Tuesday, August 16, 2011

How To Live, Part Nine: "My Careful Life"

I tend to be a "belt-and-suspenders" type of person.  Hence, a poem about a "careful life" (whether that poem be humorous or deadly serious) is likely to be just my cup of tea.  After a certain amount of time on earth (or Earth), you begin to let go of things, don't you?  And you wonder why some things (which now seem laughable and/or appalling) once seemed important.  Yes, there is much to be said for a careful life.  But not wholly careful.

                  My Careful Life

My careful life says:  'No surrender.
Not an inch.'  Sometimes I wonder

what thrills the darkness as I pass
the scented gardens of excess

or pause in the twilight to condemn
the parked cars rocking in the lane.

But still my life cries:  'Work and save.
Rise early.  Stay home after five

and pull the curtains.  They are blessed
-- prudent, abstemious -- who resist.

All things in moderation.  Share
nothing.  Be seemly and austere.'

My careful life sighs:  'Love?  Forget it!
Avoid what is sexually transmitted.

The "wasteful virtues," I'm afraid,
earn nothing.  They put you in the red.

Samaritans get mugged.  Be wise.
Pass watchfully on the other side.

Your youth was stainless.  Now your joy'll
be the middle years full of self-denial,

and an old age as ripe and warm
as is commensurate with decorum.'

Frank Ormsby, A Northern Spring (1986).  A note regarding Lines 15 and 16:  the introductory poem to W. B. Yeats's collection Responsibilities (1914) contains the line:  "Only the wasteful virtues earn the sun."

                                  Jeffrey Smart, "Newtown Oval" (1961)


Mary F. C. Pratt said...


Stephen Pentz said...

Mary F. C. Pratt: yes, I know the feeling. When I first encountered the poem, I read it with mounting horror. When I read it these days, it is with a rueful smile. But there is still a bit of the "ouch."

Thanks for dropping by again.