Advice to a Poet


Frederick Turner


Then should you tell them what they want to hear?

They want it so badly, they yearn for it,

It would so ease the pain there is in living;

And they have begged you through their intermediaries,

Not rudely, but with a sad, moving tact;

For once be gentle with them, say the words,

Put it on record, give the great permission.


And who are you to be the judge of things?

What vote made you the guardian of their souls?

--A lesser poet in a century

That has got tired of poets, and with reason:

There were so many, and then after all

Turned out no better than the rest of us-

And you bring no solution to the problem,

No innovation in the craft or theme,

Are an apostle of the ancient forms

And only sing the old discarded dream.


For after all if there is no solution,

No fresh alternative to work and love

And clear intelligence and careful knowing,

No better source of wisdom but ourselves,

No secret way to hand on our decisions

To some director, natural or divine,

Perhaps collective--gender, race, or class-

Then life would be unbearable, we'd see

Reflected in the mirror just a face,

The common vector of some six desires.


And moral perfectness feels so like death!

And you who tell them this have no pretension

Of scoring better on that test than they:

You are as sensual, slothful, as dishonest,

As vain of your good judgment as are they:

And even this is one more form of boasting,

Which does not make it any the less true.


But they would so reward you if you said it,

And after all what harm now would it do?

Say it then, make the required confession:

You will feel so much better when you're through.