The Best Political Poems and Epigrams
The Best Protest Poems
This page contains some of the greatest political poems and epigrams of all time, as
wits and wags like Aristotle, William Blake, Catherine the Great, Winston Churchill, Albert Einstein, A.
E. Housman, John F. Kennedy, Mohandas Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, Martial, Groucho
Marx, Plato, Ezra Pound, Ronald Reagan, Will Rogers, Eleanor Roosevelt, Jonathan Swift,
Margaret Thatcher, Mark Twain,
Voltaire and Oscar Wilde. Also, in the spirit of the2015-2016 presidential
election campaign we have addressed hot topics such as
Is Ted Cruz a Natural-Born American Citizen? and
Why Does Donald
Trump Sound So Much Like Hitler?
If you can't be a good example, then you'll just have to be a horrible warning.—Catherine the Great
by A. E. Housman
Here dead lie we because we did not choose
To live and shame the land from which we sprung.
Life, to be sure, is nothing much to lose;
But young men think it is, and we were young.
Housman rivals Shakespeare in what might be termed "direct statement"
(i.e., speaking one's thoughts directly to the reader without imagery, metaphor,
preamble or narrative). Housman
is certainly a major poet, and one of our very best critics of society, war and
religion, along with William Blake, Mark Twain and Oscar Wilde.
Twain and Wilde were masters of the epigram. The stand-up comedian's one-liner is a form of epigram. Here's a current
example of the genre:
Donald Trump showed his birth certificate to reporters. Who cares about his
birth certificate? I want to know if that thing on his head has had its
The Best Donald Trump Jokes, Tweets and Quotations
This is one of my favorite "blast from the past" epigrams:
There is no glory in outstripping donkeys.—Marcus Valerius Martial
by Ezra Pound
Like a skein of loose silk blown against a wall
She walks by the railing of a path in Kensington Gardens,
And she is dying piece-meal
of a sort of emotional anemia.
And round about there is a rabble
Of the filthy, sturdy, unkillable infants of the very poor.
They shall inherit the earth.
In her is the end of breeding.
Her boredom is exquisite and excessive.
She would like some one to speak to her,
And is almost afraid that I
will commit that indiscretion.
Ezra Pound's "The Garden" is a wonderful miniature of "proper society" and its
class distinctions. Like India, western nations have their castes, and the poor
especially are discriminated against everywhere.
As blushing may make a whore seem virtuous, so modesty may make a fool seem sensible.—Jonathan Swift
by William Blake
And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England's pleasant pastures seen?
And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic mills?
Bring me my bow of burning gold:
Bring me my arrows of desire:
Bring me my spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire.
I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land.
What Blake called "Satanic mills" the American president Dwight D. Eisenhower
would later call the "military-industrial complex." Blake's poem is a poetic
call to arms against church and state, as long as they practice false religion,
voodoo economics and war.
If you think you're too small to make an impact, try going to bed with a
Advice for Winston
Why not just impose the old Zurich curfew,
drive everyone indoors early, arrest
anyone caught in the street past eleven.
Surely that would bring to an end
all disapproved transactions
conducted in the blind of night
as well as providing a superabundance
of quietude, a lullaby
for the fierce upholders of right.
Maybe you've never been approached
by someone peddling forbidden fruit
and felt glad the option was there,
but far better they, any day, I'd say
than heaven's unleashed hounds
accosting anyone they please
with gratuitous curiosities.
Do you really want to live that way?
And now with all the good people
being asked to spy on everyone else
and supplement the force, Winston,
make yourself thin, shrink
out of the screen's wide eye,
it's a quarter century ago,
1984, here we come.
Tom Merrill is obviously not a fan of "the fierce upholders of right" but the
real question is why so many voters in supposedly "free" societies abide
"heaven's unleashed hounds." Prohibition didn't stop anyone from drinking, but
it did put a lot of money and power in the hands of men like Al Capone. Hasn't
the "war on drugs" accomplished very similar ends, without preventing anyone
from using if they really want to?
