.

John Adams in Heaven

John and Abigail Adams are being guided through
heaven by John Milton. He takes them to a villa in
the Elysian Fields, where they meet a famous
Roman who shows them a vision of their political
ancestors.

Near spartan fields that nurtured simple roots,
A villa sprawled with hints of pagan faith.
Through lavish gardens hanging with ripe fruits,
They entered, crossed a room of marble wraiths
(Ancestral busts, the mugs of common farmers)
Its murals cracked and laced with creeping vines,
And saw a sitting figure chiseled firmer
Than stone, pure morals whitening his veins.
Great statesmen all belong in bliss, ergo
John Adams gazed upon his hero, Cicero.

Stiff muscles creaked and flexed off marble crust.
Two grinding elbows moved to steady knees.
Tan sandals squeaked and shook a robe of dust.
“One needs the fortitude of Socrates
To wait for you, John Adams,” uttered Marcus.
John gaped to speak. A finger silenced words.
“Just follow, or you’ll soon become a carcass.”
A fountain filled a pipette up two-thirds.
Sweet Abby closed her husband’s open mouth.
They followed Tully down a hallway leading south.

“Three eyedrops from the Well of Life. The mind
Needs vision, too,” said Cicero. They both
Leaned backward. Pupils drowned in fluid, blind.
A light-filled tunnel, granting them new birth,
Washed over John and Abby as they stood.
The busts receded from the hall. “Behold
Your ancestors,” said Cicero. Instead
Of marble casts, a line of figures rolled
Before their eyes, seeming of flesh and blood—
Civilization’s leaders, risen from the mud.

Stout Moses stands with tablets lightning-seared;
King David plays his harp; wise Solomon,
In his temple, strokes his even-whiskered beard;
Cyrus reclines upon an Ottoman,
Holding his cylinder of human rights;
Lycurgus promulgates his warrior code
To Spartans; Solon scribbles his insights,
Arranging Athen’s laws within an ode;
Romulus picks a hill (his twin won’t hearken);
The Palatine established, Brutus ousts proud Tarquin.

Augustus maps the Pax Romana’s reach
And five good emperors keep it in vogue;
Justinian’s wise jurists grant no breach
Of justice as he lies in bed with plague;
Next Arthur, throned on high in Avalon,
Charges his knights recite the Pentecostal
Oath, each sword around his table drawn:
To never kill or quarrel in a hostile
Manner, to flee from treason, give the ladies
Succor and rivals mercy—under pain of Hades.

This oath is taken up by Charlemagne
And mouthed by Roland, that great paladin;
The Lionheart, to honor his domain,
Embraces chivalry and Saladin;
His brother, John the Dog, signs Magna Carta
In front of all the English noblemen;
Then last, in contrast to laconic Sparta,
A queen in armor puts a global spin
On verbal virtues when, the Spanish drowned,
This Gloriana gathers bays to see bards crowned.

.

.

Andrew Benson Brown has had poems and reviews published in a few journals. His epic-in-progress, Legends of Liberty, will chronicle the major events of the American Revolution if he lives to complete it. Though he writes history articles for American Essence magazine, he lists his primary occupation on official forms as ‘poet.’ He is, in other words, a vagabond.


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17 Responses

  1. jd

    So imaginative and knowledgeable! I enjoyed your poem very much, Mr. Brown. Thank you!

    Reply
    • ABB

      Thanks for reading, jd. Glad my expensive education ended up being good for something.

      Reply
  2. James Sale

    I have just read Mark Stone’s wonderful spoof on metrics, Barktameter – and now, on the same day, I am reading the incredible Benson Brown’s spoof – but with a great satirical edge – on American and European history: laugh-out-loud funny. But on a serious note, despite my overall view that BB is the inheritor from Byron, the first stanza in particular has a marvellously Keatsian feel to it – the language wraps around you in a sensuous way. Some of the imagery is striking if not downright brilliant: ‘ a sitting figure chiseled firmer
    Than stone, pure morals whitening his veins’. ‘Pure morals whitening his veins’ is, I think, a genius image. Add to all this the amazing rhyming – ‘ergo/hero, Cicero’ or ‘hearken/Tarquin’ (never saw that one coming!) and you have the makings of a modern classic.

    Reply
    • ABB

      Thanks for your comments, James. With this vision I actually had a relatively serious intention, though I can’t help but being a bit jokey even when this is the case. There is actually a second vision in the chapter that occurs after this one, unpublished here, where Cicero shows Adams a vision of the future and a line of some of our great (and not so great) presidents that ends on a more satirical edge. Maybe will submit that at some point in the future.

      Political visions in epics have been a standard thing from Virgil to Tasso and Ariosto. Of course in the latter two cases their visions culminated in the reigns of patrons like the d’Este family, which in retrospect has kind of an unintentionally laughable aspect considering how corrupt many of the condotierri-style rulers were. But one thing that struck me about all of these examples is how stone-cold serious their intentions were; I don’t think there’s ever been a good lighthearted example in mock-epic (to my knowledge).

      Reply
  3. Mark F. Stone

    Andrew, This poem shows great craftsmanship. Many fabulous rhymes, and I enjoyed the story to boot! Mark

    Reply
  4. Sally Cook

    Who writes about morals today, or even thinks about them? Can’t think how long it’s been since any of my ancestors have been given the slightest bit of attention. This poem reminds me of the excitement of the hunt as I worked my way from generation to generation; and finally finding the clues from generation to generation and then, climbing the centuries to find where I finally fit.
    Andrew, you are a brilliant man. I look forward to meeting you someday.

    Reply
    • ABB

      While I used to be a Wildean, ‘art for art’s sake’ guy, I have come around to the fact that aesthetics and morals share a necessary connection that, when severed, revels in weirdness or grotesque titillation.

      If there’s not another SCP get-together soon, I might have to just drive to NY to see you, Sally!

      Reply
  5. Cheryl Corey

    A fascinating piece. The only thing I’d like to call into question is the line,
    “Cyrus reclines upon on an Ottoman”. Is it me, or is this grammatically incorrect?

    Reply
  6. Joseph S. Salemi

    What a marvelous conceit — Cicero coming to life again from a marble statue, and guiding the Adamses through a gallery of the West’s great lawgivers and leaders. I love the rhymes of “hearken” and “Tarquin,” and “Marcus” and “carcass.” They are delightful and unexpected.

    Reply
    • ABB

      Thank you, sir. Because Cicero was a “new man” in Rome, he didn’t have a hall of ancestors like other noble Romans from old families. So he makes the case for a sort of alternative lineage and wrote that a man aspiring to greatness in the present has to look to historical figures as personal examples. Tried to capture that philosophy here.

      Cicero’s reputation seems to be at a historical low point in our current academic age, in marked contrast to his high intellectual status from Petrarch until the last century.

      Reply
  7. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    ABB, I thoroughly appreciate the craft that has gone into this highly amusing poem, chock full of elaborate vocabulary that elevates the piece to giddy heights. I especially like the nod to the Magna Carta. Thank you!

    Reply
    • ABB

      Thanks Susan. The Magna Carta is, of course, a landmark document in history. None of the preindustrial societies that abruptly switched to being communist countries in the 20C ever developed anything like it (to my knowledge), hence the terrible abuses of power that occur in those places. Critics who talk about doing away with the Constitution today have little appreciation for the historical evolution of power checks summarized in the listing of law codes mentioned here.

      Reply

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