I hate poetry.
It’s peculiar because I love lyrics to songs. But if someone starts reciting poetry, I look for the nearest exit.
Don’t get me wrong, I always have time for a dirty limerick. But other than that, I’ll save poetry for the English Lit majors who will be spending their adult years lobbying for a federal bailout of their college loans as they serve french fries.
So how odd I came across a 100-yearold poem that described what the West really was, and sadly may no longer be.
Simple enough for an idiot like me to understand but elegant enough to describe what made this new land, and the brave people drawn to it, so exceptional.
“Out Where the West Begins” was written in 1917 by Arthur Chapman in the style of “cowboy poetry” still being written today. Born in Illinois and a working newspaper man in New York City, Chapman was drawn to Colorado.
Even then Colorado wasn’t a place on a map, but a place in a man’s soul.
As a political junkie and romantic of the Colorado I miss, it was the last of its three seven-line stanzas of the poem that grabbed my attention:
“Out where the world is in the making, Where fewer hearts in despair are aching,
That’s where the West begins. Where there’s more of singing and less of sighing,
Where there’s more of giving and less of buying,
And a man makes a friend without half trying —
That’s where the West begins.”
“Out where the world is in the making,” perfectly describes the Colorado where I was raised. The Colorado where people came to create, to build, to manifest, to risk. Why? Because Colorado offered the freedom for risk takers to act the way they wanted without interference. Farmers, ranchers, miners, brew masters, artists and entrepreneurs of all types — the West, Colorado in particular, was a siren’s song that called to them.
In fact, one of my favorite examples revolves around songwriting. It came back in the early 1970s when record engineer Jim Guercio had enough of union-run recording studios. He needed a place, “Where I could be free to do my job my way.” So, he risked everything he had to buy land with some barns to create Caribou Ranch Studios outside of Nederland.
His hard work and risk taking allowed for the creative risk taking of artists from Elton John, to Chicago, to Billy Joel, to Frank Zappa, to Michael Jackson to too many more to list. That is the West’s “in the making.”
And where people are part of building and creating, well that’s “Where fewer hearts in despair are aching.”
For people to flourish they must be able to pull their own weight.
Quite simply, those on the dole will always have a despair in their hearts. Those with work and purpose, much less so.
The act of creation, the main activity out where the West began, brings with it a sense of purpose. The act of redistribution can only happen after others have created something to redistribute.
People know in their soul what side of the equation they are on, the part of creation or taking from someone else’s creation.
What feels better to you?
“Where there’s more of singing and less of sighing,” speaks exquisitely of the gratitude of the incredible abundance we have in contrast to complaining about what others have and we lack.
I can’t help but contrast it with today’s norm of Twitter’s hate and complaining.
And, “Where there’s more of giving and less of buying,” touches on the West’s sense of charity.
Yes, the West was won by rugged individualism, individuals who created enough to give away, and choose to do so.
This poem reminds me of the beauty, bravery and humility of the people who made and still make the West.
It also worries me that the changes we see in Colorado means this might be the beginning of “Out Where the West Ends.”
Colorado was a magnet, luring those with a sense of an adventure, risk, individuality, responsibility and charity to this state.
Is it still?
The political question we face is when someone finds this poem a century from now, as I found it a century after it was written, do we still want it to resonate?
Jon Caldara is president of the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Denver.
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