In 2023 as in 1854

“bravery” doesn’t mean only “courage”;

it can also mean “dressing to show off.” Consider the rose in Herbert’s “Virtue,” with its “hue, angry and brave.”

Or, because the rose display can also include yellow, consider:



Color code

In 1916, wings could still be translucent. Their delicate black markings were shadows of a metaphor for the term endoskeleton. At each tip, these particular wings also shadowed a purely human term: Germany’s black Iron Cross.

“An Albatros C.III two-seat reconnaissance biplane after an emergency landing surrounded by curious German military personnel.” Kees Kort Collection,, with contrast and detail electronically restored. The print is dated on its reverse “Bei Rostock 5.XI.1916.”

On the record, these wings and this thorax are black and white. One of the black and white men accumulating before the lower wing is wearing the tunic ribbon of the Iron Cross, but in 1916 that too would have been black and white. The other tunics are in various 1916 instars: some accurately following contours of flesh and bone, others shaped by the now dead; all black and white.

But in the white space between two of the human bodies hangs a cross in blue. At the time it was inked onto the Rostock print somebody intended it to refer to one or the other of the bodies, but nobody now can tell which. Separated by a shared white space, the black and white bodies are in the midst of an uninked record. The inked cross suspended in the white looks like what we readers think of as an X, but it is the X in an alphabet that can no longer be read. We receive it now only as a shape combined with a color. The color is the color of a sky no longer perturbable by wing.

Technical note: why do Republicans talk that way?

Answer: because they talk Calvinist. Paranoia like theirs has been the language of American Protestantism since the days of the Pilgrims, and in the Presbyterian theologian Donald Trump it has found a poet for the twenty-first century. The video shock of his complexion combines with his pulpit-style sing-song audio to evoke a full spectral range of American culture. As of 2023, Trump is the lord of American language: a bard loved as perhaps no poet in English has been since Tennyson. He commands a tradition.

You can tell from the sample of print below, for instance, that the text being communicated through its words is old. But don’t the words themselves seem contemporary?

No doubt, but they date from 1704.  They were transcribed back then by Jonathan Swift, and the “he” on the page is Swift’s character Jack, who stands mostly for John Calvin. It is Calvin who lives on in this Irish page and thousands of subsequent pages by such American thinkers as Jonathan Edwards, Woodrow Wilson, and, yes, Donald Trump.

What — you thought the idea of a paranoid atavism was original with Trump? One thing poetry can teach you is that no stimulus to emotion is original. First comes an imageless desire and only then comes its realization in form. For any poet, realization — that is, making real — has always been the hard part. Trump’s achievement as a poet was to realize by transforming his uttering body into a bardic color: the color orange. Calvinists have always reveled in their pain, but Trump taught all America to revel orangely. After Trump, suffering was newly and lovably embodied in orange. Suddenly, at last! it seemed understandable. All you have to do is realize, murmured the TV while America was going to sleep, what color it is that irradiates when a lord of language rolls video and sing-songs, “Let there be light.”