Just This Side of Byzantium Day Thread

Byzantium, I come not from,

But from another time and place

Whose race was simple, tried and true;

As boy

I dropped me forth in Illinois.

A name with neither love nor grace

Was Waukegan, there I came from

And not, good friends, Byzantium.

And yet in looking back I see

From topmost part of farthest tree

A land as bright, beloved, and blue

As any Yeats found to be true.

So we grew up with mythic dead

To spoon upon midwestern bread

And spread old gods’ bright marmalade

To slake in peanut-butter shade,

Pretending there beneath our sky

That it was Aphrodite’s thigh…

While by the porch-rail calm and bold

His words pure wisdom, stare pure gold

My grandfather, a myth indeed

Did all of Plato supersede

While Grandma in rockingchair

Sewed up the raveled sleeve of care

Crocheted cool snowflakes rare and bright

To winter us on summer night.

And uncles gathered with their smokes

Emitted wisdom disguised as jokes,

And aunts as wise as Delphic maids

Dispensed prophetic lemonades

To boys knelt there as acolytes

To Grecian porch on summer nights;

Then went to bed, there to repent

The evils of the innocent;

The gnat-sins sizzling in their ears

Said, through the nights and through the years

Not Illinois or Waukegan

But blither sky and blither sun.

Though mediocre all our Fates

And Mayor not as bright as Yeats

Yet stil we knew ourselves. The sum?

Byzantium. 

Byzantium.

—Ray Bradbury, from the Prologue to Dandelion Wine

Dandelion Wine is one of my favorite novels by Ray Bradbury. I don’t think it’s his best,1 but it’s a lovely nostalgic homage to his childhood in Waukegan, Illinois. The book’s greatest flaw is that it presents the childhood of a white male as the default perfect childhood2, but in Bradbury’s defense, I think he would have preferred that all children have as idyllic a childhood as he paints here.

I’m not certain why I chose this novel as my subject for today’s Day Thread, but the only other subject I would choose is that today is the 32nd anniversary of my marriage to Rick McKenzie. That’s over half my life, now. It’s been pretty idyllic, if not perfect. I have no major regrets, and look forward to another 32 years, I hope.