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Ellen Hinsey

Ellen Hinsey

Ellen Hinsey has lived in Europe since 1987, witnessing first-hand the fall of the Berlin Wall and trials at the International Tribunal for the Forme Yugoslavia. Her books include Update on the Descent (Notre Dame), The White Fire of Time (Weslayan), Cities of Memory (Yale). Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The New Yorker and Poetry. She is currently writing about democracy in Central and Eastern Europe.

Notes On The Progress Of History

History, it has been said, was never short on ideas.

Each day, there were barges to float down green waterways,
and timber to fell in distant forests;

There were empires to build—borders to watch over where
black-winged birds nested in ancestral hedges, far from
the home fires of the native hearth;

There were languages to create: History stirring up a hybrid
of words whose essences seeped one into the other. Until there
blossomed words of a rare variety—touched by the spare
yellow vowels of the Hellenes or the dark-thatched
consonants of Germania.

In this, History was egalitarian. And none were spared
the iniquities of fate.

Capitals by the sea were sown with salt—while the genius
of deserts prospered: Carthage's soil was white ash when,
beneath the star-embroidered sky, Arabic scholars divined
the heavens and conquered holy algebra.

And History was rarely winded; History was always up-to-date.

Naturally, possessed of such prowess, History was ambitious:
despite the crimson blood which crazed the paving stones
of squares, and horses driven mad across champs de guerre
History dreamed of stability.

The specter of the Pax Romana, its head high, bearing its
standard down through the centuries.

Yes, History was confident, and unconcerned by detail: even
as fingers like birch twigs were torn from hands; even as
the Good were awoken at dawn and brought to trial.

In History's name the majestic encyclopedias were deflowered
of their facts, while the Great Advances, like empty coffins,
were raised high and carried above the cheering crowds.

Truth's green branch twisted in History's dark knoll.

But History's heroics, it seems, were unappreciated. History's
luggage has been found full of regrets, and was last seen
abandoned in a ditch.

History, it has been reported, is tired.


Ellen Hinsey
Notes On The Progress Of History


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