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Drowning the Book by Howard Nemerov

October 18, 1987

*"Life is hard, And then you die."

Now listen, Howie, if anyone ever read

Those little verses that you sometimes do,

It wouldn't have been because they wanted to hear

About age, old age, and illness, and the grave

Or all that there they know enough about

Without your help, without your dubious help.

There's but three steps from Milton back to malt,

And but three grains of salt with a peck of dirt

Between the elegant this and the silly that;

And the purpose of poesy, as all of us know

Without the sermon, is, by telling the truth

To disintoxicate and disenchant

By lying like Homer taught us first to do.

You'll recollect what in this vale of tears

Is consequent, that there are girls in it

Lighting desires that a bachelor sage

Said God alone could satisfy (He sometimes does),

Moving the way they move in dithery

Delight, with the delicate bend and thrust

Of this and that about their splendid persons

Unil they swell and cry aloud for corks

And fade into the light of common day

To start our burning busyness again--

And why would they give a fart in a high wind

When every wheel of this unwearied mill

That turned ten thousand verses . . . this living hand?

You made your bargain before you made your bed:

Lie in it still, as if you must you may.

From "War Stories: Poems About Long Ago and Now" by Howard Nemerov (University of Chicago Press: $10.95; 60 pp.). Nemerov has published 26 books. His volume, "The Collected Poems of Howard Nemerov," won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize in 1978. He has also been the recipient of the Bollingen Prize for Poetry and a Guggenheim and was the first winner of the Aiken Taylor Award for Modern American Poetry. Nemerov has been the Edward Mallinckrodt Distinguished University Professor of English at Washington University in St. Louis since 1976.

*"The sentiment of the epigraph would have been unremarkable enough save that when first seen it covered both points on a T-Shirt. The known instructors, with a long life's gratitude, are: William Shakespeare, T. H. White, John Milton, A. E Houseman, John Keats, W. H. Auden, Aristotle for Homer, Henry Thoreau, Alexander Pope, William Wordsworth, William Yeats, and, of course, John Keats, again."

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