Saturday, September 03, 2011

John Davidson, for Labor Day (early)

from "The Testament of a Man Forbid"

This Beauty, this Divinity, this Thought,
This hallowed bower and harvest of delight
Whose roots ethereal seemed to clutch the stars,
Whose amaranths perfumed eternity,
Is fixed in earthly soil enriched with bones
Of used-up workers; fattened with the blood
Of prostitutes, the prime manure; and dressed
With brains of madmen and the broken hearts
Of children. Understand it, you at least
Who toil all day and writhe and groan all night
With roots of luxury, a cancer struck
In every muscle: out of you it is
Cathedrals rise and Heaven blossoms fair;
You are the hidden putrefying source
Of beauty and delight, of leisured hours,
Of passionate loves and high imaginings;
You are the dung that keeps the roses sweet.
I say, uproot it; plough the land; and let
A summer-fallow sweeten all the World.

–John Davidson (1857-1909)


Vance Maverick said...

Does he think there's no putrefaction beneath a fallow field? I appreciate the anger and rhythm, but the figures don't gel.

Hope you too enjoy your undeserved pleasures this weekend of leisure...;-)

John Wilkinson said...

Yes there's putrefaction for sure, but I think he is suggesting the field should be left fallow next year rather than high yields of beauty and divinity be forced through further use of violent fertilisers. Quite what this would mean for production of organic grains and vegetables in succeeding years probably went unconsidered by Davidson, best known as a poet of working-class urban life. And a very under-rated poet too (although not by TS Eliot).

Michael Peverett said...

Nature-society analogies always break down, but the general drift is clear, i.e. hatred of a capitalist culture in overdrive. The panacea of a "summer-fallow" is vague in comparison with workers' revolution. I suppose it contains an idea of low-population susbsistence society (in which there would be neither cathedrals, prostitutes nor madmen) but others may know better.