09/06/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

200 days, 200 years

From the bonkers "birthers" controversy to conciliatory beer summits, the irrelevant issues demanding President Barack Obama's attention as he ticks off 200 days in office seem to grow by the adverb ("stupidly").

To cope, to trudge onward, why not peruse a page from the book of a long-gone literary colossus who was born 200 years ago Thursday?

Obviously, I'm referring to the bicentenary today of England's longest serving poet laureate, Alfred Lord Tennyson.

Poets today don't enjoy the popularity and recognition of bygone eras (quick, can you name our poet laureate? Hint: Starts with K). Of course it cuts both ways, it's not like the English of Tennyson's time had luminaries like Adam Lambert. What did they even do with themselves back then anyway?


During the election, Obama and Sen. John McCain waxed poetic about their favorite novels, but no one pressed them on poetry. Weird, because as The New Yorker informed us, we know Obama penned a few rosy lines in college.

Obama should take advantage of this meaningless coincidence all resting on the number 200 to claim Tennyson as his own. Do it now, before McCain reads the plaintive "Tears, Idle Tears" in response to Sonia Sotomayor clinching the confirmation this afternoon.

The commander in chief may shy away from quoting Tennyson. After all, the sharply coiffed former Gov. Rod Blagojevich filed off a few lines of "Ulysses" at a press conference (He also cringingly quoted Kipling), necessitating perhaps another 200 years before Tennyson gets his reputation back.

The poem is about an aging epic Greek hero looking back on his adventures while settled in a peaceful home life, yearning for the breaking surf and the unknown horizon. How that had anything to do with allegations of selling a Senate seat remains a mystery.

But has there ever been a better scribe to rally America to Obama's agenda of change?
On the idea that Health Care reform is ripe for the times, he could borrow a few rubies from "Love thou thy land, with love far-bought".

Not clinging to some ancient saw,
Not master'd by some modern term,
Not swift nor slow to change, but firm;
And in its season bring the law

To woo the Iraqis he could do an off the cuff recitation from "Recollections of the Arabian Nights"

Upon the mooned domes aloof
In inmost Bagdat, till there seem'd
Hundreds of crescents on the roof
Of night new-risen, that marvellous time
To celebrate the golden prime
Of good Haroun Alraschid

And lastly, even to his most ardent supporters impatient with the delayed change once so loftily promised, he could deftly placate them with Tennyson's brief poem "Politics"

We move, the wheel must always move,
Nor always on the plain,
And if we move to such a goal
As Wisdom hopes to gain,
Then you that drive, and know your craft,
Will firmly hold the rein,
Nor lend an ear to random cries,
Or you may drive in vain;
For some cry 'Quick' and some cry 'Slow,'
But, while the hills remain,
Up hill 'Too-slow' will need the whip,
Down hill 'Too-quick' the chain.