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A choice of Sydney Bernard Smith’s verse.

January 23, 2010, 4:23 pm

Since I was reminded of it, a brief selection. Despite the post title, I’m not going to write an essay on why we do not know Smith’s poems so well as we might, I’m just going to offer you three that might divert you on a weekend.

VIRTUE OBSERVED, & PARTITIONED

in Ireland we’re all of us just—
seven deadlies? you think we’re that fussed?
there’s one of the seven
will bar you from heaven—
north or south, ’tis anathema: lust

we’ve inverted the rest—aren’t we snide?—
and partitioned them out, three a side:
so the northerner’s claim
to a virtuous name
rests on covetous anger & pride,

while the southerner swears, little loath,
economic (& spiritual) growth
may be part of the story—
but where lies true glory?
in gluttony, envy and sloth!

THERE IS A THESIS

there is a thesis going that
we are all part of a work in
progress and that we are due to
be completed someplace else

on the face of it this is un-
acceptable if attractive
it makes sense whereas the rest of
this fkn nonsense doesn’t

it all depends on your time of
life what you believe which means that
it’s hardly worth the trouble of
trying to say what you really mean

when you will be feeling something
different in five years: as for
ultimate music and conscious
oblivion, we need some

things because (not in spite of
the fact that) they don’t exist

THE DAY THE DALAI LAMA MET THE POPE

In the cold Tibetan highlands, in the panting heart of Rome,
two mutually exclusive gods have found themselves a home;
for East was East and West was West, until the horoscope
ordained the day the Dalai Lama went to meet the Pope.

Thought Chairman Mao: “I wonder how their doctrines will agree?
Of course, there is no God, and if there was it would be me.
These religions must be desperate, but we’ll give them lots of scope
and we yet may live to see the Dalai Lama hang the Pope.”

The two eternal travelers converse, each on his throne:
“Your Holiness feels well today?” “Fine thank you, how’s your own?
I fear our worlds are teetering on the verge of a perilous slope;
Should we consider merging Dalai Lama?” asks the Pope.

O come all ye true-born Orangemen and admire the happy song
of two contraries reconciled, both right and neither wrong;
which shows, beggars can be choosers, and unlikely pairs elope,
and where would the Dalai Lama be if Paisley met the Pope?

All from New and Selected Poems—which was published before Ian Paisley in fact “met” the Pope, toting a poster calling the pontiff the antichrist. But you know what Mr. Paisley said about making peace.

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