Stupidity Street

By Cooper Renner

      In 1913 Ralph Hodgson published a little pamphlet called "The Mystery and Other Poems" (London: Flying Fame, 1913) including only 8 poems, one of which might as well be a vision of George W. Bush's America, written 90 years before the fact. "Stupidity Street" reads in its entirety:

    I saw with open eyes
    Singing birds sweet
    Sold in the shops
    For the people to eat,
    Sold in the shops of
    Stupidity Street.

    I saw in vision
    The worm in the wheat,
    And in the shops nothing
    For people to eat;
    Nothing for sale in
    Stupidity Street.
      On a first reading, one notes the neat bifurcation, the split between what Hodgson's prophet sees "with open eyes" and "in vision". A prophet is supposed to function so, of course, discovering the tuberculosis masked by rosy cheeks. But Hodgson is a sharper poet than a first reading indicates: the irregular, two-foot rhythm and the triply rhymed stanzas serve not only to emphasize the final stresses of each-- "Stupidity Street"-- but also to draw the reader around for repeated readings. Perhaps the reader first breezed over the fact that even the scene of "plenty" occurs on Stupidity Street, and perhaps the music lulled him into thinking it was a healthy scene, those people feasting on songbirds. But it is not. Songbirds serve a larger purpose, an artistic purpose, short-sightedly short-circuited when people eat them instead of listening to them and confining their meals to poultry. There is plenty in the first stanza, but it is a fool's plenty which leads directly into the vision. The simple rhythm is heavy here, but the words skirt ineffective didacticism because of both the rhythm itself and the lean imagery Hodgson uses to convey his unequivocal message.

Do we not watch in horror as W tramples on international alliances going back decades and allows his spokesmen to insult the strongest democracies in the world if they dare to disagree with him--only to turn around a few months later and beg those same now-tenuous allies for contributions to help clean up his mess?

       The "worm in the wheat" might be, in another setting, the image of a natural disorder, a mere famine. But in its place here, Hodgson makes obvious the cause and effect, the first stanza's idiocy leading to the second's starvation. And isn't Stupidity Street the street we all find ourselves walking down right now? Aren't we now face to face with a presidential administration and a congress which view natural preserves, parks and wilderness areas as cash resources to be exploited? Do we not face a president with an unyielding determination to make use of every finite ounce of petroleum left, even to the wasting of petroleum in order to produce ethanol and hydrogen, while ignoring the fully inexhaustible possibilities of wind and sun? Are we not enslaved to tax cuts "right now" so that generations to come can pay for their predecessors' debts?

       If one of us were to read "Stupidity Street" to President Bush today, he would--I suspect-- first of all apply it to other nations and not to the U.S., utterly unable as he seems to be to imagine the consequences of his actions. Or he might reject it as a the sort of "negative" thinking he finds endemic to liberal culture. He might be surprised then to learn that 3 of the 7 poems which accompany "Stupidity Street" in Hodgson's pamphlet are specifically inspired by the author's Christian beliefs, at least as orthodox as the president's, and far more versed in the long history of Judeo-Christian-Muslim morality which insists without ceasing upon the responsibility the wealthy bear toward the poor and upon the final accounting which men will provide for the ways in which they have employed their blessings.


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