Bobby Kennedy

by Bob Schwartz

Come, my friends,
‘T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Ulysses by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

Bobby Kennedy was killed 50 years ago today, in the midst of what might have been a successful campaign for the Democratic nomination and for the presidency in 1968. We don’t know unwritten stories. He was 42 years old.

You will find plenty of perspectives on Bobby Kennedy published today, and in the dozens of books and hundreds of essays written about him and his place in history. I’ve written about him too, but today I find myself with little new to say.

Instead, I’ll quote, as I have before, from a poem he recited on the campaign trail.

The poem is Ulysses (1842), written by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

Imagine that. A 20th century politician reciting a 19th century poem about a hero who first appeared more than two thousand years earlier. Not just any poem and hero, but an idealistic poem about a hero who reluctantly takes on a mission. Having already sacrificed family life for duty, he can’t help but set out one more time. Leaving the life of ease behind, he fiercely pursues a dream until the end of days.

The language of the poetry may be old-fashioned to the modern ear, but please read it carefully. It remains a timeless description of what drives people to mission and sacrifice, in spite of the lure of comfort and the toll of years. If America needed that—and almost got it—in 1968, we need it now.

…Come, my friends,
‘T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.