Living poets, unacknowledged rump
of long parliaments of legislators,
produce material readers tend to dump
in paper landfills no incinerators
need burn, because their words all go to waste.
Dead poets, on the other hand are for-
tunate, appealing to the timeless taste
of those who yearn for words of yesteryore,
which, even if unmemorized, may feel
no less familiar than the ancient laws
dead poets once inspired: to appeal
against such laws becomes live poets’ cause.
What makes the cornfields happy, when to turn
the soil and train the vine, is what once Virg-
il wrote about, though hardly what you’ll learn
from poets who, alive, have not the urge
to help us understand the world, preferring
us to be confused no less than they
by everything around us, cri de coeuring
in an unintelligible way.
Inspired by a poem written by C. Day Lewis in some dedicatory stanzas he wrote to Stephen Spender in the preface to his translation of “The Georgics of Virgil”. Sarah Izzard kindly lent me a copy of this book which was inscribed by her mother, Molly Crutchley-FitzPatrick (Izzard), on May 4th, 1943:
Poets are not in much demand these days––
We’re read, it seems, or cracked, or bribed, or hearty
And, if invited, apt to spoil the party
With the oblique reproach of emigrés:
We cut no ice, although we’re fancy skaters:
Aiming at art, we only strike the arty.
Poetry now, the kinder tell us, caters
For an elite: still it give the hump
To think that we’re the unacknowledged rump
Of a long parliament of legislators.
Lewis renders the first four lines of Book One of The Georgics thus:
What makes the cornfields happy, under what constellation
It’s best to turn the soil, my friend, and train the vine
On the elm; the care of cattle, the management of flocks,
The knowledge you need for keeping frugal bees: ––all this
I’ll now begin to relate.
© 2009 Gershon Hepner 2/2/09