If Insufficient Grace

T Mcgrath
Thomas McGrath (1916 – 1990)

War Resisters Song

by Thomas McGrath

Come live with me and be my love
And we will all the pleasures prove—
Or such as presidents may spare
Within the decorum of Total War.
By bosky glades, by babbling streams
(Babbling of Fission, His remains)
We discover happiness’ isotope
And live the half-life of our hope.

While Geiger counters sweetly click
In concentration camps we’ll ****.
Called traitors? That’s but sticks and stones
We’ve Strontium 90 in our bones!

And thus, adjusted to our lot,
Our kisses will be doubly hot—
Fornicating (like good machines)
We’ll try the chances of our genes.

So (if Insufficient Grace
Hath not fouled thy secret place
Nor fall-out burnt my balls away)
Who knows? but we may get a boy—

Some paragon with but one head
And no more brains than is allowed;
And between his legs, where once was love,
Monsters to pack the future with.


Have we lost the moral compass of peaceful resistance somewhere?  Possibly the worst thing that ever happened to the peace movement was elimination of the draft. It gave permission to politicians, the Pentagon and the entire industrial war complex to move forward endlessly without question, without the questioning resistance brings. When you have an all volunteer fighting force, it becomes a matter of choice, except for when it isn’t.  For many, the GI bill offers the only path to being able to afford a college education. But it is a mighty tuition that still is paid by the young men and women who sign up for something that might change them forever, for good or for bad.

We now fight wars that go on and on and on, without any proper declarations and no sense of purpose to bring them to a close.  No resistance, no moral outrage, there is only this overly patriotic fervor that allows us to ignore the impossibility of the situation. Every Presidential candidate promises to end the things begun by their predecessors while campaigning and then if successful finds that their hands are tied with the same tethers to stupidity as the President before thm.

Is there such a thing as a just and honorable war? I was in San Antonio this week.  I walked over and went through the Alamo museum.  I was struck with tge thought as I read the timelines that led up to the crushing defeat with somewhere upwards of 250 killed at the Alamo; “Is death the only way men inspire others?” Would the names Bowie, Crockett, Houston be known as heroes if they had negotiated a truce?  Would they be held in equally high regard if they had saved the lives of the civilians and their own men rather than lead them to a proud but certain death for a piece of ground that would change hands many times again before it become the state of Texas?  The myth of American independence is tied to the myths we create of the nobility of self sacrifice with a gun in men’s hands, rather than the nobility of a pen or a poem or retreat.

Thomas McGrath was one of the writers investigated by the FBI for being a communist and forced to testify at the McCarthy hearings. A long commitment to resistance, McGrath was a prolific writer and though his appreciation is vast among academics and other writers, he labored in many other jobs to support his habit of writing.  Primarily a poet as a writer, he wrote screenplays and novels as well, his left leaning politics took him out of the mainstream in literature, not that I think it mattered to him.  MacGrath was a proud North Dakotan.  He wrote with a sense of purpose informed by his beliefs.  The documentary below a good overview of his life and writing.

 

 


All The Dead Soldiers

by Thomas McGrath

In the chill rains of the early winter I hear something—
A puling anger, a cold wind stiffened by flying bone—
Out of the north …
and remember, then, what’s up there:
That ghost-bank: home: Amchitka: boot hill ….

They must be very tired, those ghosts; no flesh sustains them
And the bones rust in the rain.
Reluctant to go into the earth
The skulls gleam: wet; the dog-tag forgets the name;
The statistics (wherein they were young) like their crosses, are weathering out,

They must be very tired.
But I see them riding home,
Nightly: crying weak lust and rage: to stand in the dark,
Forlorn in known rooms, unheard near familiar beds:
Where lie the aging women: who were so lovely: once

 

If These Delights Thy Mind May Move

Marlowe
Christopher Marlowe (1564 – 1593)

“Money can’t buy you love, but it improves your bargaining position.”

Christopher Marlowe

The Passionate Shepherd to His Love

By Christopher Marlowe

Come live with me and be my love,
And we will all the pleasures prove
That valleys, groves, hills, and fields,
Woods, or steepy mountain yields.

And we will sit upon the rocks,
Seeing the shepherds feed their flocks,
By shallow rivers to whose falls
Melodious birds sing madrigals.

And I will make thee beds of roses
And a thousand fragrant posies,
A cap of flowers, and a kirtle
Embroidered all with leaves of myrtle;

A gown made of the finest wool
Which from our pretty lambs we pull;
Fair lined slippers for the cold,
With buckles of the purest gold;

A belt of straw and ivy buds,
With coral clasps and amber studs:
And if these pleasures may thee move,
Come live with me, and be my love.

