Born in Canton, Fred Chappell was North Carolina’s poet laureate from 1977 to 2002. He wrote this poem in response to the events of September 11th. Chappell is retired from UNC Greensboro where he taught English, advanced composition, poetry and fiction. Author of a dozen books of verse, two volumes of stories, one of criticism and eight novels, he has been awarded the Sir Walter Raleigh Prize, the Best Foreign Book Prize from the Academie Francaise, the N.C. Medal in Literature and an Award in Literature from the National Academy of Arts and Letters. He lives in Greensboro.
Let us, in this time of bitterest lament,
Go awhile apart and meditate
And reverently attend the ancestral choir
Of prophets, sages, founders of the state,
Who lend us strength and solace when the world is rent
And everywhere besieged with fire.
Let us linger, as we may, within the grove
And hear those voices in the heat of day
Speak like gentle winds stirring the silence
Softly in their never-ceasing play
Of loving variations on the theme of love
And weary descant against violence.
For we are nothing without the ones who came before,
They who with palette, loom, and graceful pen
And sculpted stone, with treatise and debate
Built up our world and built it up again
When it was brought to rubble by incendiary war
And the towering, sword-blade flames of hate.
And let us join with them in spirit by going to
Their words and deeds that make our history
A matter of some pride, if we will know
The best of it, forgoing vanity
And boast and doing calmly what we ought to do,
As they did then, a world ago.