The births of all things are weak and tender,
therefore we should have our eyes intent on beginnings.
—Michel de Montaigne
Child of 9-11
Michael R. Burch
a poem for Christina-Taylor Green,
who was born
on September 11, 2001
and died at the age of nine,
to death ...
Child of 9-11, beloved,
I bring this lily, lay it down
here at your feet, and eiderdown,
and all soft things, for your gentle spirit.
I bring this psalm — I hope you hear it.
Much love I bring — I lay it down
here by your form, which is not you,
but what you left this shell-shocked world
to help us learn what we must do
to save another child like you.
Child of 9-11, I know
you are not here, but watch, afar
from distant stars, where angels rue
the terrible things some mortals do.
I also watch; I also rue.
And so I make this pledge and vow:
though I may weep, I will not rest
nor will my pen fail heaven's test
till guns and wars and hate are banned
from every shore, from every land.
Child of 9-11, I grieve
your tender life, cut short ... bereaved,
what can I do, but pledge my life
to saving lives like yours? Belief
in your sweet worth has led me here ...
I give my all: my pen, this tear,
this lily and this eiderdown,
and all soft things my heart can bear;
I bear them to your final bier,
and leave them with my promise, here.
If we are to have real peace in the world,
we will have to begin with the children.
Filtering Out Impurities
Now too, just as before,
when others were hoping to slip smoothly through,
grim-faced guards at every gate
are keeping watch, alert for any
or hint of possible heterodoxy.
as between places,
it never yet has been assured
that everything may pass, and words,
when untrimmed to the reigning flimflam
can count as much as any
pinch of inspirational herb
as dangerous contraband.
History could make the thoughtful wonder
what extant literature might include
had many voices not been stopped
for taking exception to The Truth,
had speech been a protected species
and braver tongues not failed to elude
the flames of purgative centuries.
And now, with anointed successors
of book-burning masters of auto-da-fé
becoming hi-tech-adept, who knows
which insubordinate texts may get through
to speak to newcomers facing the sure
ineluctable purge of each new day.
Some sanctified bug christened "error-free"
and targeting the inexemplary
could serve as well as fire to expunge
all trace of thought that struck the wrong key.
But life is rife with the righteous, you say
and all their fraternal twins in the state
have been just as given to radical cleansing,
just as determined to root out the rot,
and just as partial to choirboys as they.
True, and the sun's no conservator either,
and no words will last long either way,
So maybe it comes out the same—saved or not.
Public opinion is a weak tyrant compared with our own private opinion.—Henry
As an Israeli, I have come to understand:
there is no way to love Israel
and reject a two-state peace,
no way to love Israel and reject Palestine.
—Yael Dayan, daughter of Moshe Dayan, Israel's most famous general and Defense Minister
As a snow-drift is formed where there is a lull in the wind, so, one would say,
where there is a lull of truth, an institution springs up.—Henry
It takes courage to push yourself
to places that you have never been before,
test your limits,
to break through barriers.
And the day came when the risk it
to remain tight inside the bud
was more painful than the risk it took to
Don't judge a man until you've walked a mile in his moccasins.—Native American
John Barleycorn, John Courage
by C. B. Anderson
They named him Edward, but the senior Bay
State Senator is better known as "Ted."
That poor young woman, drowning as he fled
The scene, foreshadowed in a graphic way
The policies he fostered to betray
The average citizen: His tax hikes bled
Them dry, while moral norms were counted dead
And criminals allowed to rule the day.
His junior colleague's much the same. A taste
For rendered pork is all you'll gain if those
Two have their way, and after they've laid waste
To home security, do you suppose
They'll watch your back? Of course!—with all due haste,
To see how best to milk your latest woes.
