Are authorized to convene daily in parks and gardens.
Equipped with powerful binoculars and pocket watches
They break into kiosks favored by death
And install their laboratories among the rosebushes in full flower.
From there they direct the photographers and beggars that roam the neighborhood
Trying to raise a small temple to misery
And, if they get a chance, having some woebegone shoeshine boy.
The cowed police run from these monsters
Making for the middle of town
Where the great year's end fires are breaking out
And a hooded hero is robbing two nuns at gun point.
The vices of the modern
The motor car and the movies,
The extermination of the Indian,
The manipulations of high finance,
The catastrophe of the aged,
The clandestine white-slave trade carried on by international sodomites,
Self-advertisement and gluttony,
Personal friends of His Excellency,
The elevation of folklore to a spiritual category,
The abuse of soporifics and philosophy,
The softening-up of men favored by fortune,
Autoeroticism and sexual cruelty,
The exaltation of the study of dreams and the subconscious to the detriment
of common sense,
The exaggerated faith in serums and vaccines,
The deification of the phallus,
The international spread-legs policy patronized by the reactionary press,
The unbounded lust for power and money,
The gold rush,
The fatal dollar dance,
Speculation and abortion,
The destruction of idols,
Overdevelopment of dietetics and pedagogical psychology,
The vices of dancing, of the cigarette, of games of chance,
The drops of blood that are often found on the sheets of newlyweds,
The madness for the sea,
Agoraphobia and claustrophobia,
The disintegration of the atom,
The gory humor of the theory of relativity,
The frenzy to return to the womb,
The cult of the exotic,
Incinerations, mass purges, retention of passports,
All this just because,
To produce vertigo,
And the spread of radiomania.
As has been demonstrated
The modern world is composed of artificial flowers
Grown under bell jars like death,
It is made of movie stars
And blood-smeared boxers fighting by moonlight
And nightingale-men controlling the economic lives of the nations
With certain easily explained devices;
Usually they are dressed in black like precursors of autumn
And eat roots and wild herbs.
Meanwhile the wise, gnawed by rats,
Rot in the crypts of cathedrals
And souls with the slightest nobility are relentlessly persecuted by the
The modern world is
an enormous sewer,
The chic restaurants are stuffed with digesting corpses
And birds flying dangerously low.
That's not all: the hospitals are full of impostors,
To say nothing of those heirs of the spirit who found colonies in the
anus of each new surgical case.
occasionally suffer from the effects of the poisoned atmosphere.
They are stricken at their sewing machines by the terrifying sleeping
Which eventually turns them into angels, of a sort.
They deny the existence of the physical world
And brag about being poor children of the grave.
And yet the world has always been like this.
Truth, like beauty, is neither created nor lost
And poetry is in things themselves or is merely a mirage of the spirit.
I admit that a well-planned earthquake
Can wipe out a city rich in traditions in a matter of seconds,
And that a meticulous aerial bombardment
Smashes trees, horses, thrones, music,
But what does it matter
If, while the world's greatest ballerina
Is dying, poor and abandoned, in a village in southern France,
Spring restores to man a few of the vanished flowers.
What I say is, let's
try to be happy, sucking on the miserable human rib.
Let's extract from it the restorative liquid,
Each one following his personal inclinations.
Let's cling to this divine table scrap!
Panting and trembling,
Let's suck those lips that drive us wild.
The lot is cast.
Let's breathe in this enervating and destructive perfume
And for one more day live the life of the elect.
Out of his armpits man extracts the wax he needs to mold the faces of
And out of woman's sex the straw and the mud for his temples.
I grow a louse on my tie
And smile at the imbeciles descending from the trees.
by W.S. Merwin
Antipoems: New and Selected (edited by David Unger), New York,
New Directions, 1985.