Of the People (After Marianne Moore’s “In Distrust of Merits”)

Well, having written a silly poem about the democratic process this morning I am now writing a serious one, in response to one of Marianne Moore’s most magnificent poems, “In Distrust of Merits“. A critique of war-mongering, it is easily one of the finest poems of the 20th century. I’m a little wary of putting my effort forward alongside it! Still, the election made me think, and here is what I thought, in my best attempt at an imitation of Moore’s style of verse.
 
Of the People (After “In Distrust of Merits”)
 
Line on line we wait; waiting for what?
            privilege congealed in minds worn out
by grumbling and fighting in the ranks?
            compulsory rights
dragging the democratic chain? Now where
are the dreams we dreamt in Athens? And where
            is Plato when you need him?
                        Sausage sizzles in school-grounds
            do not take the place of thrones;
                        but perhaps they appease
 
the stomach, the tired mind, grumbling
            and fighting in internal ranks. Lines
swerve down McCracken Street; paper flies
            from hand to apa-
thetic hand. “To Cyrus, whose right hand I
take”: the promised plan no clearer
                        in minds that wait now, where the
            one who seems the lesser wolf
                        will win our votes today.
 
A painter from Linz too won over hearts
            disaffected with these corridors
and their schemes and machinations; can we
            know what beast we here
invite? But trust the process; what goes up
            must come down, and he who bites
                        the hand that votes him in
            may find himself a wayward
                        stray in queuing streets like us.
 
Yet are we so wise? Where were we when
            Leviathan danced and the oceans
parted at one clear command? The truth is
            we have no clarity.
When pillars fall, assumptions melt, and we
are left without all axioms. Perhaps
            it does not hurt to lose
                        what we have held more closely
            than the truth; still, what have we
                        to replace those dreams? What now?
 
The same error is “bred in my bone”
as is in yours. Line on line we wait
while, fighting in internal ranks, we dream
            of better yesterdays
and fairer futures. Throw your ballot in
            the box; no blood is shed to-
                        day and there will be a man
            who Mathematics says has won
                        in Parliament tomorrow.
 
Yet of David’s line is one who wields
            a sceptre with the wisdom of years
spent in communion with the heavens,
            flinging stars in space
and playing with Leviathan. He knows,
being man himself, what man most needs, and
            will raise up what must be raised.
                        Now He gives and takes away,
           “and He will make it plain”.

4 thoughts on “Of the People (After Marianne Moore’s “In Distrust of Merits”)

  1. Exquisite. I especially enjoy your lines “he who bites the hand that votes him in may find himself a wayward stray . . .”. Another good job. Keep up the good work!

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