Your children need your presence more than your presents.—Jesse
The rank is but the guinea’s stamp;
the man’s the gowd [gold] for a’
Lines like these helped fuel the American and French revolutions; Burns was
saying that commoners had the same "mettle" and worth as royals ... a heretical
claim at the time, but plain common sense today.
It's not the size of the dog in the fight that counts, it's the size of the
fight in the dog.—Dwight D. Eisenhower
by William Blake
I wander thro' each charter'd street,
Near where the charter'd Thames does flow,
And mark in every face I meet
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.
In every cry of every Man,
In every Infant's cry of fear,
In every voice, in every ban,
The mind-forg'd manacles I hear.
How the Chimney-sweeper's cry
Every blackning Church appalls,
And the hapless Soldier's sigh
Runs in blood down Palace walls.
But most thro' midnight streets I hear
How the youthful Harlot's curse
Blasts the new-born Infant's tear
And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse.
William Blake well understood the nature of totalitarian states: the "mind-forg'd
manacles" of people who had been brainwashed with disinformation, children being
mistreated with the consent of church and state, and soldiers dying for the sake
of the rich and powerful.
I do not believe in a fate that will fall on us no matter what we do. I do
believe in a fate that will fall on us if we do nothing.—Ronald
by A. E. Housman
The laws of God, the laws of man,
He may keep that will and can;
Not I: let God and man decree
Laws for themselves and not for me;
And if my ways are not as theirs
Let them mind their own affairs.
Their deeds I judge and much condemn,
Yet when did I make laws for them?
Please yourselves, say I, and they
Need only look the other way.
But no, they will not; they must still
Wrest their neighbour to their will,
And make me dance as they desire
With jail and gallows and hell-fire.
And how am I to face the odds
Of man's bedevilment and God's?
I, a stranger and afraid
In a world I never made.
They will be master, right or wrong;
Though both are foolish, both are strong.
And since, my soul, we cannot fly
To Saturn nor to Mercury,
Keep we must, if keep we can,
These foreign laws of God and man.
Housman almost perfectly captures the unfairness of "these foreign laws of God
and man" that threaten atheists, agnostics and non-heterosexuals with "jail and
gallows and hell-fire" for not conforming to someone else's narrow-minded
I lived as best I could, and then I died.
Be careful where you step: the grave is wide.
—Michael R. Burch,
"Epitaph for a Palestinian Child"
Reign of the Rabid Right
by Jim Dunlap
Attack dogs assemble at the scent of prey
like hyenas circling a lion's kill.
They have the instinct to pounce and slay,
but they lack the courage and will.
They feed on the deeds of others,
since their capabilities are few.
They willingly backstab their brothers,
like Brutus and the LION he slew.
Like jackals, they swarm in packs,
but turn and run if confronted alone.
Dealing in unsolicited attacks,
they'll cut and slash the weak to the bone.
The world's a dangerous place in these times,
when politicians commit such heinous crimes.
An economist's guess is liable to be as good as anybody else's.—Will Rogers
the Cambridge ladies who live in furnished souls
the Cambridge ladies who live in furnished souls
are unbeautiful and have comfortable minds
(also, with the church's protestant blessings
daughters, unscented shapeless spirited)
they believe in Christ and Longfellow, both dead,
are invariably interested in so many things—
at the present writing one still finds
delighted fingers knitting for the is it Poles?
perhaps. While permanent faces coyly bandy
scandal of Mrs. N and Professor D
.... the Cambridge ladies do not care, above
Cambridge if sometimes in its box of
sky lavender and cornerless, the
moon rattles like a fragment of angry candy
In the poem above, e. e. cummings pokes holes in the "comfortable" illusions of
churchgoers who believe in Christ while ignoring the real nature of what is said
to be his creation.
