What bigger risk can a sane place run
Every decade or so, as its heart strokes on,
Than to rouse itself, shake its peaceful plumage—
Flamboyant hoods and tasseled crests—
And choose a new name, a new mind and body,
To wing it onward, even upward,
Should upward chance to be its course?
And since our place, in its several homes,
Is old as American places go,
Though not yet bowed with the weight of wisdom
That sometimes stiffens the necks of our forebears
To the near northeast, what better fling
For our old place to take today—
Under whatever skies are swept above us
By butterfly wings from the Beijing suburbs,
Penguin flippers from the South Polar cap
Or the Master of Skies whom we acknowledge
On a bronze plaque poised in our literal midst
But seldom read--what thing more hopeful
Than to greet a man who's spent, till now,
Almost a whole life in a still riper place
A few hours north and two long centuries
Older than we (any laggard listener
Should here consider that half our leaders—
Seven presidents from a roll of fourteen—
Have ascended among us with hard-won credentials
From Harvard, Yale, Princeton: four from Yale)?
And since his degrees were each conferred
By one of the oldest arms of the trivium—
Rhetoric, the love and mastery of letters
(The magical art of virtuous persuasion)—
I add a brotherly pleasure to our welcome,
The praise of a kinsman in the study and the class.
Each of you knows, by now, his name.
Have you yet, though, considered the tangled echoes
That his forename sounds?
Was a gorgeous malignant toad stamped out
On Bosworth Field by the first royal Tudor.
Richard Second was a gorgeous poet
Swamped by self-pity and Lord Bolingbroke.
Ominous? Fear not.At ease.
Though Shakespeare never managed to enshrine him,
Let Richard First embody those strengths
We implore today as we call the successor
To a leader thanked for elegant force
And named for Mozart's sister, Nannerl.
Richard First was Lion-Hearted, Coeur de Leon,
And while that title's first echoes are fearsome,
Recall the lion's mythical strengths—
Graceful power, devotion to its pride,
Astounding brilliance as it plots its aims,
Patience with its brood.
So Richard First
In our Line of leaders, highest welcome
To a beautiful place that's grayer than many,
Greener than some; that labors in its home—
And the baffling world—for goodness.
I, for instance (whiter than gray),
Came here, a boy, five decades ago
And have loved it in all but a very few
Of its manifestations through the full time since.
What's won my longest gratitude
Is its sometimes brash but mainly brave
Promise to grow from the inside out;
Its early choice to follow our great benefactor's
Prime trait—a watchful magnanimity,
Big-heartedness above all else.
So you come now, only the fourth
To hold this seat who was born outside
The bleeding but durable treasure-hung walls
Of the old Confederacy; and you come arrayed
(As we have ample reason to know)
In grace, devotion, brilliance, patience:
Lion-hearted from the start.
Chosen Richard, among us.
© 2004 by Reynolds Price