EDUCATION AT THE EXPOSITION– CHICAGO, 1893

Chicago was the first expression
of American thought as a unity;
one must start there.

The first astonishment became greater every day.
Since Noah’s Ark, no such Babel
of loose and joined,
vague and ill-defined,
unrelated thoughts and half-thoughts
had ever ruffled the surface of the Lakes.

Was the American made
to seem at home in it?
Honestly, he had the air
of enjoying it as though
it were all his own.
He acted as though he had passed
his life in landscape gardening
and architectural decoration.

Perhaps he could not do it again;
the next time he would want
to do it himself
and would show his own faults;
but for the moment he seemed
to have leaped from Corinth and Syracuse
and Venice, over the heads of London
and New York, to impose
classical standards on plastic Chicago.

Artists and architects talked
as though they worked only
for themselves,
as though art
was a stage decoration,
a diamond shirt-stud,
a paper collar.

all trader’s taste smelt of bric-a-brac.
One sat down to ponder.
Here was a rupture in historical sequence–
was it real, or only apparent?
One’s universe hung on the answer
for if the rupture was real
and the new American world
could take this conscious twist,
one’s personal friends would come in
as winners in the great American
chariot-race for fame.

The ocean steamer ran
the surest line of triangulation
into the future
because it was the nearest
of man’s products to a unity.
Railroads taught less
because they seemed already finished.
Explosives taught most
but needed a tribe to explain.

The dynamo taught least
because it had barely reached infancy
and if its progress was to be constant
it would result in infinite costly energy
within a generation.
One lingered long
among the dynamos
for they were new,
and they gave to history
a new phase.

Men of science would never understand
the ignorance and naïveté of the historian
who, when he came suddenly
on a new power
asked what it was:
did it pull or push?
Was it a screw or thrust?
Did it flow or vibrate?
Was it a wire or a mathematical line?
And a score of such questions
to which he expected answers
and was astonished to get none.

Did he himself know
what he meant?
Certainly not!
If he had known
his education
would have been complete
at once.

Chicago asked in 1893
for the first time
whether the American people
knew where they were driving.
Adams answered, for one,
that he did not know
but would try to find out.

They might still be drifting
unconsciously
to some point in space
and that, possibly,
if relations enough could be observed,
that point might be fixed.

 

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