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A Nation of Sludge

  • ANTHONY ESOLEN

Sludge everywhere, the sludge of a nation bored with sanity, hating the false gods of wealth, ease, prestige, lust, and what is called, without a trace of irony, politics, but blaming not the false gods and not themselves for falling in worship of them, but rather the worshippers on the other side of the sluice.

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honeybee;
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

 And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet's wings.

 I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.

      —  William Butler Yeats, "The Lake Isle of Innisfree"

 I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee.  (Lk. 15:18)

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If only, if only it were the pavements grey, that make the heart long for a sweet and natural life!

Sludge everywhere, the sludge of a nation bored with sanity, hating the false gods of wealth, ease, prestige, lust, and what is called, without a trace of irony, politics, but blaming not the false gods and not themselves for falling in worship of them, but rather the worshippers on the other side of the sluice —  they are the ones, only they, who raise the stink of disease and degeneracy and death.

I check the morning news and there is madness, things once unspeakable but now taken with a shrug, as the sludge floats past, slowly, interminably, yet always bringing some new offense, some new capitulation to boredom, disgust, and indifference.

A deeply disturbed adolescent boy dons a green tail and calls himself a merman, posing with girlish breasts and boasting a boyfriend who first found it odd to swim in the lake with a creature from fantasyland, but now has gotten used to it.  Another disturbed adolescent boy announces to his classmates that he is sexually attracted to dogs and horses, and boys besides.  This occasions a long article on the "problems" that "zoophiles" present to the homosexual movement.

A monster abortionist from Philadelphia, a man with the morals of Josef Mengele but without the surgical skills, is on trial for years of butchery.  One woman testifies that she heard the screams of failed abortions, of babies still alive, screaming like aliens, she says, until they snipped their spines in two.  The monster used to keep baby-parts as trophies.  The media mundi bury the story.  But they pump the story of a coach a few miles across the Delaware River, whose offense is that he pushed his players around in practice and called them names.  The coach resigns, and the Athletic Director also loses his job, for the offense of not having fired the coach immediately.  It is a world in which everything is condoned, and nothing is forgiven.

A representative of Planned Predators testifies publicly that if an aborted child is still alive, it should be given no care.  She advocates infanticide.  Teenage boys in a decrepit town in the Rust Belt are convicted of raping a girl below the age of consent;  the girl was blind drunk at the time and did not know what she was doing.  A boy murderer, at the scene of his conviction, holds up his hand to the parents of his victims and announces to them that he will be in jail doing something unspeakable with it, while thinking of their murdered sons.  His monstrosity shows up in a more acceptable feminine form, in the person of a leering, lewd actress and producer, whose latest series has featured an "edgy" —  the word means "drearily obscene" —  episode in which her lover does what the boy murderer plans to do, while fantasizing about molesting a small child.  He isn't called a monster for it.  Other ghoul-girls write learned reviews of the series for the dying newspapers, giving it their polished thumbnails up.

Sludge is a buoyant commodity.  You can slap a fetid scrap of it with a long stick, but it bobs up again and floats your way.  Floating our way again is a lecherous congressman from New York, who made of himself his own porn star for the internet, who resigned in shamelessness and resurfaces the same.  But what's the problem, eh?  We are sixteen million million dollars in debt, and we overspend ourselves by more than a million million dollars a year.  What's one more liar in Congress, when our whole political life is woven from scraps and rag-ends of lies, that the Constitution is more than embossed tissue paper for the lavatories of the Capitol, that legislators legislate, that judges judge, and that the executive executes?  Every four years we engage, at tremendous expense, in a charade of self-government, a mass selection of the American Idol, a celebrity in chief, with light and noise and not one sensible thing said.

In Ohio, an Amish man and his "accomplices" are sentenced to fifteen years in prison for disciplinary hair-cutting of some of their fellow Amish.  The federal government, careless of the families being destroyed, steps in because the scissors was transported across state lines.  A thousand renegade Amish barbers could clip away with abandon and not do as much harm to the common good as will one day's worth of people crossing our borders illegally, but the Amish don't have nearly the number of votes as do the latter.

