The sense of poetry pervades all life:
Intense sensation, far-abstracted math,
Calm observation, passion-fired strife,
The glorious rise, the decadent aftermath.
Forgive me, pitying gods, for loving all
When “all” includes the tortured, starving, mad.
Symphonic raptures round pride’s bugle call
Drown out the truths where glory would be sad.
The very movement of the people lives,
Starring a missionary, or clown, or thief;
The moral climate either steals or gives –
It faith-filled strives, or slumps in disbelief.
So, in these patchwork years of peace and war,
Detached to calm the passionate lies that lurk,
We love life’s good and ill, but, more and more,
Our sympathetic vision makes us work.
“The Moral Aesthetics of Politics” was first published in The Penwood Review, which apparently possesses a faith-driven sense of superiority, something I was unaware of when I submitted the poem. Without warning, let alone a request for permission, they changed the word “gods” to “God”. Then, either as an apology or because the change glorified their self-righteousness, the poem was awarded the Editor’s Choice certificate.
I have always felt irritated by this, partly at them, partly at myself for not having checked them out more carefully. I used the word “gods” to signal a lack of belief. That’s how I’ve always understood the word, anyway: “The gods must be smiling on us” means “We’ve been lucky”. It is a deliberately tongue-in-cheek word used by the non-religious. But the editors made my poem religious, damn them. My only consolation is that I don’t think it is a very good poem.
Technically, the poem is okay: quatrains of iambic pentameter rhyming ABAB. Nothing special. And the overall gist is clear enough: you should help people. But the title? “The Moral Aesthetics of Politics”? What does that even mean? Why “aesthetics”? (Maybe the British spelling held a charm for them. Maybe “Dimension” would have been a better word, but it’s not as flamboyant.) From the first line on, the meaning is often vague, or arguable.
But then again, politics “starring a missionary, or clown, or thief”… I admit that resonates. Maybe the poem does have a couple of redeeming lines, after all.