Modern Poetry Lends A Hand

The modern gods are dead.
Abstract art and Wallace Stevens used to be enough,
to walk in sentences as colorful
as we pleased,
to leave money
to the various communist causes.
The museums were as simple as air.
Modern art deserved a stare.

The Merry Wives of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha

In Shelley’s palace pleased me.

You walk by and roll your eyes,
as the Christian crazy roars, “the sinner dies!”
But having lain awake at night,

you know he’s half right.
The half wrong is not known,
so we are slow,
we look around,  perhaps we avoid
foreign journalists, Harvard tours,

H.D., whose appointment with Freud
will find out her news, but ours?

The fierce bombing of the R.A.F.
Capped the campaign, took away our breath,
As will the many things in the universe we think we understand
But don’t, but think we do, because we lend a hand.
Our world was founded by Peggy Guggenheim.
Read. Take pills. Don’t rhyme.


  1. David said,

    December 19, 2011 at 9:21 pm

    How interesting to read this …

    having just stumbled upon Louise Bogan
    in her cage of crocodile tears,
    liberated modern poetess bound
    by severest meters.

    * * * * * *

    Tears in Sleep
    by Louise Bogan

    All night the cocks crew, under a moon like day,
    And I, in the cage of sleep, on a stranger’s breast,
    Shed tears, like a task not to be put away—
    In the false light, false grief in my happy bed,
    A labor of tears, set against joy’s undoing.
    I would not wake at your word, I had tears to say.
    I clung to the bars of the dream and they were said,
    And pain’s derisive hand had given me rest
    From the night giving off flames, and the dark renewing.

  2. thomasbrady said,

    December 20, 2011 at 2:30 pm

    Bogan, editor at the “New Yorker,” for years, is probably writing here of her affair with the madman, Theodore Roethke. I heard that as editor she was not particularly kind to women poets. When you hear of modernism, you hear much of “Poetry” magazine and a few other tiny publications, but never of the “New Yorker.” The 20th century was actually full of rhyme: Eliot, Frost, Bogan, Roethke, Merrill, Auden, Ransom, Millay, Jeffers, Plath, Sexton, Stevens, Wylie, and Robert Lowell, a friend of Roethke’s, also mad, and it was also said rhyming was a feature of Lowell’s mania. I believe there is a use of rhyme which, properly subordinate to rhythm and sense, is artful, and another type of rhyming which is well, crazy. As Plato said there is a good madness and a bad madness, a divine madness of the divine poets —and then the other human, inhibiting madness. Rhyme really died out though, in the second half of the 20th century as Modernism’s critical rejection of Romanticism took hold and the Creative Writing industry took its cues from that. Bogan was part of Kreymborg’s “Others” circle (another tiny magazine) which included Wallace Stevens. Stevens and Roethke were both Harvard men, as was Cummings, who exceeded those two in fame by the middle of the century. Cummings did a lot of half-rhyming, a lot of ‘instant poetry-ing’. Cummings and his cutesy scribblings gradually became very hip and then with the rise of Williams’ critical worth, real poetry was doomed. Bad poetry is very easy to do, and bad poetry wins fame and recognition—that’s the problem. Bad rhyme has chased out the good. But then poems were never supposed to be anything but a charming accessory for the worldly person, for the artist, for the scientist, for the citizen of the world—so that’s why it’s so hard to get a handle on poetic worth, because what you’re doing is contextualizing an accessory.

  3. David said,

    December 20, 2011 at 3:47 pm

    Did Plato see poetry (in the sense of divine madness) as nothing but “a charming accessory for the worldly person” or is that a modern view?

  4. David said,

    December 20, 2011 at 4:16 pm

    Tom, your most recent post has answered my question. Great poetry is emotion experienced, conquered, and transformed into art. Far from a charming accessory, it is the stuff of death and life.

    • thomasbrady said,

      December 21, 2011 at 1:55 pm

      Thanks, David,

      Plato was including drama in “poetry” and Homer was like TV and movies and the theater and novels all rolled into one, but just how we all think of art and representation in general is always going to be important, and how we divide “life” from “art” or don’t divide it, is always going to be key.

      Plato is a marvelous way of talking not only about art, but everything else. I think we forget him at our peril.


  5. David said,

    December 21, 2011 at 2:23 pm


    I agree about Plato. My first impression as an undergraduate was negative, when my roommate used Plato to argue against poetry. In graduate school, I steered towards philosophy and discovered the many riches contained in Plato. Only now, though, have I begun to appreciate the value of Plato in the cause of great poetry.


  6. tom said,

    December 21, 2011 at 3:25 pm

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