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July in Washington

Against the backdrop of 1964 Washington D.C., Robert Lowell wrote this timeless reflection on the contradictions between American idealism and American policy. Journalists Andrea Mitchell and Justin Worland, political commentators David Axelrod and Bill Kristol, scholar Sir Jonathan Bate, and psychologist Kay Redfield Jamison join host Elisa New. 

 

Special thanks to our Humanities Advisors: Steven Conn, Paul Mariani, & Robert Pinsky.

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July in Washington

 

July in Washington by Robert Lowell

 

The stiff spokes of this wheel

touch the sore spots of the earth.

 

On the Potomac, swan-white

power launches keep breasting the sulphurous wave.

 

Otters slide and dive and slick back their hair,

raccoons clean their meat in the creek.

 

On the circles, green statues ride like South American

liberators above the breeding vegetation—

 

prongs and spearheads of some equatorial

backland that will inherit the globe.

 

The elect, the elected . . . they come here bright as dimes,

and die dishevelled and soft.

 

We cannot name their names, or number their dates—

circle on circle, like rings on a tree—

 

but we wish the river had another shore,

some further range of delectable mountains,

 

distant hills powdered blue as a girl’s eyelid.

It seems the least little shove would land us there,

 

that only the slightest repugnance of our bodies

we no longer control could drag us back.

 

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July in Washington by Robert Lowell

 

The stiff spokes of this wheel

touch the sore spots of the earth.

 

On the Potomac, swan-white

power launches keep breasting the sulphurous wave.

 

Otters slide and dive and slick back their hair,

raccoons clean their meat in the creek.

 

On the circles, green statues ride like South American

liberators above the breeding vegetation—

 

prongs and spearheads of some equatorial

backland that will inherit the globe.

 

The elect, the elected . . . they come here bright as dimes,

and die dishevelled and soft.

 

We cannot name their names, or number their dates—

circle on circle, like rings on a tree—

 

but we wish the river had another shore,

some further range of delectable mountains,

 

distant hills powdered blue as a girl’s eyelid.

It seems the least little shove would land us there,

 

that only the slightest repugnance of our bodies

we no longer control could drag us back.

 

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