Poem by a Reactionary Bohemian

This poem by Alec Wilder was read at the composer's funeral.  Wilder is best known for several popular songs, especially "I'll Be Around" (recorded by his friend Frank Sinatra) and "While We are Young," but he also wrote chamber music pieces generally condemned as “unoriginal."


Beauty ! Art! Wit!

Wonderment! Humility!

Arrogance! Style!

Virtue! Decency!


And all the others,

Gone, trampled by the

Newly-polished jack boots

Of the clog-suited society.

I am a stranger here, from

Another planet;

Not spotted yet, but

Getting peculiar stares.

Forbidden entrance to

All the places where

Air remains,

Where green is true

And water unmolested.

In any other time,

(Excepting Atilla's)

I'd be a hero

Why, they'd even name

An alley after me

And put a blotting-paper

Plaque on all my doors

Not because I was great

But because I insisted on

All the words and way rejected by

Those who wait ferally

In the ancient trees.

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Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina

2 Responses

  1. William Shofner says:

    Are you sure that you didn’t write this piece, Tom?

  2. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    I am a much better poet than Wilder. I came across this poem by accident, while I was trying to find out how to listen to the radio program on popular song that Wilder did with Loonis McGlohan, a lyric writer and professor. A dozen or so years ago, I started thinking about Wilder, whom I knew almost entirely from the radio show and then grew to like several of his songs. In making some deprecatory remarks about Frank Sinatra, I conceded that his kindness to Alec Wilder in agreeing to conduct an ensemble that was recording his chamber music, showed Frank’s good side. As he told the musicians, Frank could not read music. So he got photographed waving his arms, and they played as Wilder had rehearsed them. The record company wanted to advertise the album as FRANK SINATRA conducts the music of alec wilder, but Sinatra insisted on taking a back seat. One of my readers sent me a biography of Wilder, which I read with pleasure. I remember that when Sinatra’s beautiful album “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning” came out, with a lovely rendition of Wilder’s “I’ll be Around,” Alec was at a house party that included, I believe, his great friend Judy Holliday, they played the record until they wore out the grooves.

    He was decidedly an odd duck. He went through a modest inheritance and lived in genteel poverty, usually at the Algonquin Hotel, where he drank a good deal. I strongly recommend the Sinatra album, first because Frank wisely did not abuse his voice as he did so often in later recordings, and secondly, because of his performance of Wilder’s song.