was “highly disgusted” upon meeting her at a party.

Joel Barlow was the U.S.A.’s first epic poet. In the 1780s he published a Christian epic entitled ‘The Vision of Columbus,’ which had many subscribers—including George Washington and George III. For a time he apparently accrued a high reputation, and over the next 20 years proceeded to lengthen and revise ‘the Vision’ in what became known as ‘The Columbiad.’ In the intervening period he acquired a number of liberal ideas, as indicated in his preface to the poem where he writes that Homer and Virgil have had a pernicious influence upon history due to their glorification of war. His earlier Christian version was transformed into an atheistic epic that culminates in a bizarre scene where the world’s religious leaders gather at a council at a crystal palace in Mesopotamia and throw off the shackles of faith that oppress them. Having recently read ‘The Columbiad’ in its entirety (though not the earlier version), I will limit exposition on its mediocrity by simply noting that, in a poem of a little more than 8000 lines, ‘yield’ is used as an end-rhyme 24 times, and in 23 of these instances it is rhymed with ‘field;’ numerous other repetitions demonstrate that the muse had forsaken poor Barlow. Even so, the thing is not entirely devoid of interest. It is the first extended literary work to chronicle the Revolutionary war (in summarized fashion), and compared to the ‘woke’ academic poets of today I would not hesitate to raise Joel Barlow on a tree stump among the lower foothills of Parnassus.


Andrew Benson Brown was a graduate student at George Mason University before taking too many classes outside his discipline coincided with the reality of Debt. He now works as a children’s caseworker in rural Missouri. In his spare time he reads obscure classics, writes things of little market value, and exercises far more than is befitting for a modern intellectual.

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9 Responses

  1. James Sale

    Always good to see Dante appearing in an epic poem: does the heart good! And greetings to all my ex-colonial friends in the USA on this special day!!! Here is another great English admirer of your achievements: “America is the only nation in the world that is founded on creed. That creed is set forth with dogmatic and even theological lucidity in the Declaration of Independence; perhaps the only piece of practical politics that is also theoretical politics and also great literature.” – G.K. Chesterton.

    • A.B. Brown

      Thanks Mr. Sale. It seems that poems about Hell are something of a subgenre on this site, and as you yourself know, it’s hard to go wrong with Dante as a character.
      There is an astute Chesterton quote for every occasion, and this one seems proof enough that if a foreigner can admire our values, we would seem to not be so bad as all the self-hating cultural Marxists say.

  2. James A. Tweedie

    In stride with Andrew Benson Brown
    I journeyed through the bowels of Hell.
    As Jefferson wound his way down
    With Dante into Satan’s well,

    Within that hopeless, virtual
    Alternative reality,
    That Hell-bound intellectual
    Was, by the grace of God, set free.

    Like Ebenezer Scrooge, a dream
    Gave Thomas Jeff. a second chance
    To come up with a better scheme
    To further liberty’s advance.

    The poem’s Second Part, no doubt,
    Will tell us how it all turns out.

    So far, so (very, very) good.

    • A.B. Brown

      Love the thoughtful responsive poem, James. It amazes me how you guys can spontaneously do this stuff in the comments sections.

      There will be a lot more parts, though, before the end…of course we all know how it turns out, but the epic convention of the supernatural intervention will hopefully make the verse-version of history more entertaining than reading a textbook.

  3. Rob Crisell

    Such an interesting, unique, and ambitious project. Thank you for all your work on it, and for your obvious erudition. A funny and fascinating journey. And your bio blurb is perhaps the cleverest one I’ve ever seen on this site!

  4. A.B. Brown

    Grateful for your appreciation, Rob. Ambitious is certainly the word. I have a lot of chapters planned, and we’ll see how many I can get through before the Republic falls and I am sent to a reconditioning workshop to labor on virtue-signaling free-verse until dying of guilt.
    In regards to the bio blurb, yes, as I have no significant prior publication history to elucidate, I was forced to fall back on ‘wittifying’ what little of a dignified life a modern litterateur has to share.
    I am always on the lookout for your latest maddeningly clever satire. I have shared your several ‘Uncle Joe’ pieces with a number of people…they are an absolute riot. I imagine him right now sitting in his basement under a single swinging light bulb as the neurons slowly flicker off, mumbling.

  5. A.B. Brown

    Also, I have to give a shout-out to C.B. Anderson for being kind of a jerk and calling out my bad rhymes in the first chapter…I worked hard to do better here. Probably there are still some details that could be found wanting. Continuing to try and get better. Thanks to all the poets on the site who have given me useful advice and helped me to hone my craft.

    • Monty

      . . . but if you’ve “worked hard to do better here” with your rhymes, then maybe CB’s remarks weren’t so “jerkish” after all. Maybe they had the desired effect.

      • A.B. Brown

        Yes, indeed they did. I thank you as well, Monty.

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