Neil Armstrong, Poet
Three years ago, in the now-defunct TrueSlant, I reflected on the poetic perfection of Neil Armstrong’s post-lunar career. Armstrong died today at 82. He was a badass.
Monday’s Washington Post has a fascinating look at the post-Apollo 11 life of Neil Armstrong. It’s not accurate to say that the first man on the moon has been a recluse, as he’s frequently described; but neither has he exploited his achievement for personal glory or commercial success. He became the most famous man on the planet, a hero in a company of heroes, and then he simply walked away, taking a desk job at NASA and retiring two years later. Since then he’s rarely been seen in public, and in his infrequent appearances he’s been reticent to a fault. He seems to have sensed that the music was in what he did, not what he said, and that for the rest of his life he could never say anything that would measure up to the enormity of the achievement for which he had become the unwilling public face.
Tom Wolfe argued in a New York Times op-ed a couple of days ago that the space program died at the moment Armstrong set foot on the moon — that the poetic trajectory of space exploration flattened at that moment, and NASA was never able to recover. Armstrong may have understood that better, and earlier, than anyone. On Monday he’ll will join Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins at the White House for a 40th-anniversary photo op with President Obama. After which, no doubt, he’ll return to Ohio and live out his days in the unexpected, but poetically perfect, peace and quiet that have characterized his life since the day he stepped into history.