Print

Print


Ferlinghetti has in mind a particular state for particular reasons, at
this time. But consider how many poets were in fact in varying degrees
of opposition (willed or willy-nilly) to the states of their day.
Hesiod, Ovid, Juvenal, Seneca, Dante, perhaps Marlowe, Milton, Pope,
Swift, Blake, Burns, Shelley, Byron, E.B. Browning, Wordsworth &
Colereidge for a short time, Joyce, Brecht, Pound. And of course Plato
recognized that -- he wanted to kick the poets out of his ideal state.

And at the present time, when the u.s. has declared war on the world,
u.s. poets may well have an additional motive to oppose their state.

Carrol


Elizabeth Barrett Browning has a rather interesting take on patriotism
(in respect to British patriotism, but organized around a comment on
America). It is called "A Curse for a Nation."

             PROLOGUE

I heard an angel speak last night,
        And he said, "Write!--
Write a nation's curse for me,
And send it over the Western Sea."

I faltered, taking up the word:
        "Not so, my lord!
If curses must be, choose another
To send thy curse against my brother

"For I am bound by gratitude,
        By love and blood,
To brothers of mine across the sea,
Who stretch out kindly hands to me."

"Therefore," the voice said, "shalt thou write
        My curse tonight.
From the summits of love a curse is driven,
As lightning from the tops of heaven."

"Not so," I answered, "Evermore
        My heart is sore
For my own land's sins: for little feet
Of children bleeding in the street:

"For parked-up honors that gainsay
        The right of way:
For almsgiving through a door that is,
Not open enough for two friends to kiss:

"For love of freedom which abates
        Beyond the Straits:
For patriot virtue starved to vice on
Self-praise, self-interest, and suspicion:

"For an oligarchic parliament,
        And bribes well-meant.
What curse another land assign,
When heavy-souled for the sins of mine?"

"Therefore," the voice said, shalt thou write
        My curse tonight.
Because thou hast strength to see and hate
A foul thing done *within* thy gate."

"Not so," I answered yet again,
        "To curse choose men.
For I, a woman, have only known
How the heart melts, and the tears run down."

"Therefore," the voice said," shalt thou write
        My curse tonight.
Some women weep and curse, I say,
(And no one marvels) night and day.

"And thou shalt take their part tonight,
        Weep and write.
A curse from the depths of womanhood
Is very salt, and bitter, and good."

So thus I wrote, and mourned indeed,
        What all may read.
And thus as was enjoined on me,
I send it over the Western Sea.

            THE CURSE

              I
Because ye have broken your own chain
        With the strain
Of brave men climbing a nation's height,
Yet thence bear down with brand and thong
On souls of others -- for this wrong
        This is the curse. Write.

Because yourselves are standing straight
        In the state
Of Freedom's foremost acolyte,
Yet keep calm footing all the time
On writhing bond-slaves, for this crime
        This is the curse. Write.

Because ye prosper in God's name,
        What a claim
To honor in the old world's sight,
Yet do the fiend's work perfectly
In strangling martyrs, -- for this lie
        This is the curse. Write.

                    II
Ye shall watch while kings conspire
Round the people's smouldering fire,
    And, warm for your part,
Shall never dare -- O shame!
To utter the thought into flame
    Which burns at your heart.
        This is the curse. Write.

Ye shall watch while nations strive
With the bloodhounds, die or survive,
    Drop faint from their jaws,
Or throttle them backward to death:
And only under your breath
    Shall favor the cause.
        This is the curse. Write.

Ye shall watch while strong men draw
The nets of feudal law
    To strangle the weak:
And, counting the sin for for a sin,
Your soul will be sadder within
    Than the word he shall speak.
        This is the curse. Write.

When good men are praying erect
That Christ may avenge his elect,
    And deliver the earth,
The prayer in your ears, said low,
Shall sound like the trump of a foe
    That's driving you forth.
        This is the curse. Write.

When wise men give you their praise,
They shall pause in the heat of the phrase,
    As if carried too far.
When ye boast your own charters kept true,
Ye shall blush; for the thing which ye do.
    Derides what ye are.
        This is the curse. Write.

When fools cast taunts at your gate,
Your scorn ye shall somewhat abate
    As ye look o'er the wall:
For your  conscience, tradition, and name
Explode with a deadlier blame
    Then the worst of them all.
        This is the curse. Write.

Go, wherever ill deeds shall be done,
Go, plant your flag in the sun
    Besider the ill-doers!
And recoil from clenching the curse
Of God's witnessing Universe
    With a curse of yours.
        This is the curse. Write.
-------------

This poem hardly needs annotation to fit today as well as ante-Bellum
u.s.

Carrol