Of the brutality and villainy of the violence at the Boston Marathon I can say nothing.  Words fail me.


And so my heart yearns for a place that was.  It was not perfect, as nothing on earth is.  But it had all the simple sunniness of ordinary time, because it was ordinary:  there was an order to it.  In that place, when teachers complained about their most unruly students, it was because they ran in the halls, or passed notes in class, or chewed gum.  The teachers weren't geniuses, and most of their students weren't, either, but they managed to impart enough knowledge of the ordinary things, like grammar and practical arithmetic and American history and geography, to set the high school graduate on a path to a decent livelihood, without the need to mortgage the house for a wicked combination of the snob, the sybarite, and the sophomore.

In that place, that human place within earshot of the bells of the Angelus, there was sadness, there was sin, but there was the girl with the blue shawl stopping by the chapel for prayer, and repentance was held forth as a duty and an opportunity.

In that place, that natural place that was cater-corner to the church, a boy was tolerated for being a boy, a little bit cuffed but tolerated nonetheless, and raised to look beyond boyishness to clean manhood, so that he could become a good husband and father.  A girl was praised for being a girl, a little patronized but praised nonetheless, and raised to look beyond girlishness to the beauty of womanhood, so that she could become a good wife and mother.  That was a land of marriage and families, so it was indeed a country for old men, and old women and little children.

In that place, that ordinary place across the gravel road from my Father's house, the most boisterous noise that most people would hear were the whoops of boys playing baseball in some old man's back yard, or the laughter of lads and lasses at the dance, while the band was playing, not amplified by any instrument more powerful than the glad arms and lungs of the players.  In that place, the Tsars were in their rightful place —  far away from us.

In that place, that human place within earshot of the bells of the Angelus, there was sadness, there was sin, but there was the girl with the blue shawl stopping by the chapel for prayer, and repentance was held forth as a duty and an opportunity.

In that place, that holy and silent place on the hillside where the tombstones mark where our fathers and mothers lie, life was lived in the long vistas of eternity, and those who went before us were revered for their labor and their wisdom, not scorned and forgotten.  Therefore that place was not a flophouse or a motel but a home.

The poet Yeats wanted to retreat from the hardness of the city and the strife of politics, to that peaceful island, where he would build his cabin and grow his beans.  It has been a century since he daydreamed about Innisfree.  There is no such island to turn to.  All the possible roads back to sanity have been closed off.  We cannot arise and go anywhere.  Innisfree is as sick as Illinois.

There is only one choice;  and to tell the truth, it was always the only choice.  I will arise and go now to my Father's house.  It is time, Christian, to go home;  there are no homes to be found anywhere else.

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Acknowledgement

Anthony Esolen. "A Nation of Sludge." Crisis Magazine (April 24, 2013).

Reprinted with permission of Crisis Magazine.

Crisis Magazine is an educational apostolate that uses media and technology to bring the genius of Catholicism to business, politics, culture, and family life. Our approach is oriented toward the practical solutions our faith offers — in other words, actionable Catholicism.

The Author

esolen54smEsolen6Anthony Esolen is a professor of English at Providence College. He is the author of Reclaiming Catholic Social Teaching, Reflections on the Christian Life, Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child, Ironies of Faith: Laughter at the Heart of Christian Literature, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization, and is the translator of several epic poems of the West, including Lucretius' On the Nature of Things: de Rerum Natura, Tasso's Gerusalemme liberata, and the three volumes of Dante's Divine Comedy: Inferno, Purgatory, and Paradise. A graduate of Princeton and the University of North Carolina, Esolen is proficient in Latin, Italian, Anglo-Saxon, French, German and Greek. He lives in Rhode Island with his wife Debra and their two children. Anthony Esolen is a member of the advisory board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.

Copyright © 2013 Crisis Magazine
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