Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, DILEMMA, by CONRAD AIKEN



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DILEMMA, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Not for the sordid do we seek
Last Line: A still shape came to look at stars. . .


I.

NOT for the sordid do we seek,
In the dark alleys of our earth,
Nor yearn of ugliness to speak,
To lift a song of gutter-mirth.
But there is life in everything,
It is of life that we must sing,
And lo, from sordid and from base
Passion can lift a shining face.

Too long have we been fed on dreams,
And strained our eyes for elfin gleams,
And we have been content too long
To close our eyes in making song, --
To sing of lives we never knew,
Of lands we never suffered through. . .

II.

Hirelings are we of the time.
God pity us! For we must seek
In city filth, in streets that reek,
Dark inspiration for our rhyme.
Lo, here are folk who day by day
Weary their bodies just to live;
They ask for song: what will you give?
They want no song of far away.

If you would please them, you must sing
"This life of yours -- a lovely thing!
The sun itself was not so sweet
As this pervasive modern grey!
You dance in such a charming way!
What need of wings since you have feet?"
-- And we must lift a song to praise
These feverish nights and sooty days,
The anguish and the ugliness,
The loves and hates of tired men,
So they may rise from weariness
And take their daily work again. . .
What we think beauty, truth, -- who cares?
We must heal man of his despairs.

So blame us not, earth's sons are we:
Earth bids us sing a modern ditty, --
To hide the greyness of your city,
To hide your modern misery;
This life of yours -- a lovely thing!
How it compels our hearts to sing!
When we have sung you'll go your way,
Complacent, for another day.

Hirelings are we of the time.
God pity us! For we must seek
In city filth, in streets that reek,
Dark inspiration for our rhyme.

III.

And yet, from sordid and from base,
Passion can lift a shining face. . .
And walking through a street at night
I saw a jail in soft moonlight;
And there, behind the chequered bars,
A still shape came to look at stars. . .




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