The shepherds’ swains shall dance and sing
For thy delight each May morning:
If these delights thy mind may move,
Then live with me and be my love.


Christopher Marlowe was the foremost playwright of his day, who preceded Shakespeare’s success, having both been born in the same year.   Marlowe died young, a death shrouded in mystery and intrigue, with rumors of him being a spy, an atheist and a homosexual, in short all the worst things that British society could think to call someone in the narrow halls of the gossipy elite. The truth of his death may be a case of just good old stupidity, but everyone much prefers to think of death as a grand conspiracy rather than drunken tomfoolery. Marlowe’s premature mysterious death left a void in London theater, which Shakespeare immediately filled.  Shakespeare was heavily influenced by Marlowe’s style and intelligence and wit and gave several shout out’s to his compatriot’s finest work, including in As You Like It, where he quotes a line from Marlowe’s Hero and Leander – “Dead Shepherd, now I find thy saw of might, ‘Who ever lov’d that lov’d not at first sight?” Marlowe’s iambic pentameter is a thing of marvel, that rolls off an English speaker’s lips like sweet wine. Marlowe’s poem above a thing to savor when reading aloud.

Spring is slowly finding its way to Minneapolis, with the birds returning, singing and flitting about in courtship. The cardinals making their presence known with daily recitals from the tops of trees, calling to potential mates: “come live with me and be my love…”


 

The Face That Launch’D a Thousand Ships

By Christopher Marlowe

Was this the face that launch’d a thousand ships,
And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?
Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss.
Her lips suck forth my soul: see where it flies!
Come, Helen, come, give me my soul again.
Here will I dwell, for heaven is in these lips,
And all is dross that is not Helena.
I will be Paris, and for love of thee,
Instead of Troy, shall Wittenberg be sack’d;
And I will combat with weak Menelaus,
And wear thy colours on my plumed crest;
Yea, I will wound Achilles in the heel,
And then return to Helen for a kiss.
O, thou art fairer than the evening air
Clad in the beauty of a thousand stars;
Brighter art thou than flaming Jupiter

When he appear’d to hapless Semele;
More lovely than the monarch of the sky
In wanton Arethusa’s azur’d arms;
And none but thou shalt be my paramour!

Be Shod With Pain

cecil day lewis

Cecil Day Lewis.

 

“Then Speech was mannerly, an Art,
Like learning not to belch or fart:
I cannot settle which is worse,
The Anti-Novel or Free Verse.”

Doggerel by a Senior Citizen

by W. H. Auden

 

Come, Live With Me and Be My Love

by Cecil Day Lewis

Come, live with me and be my love,
And we will all the pleasures prove
Of peace and plenty, bed and board,
That chance employment may afford.

I’ll handle dainties on the docks
And thou shalt read of summer frocks:
At evening by the sour canals
We’ll hope to hear some madrigals.

Care on thy maiden brow shall put
A wreath of wrinkles, and thy foot
Be shod with pain: not silken dress
But toil shall tire thy loveliness.

Hunger shall make thy modest zone
And cheat fond death of all but bone –
If these delight thy mind may move,
Then live with me and be my love.


There is a unique pleasure in reading a poem whose rhyme and meter is perfectly tuned to our English tongues. Auden’s wonderful indictment of free verse above is humorous because he wrote some of the most beautiful free verse poetry of his generation.  But free verse devoid of the beauty of language is not poetry in my book.  I have no time for most of the free verse that dominates the poetic universe today, it has the feel of nattering of immature writers who would have been better off leaving it off the page and on the canvas of their inner mind or in their unpublished work book. 

In my view, most free verse poets have become lazy.   They fail at least one of three rules by which I hold all poetry accountable.

1).   Never write boring poetry. 

2).  Paint a picture, create an emotion or foster an idea.   Create a reaction in your reader, don’t write poems that sit like dead fish on the page.

3).   Create beauty, using words like notes in a song.   Write an ear-worm, with at least one line in the poem, that will stay with the reader for more than 2 minutes. 

“And love’s best glasses reach, no fields but are his own.”


That Night When Joy Began

by W. H. Auden

That night when joy began
Our narrowest veins to flush,
We waited for the flash
Of morning’s levelled gun.

But morning let us pass,
And day by day relief
Outgrows his nervous laugh,
Grown credulous of peace,

As mile by mile is seen
No trespasser’s reproach,
And love’s best glasses reach
No fields but are his own.