A fool and his money are soon elected.—Will Rogers
i sing of Olaf glad and big
i sing of Olaf glad and big
whose warmest heart recoiled at war:
a conscientious object-or
his wellbelovéd colonel (trig
westpointer most succinctly bred)
took erring Olaf soon in hand;
but-though an host of overjoyed
noncoms (first knocking on the head
him) do through icy waters roll
that helplessness which others stroke
with brushes recently employed
anent this muddy toiletbowl,
while kindred intellects evoke
allegiance per blunt instruments-
Olaf (being to all intents
a corpse and wanting any rag
upon what God unto him gave)
responds, without getting annoyed
"I will not kiss your fucking flag"
straightaway the silver bird looked grave
(departing hurriedly to shave)
but-though all kinds of officers
(a yearning nation's blueeyed pride)
their passive prey did kick and curse
until for wear their clarion
voices and boots were much the worse,
and egged the firstclassprivates on
his rectum wickedly to tease
by means of skillfully applied
bayonets roasted hot with heat-
Olaf (upon what were once knees)
does almost ceaselessly repeat
"there is some shit I will not eat"
our president,being of which
assertions duly notified
threw the yellowsonofabitch
into a dungeon,where he died
Christ (of His mercy infinite)
i pray to see;and Olaf,too
unless statistics lie he was
more brave than me:more blond than you
This poem by e. e. cummings is one of the best protest poems of all time. While
the prim, proper and puritanical Cambridge ladies might be shocked at the poet's
use of the f-word and references to anal sex, Olaf and cummings knew that the
real sin was war.
I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat.—Will Rogers
tell the Spartans we lie
here, dead at their word,
obedient to their command.
Have they heard?
Do they understand?
Michael R. Burch,
According to an epigram attributed to Simonides, the Spartans who defended the
"hot gates" of Thermopylae from the Persians died in obedience to the
instructions of their fellow Spartans, fighting to the last man.
A conservative is a man with two perfectly good legs who, however, has never
learned how to walk forward.—Franklin D. Roosevelt
Oh, fallen camellias,
if I were you,
I'd leap into the torrent!
— Takaha Shugyo, translated by
Michael R. Burch
While the haiku above is probably not a political poem, per se, I think it
captures something of the spirit of Simonides, who wrote about the flower of the
youth of Sparta being heaved into the bloody torrents of war.
Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it, misdiagnosing it,
and then misapplying the wrong remedies.—Groucho Marx
by Elinor Morton Wylie
Man, the egregious egoist
(In mystery the twig is bent)
Imagines, by some mental twist,
That he alone is sentient
Of the intolerable load
That on all living creatures lies,
Nor stoops to pity in the toad
The speechless sorrow of his eyes.
He asks no questions of the snake,
Nor plumbs the phosphorescent gloom
Where lidless fishes, broad awake,
Swim staring at a nightmare doom.
Wylie's poem questions whether man "alone is sentient" or is perhaps just
another "cold-blooded creature."
Her ears pricked up so much, Madame
LaBouche, decrying all disturbance
Insisted sounds around be less
City-like and more suburban.
One bistro gave Madame no rest
Until it was at last subdued,
And vexed by yakky cabbies next,
She finally got their stand removed.
Yet still, some night-owl might abort
The dreamshift of LaBouche's week,
And pop her prized unconsciousness
By passing with a piercing shriek,
Or other nuisances emerge—
But when, for my part, out a window
I spot Madame surveying things,
Hard eye a-gleam, arms set akimbo
All poised to nail some passerby
With shrill bursts from her magic flute—
I see the sole noisemaker I
Have lately dreamed of going mute.
Merrill's poem about a meddlesome neighbor reminds me of Puritans (the heroes of
the Religious Right) putting
peaceable Quakers in stocks, then running red-hot irons through their cheeks and
I've got Jesus's name on a wallet insert
and "Hell is for Queers" on the back of my shirt
and I uphold the Law,
for grace has a flaw:
the Church must have someone to drag through the dirt.
—Michael R. Burch,
"Why I Left the Religious Right"
There are many humorous things in the world; among them, the white man's notion that he is less savage than the other savages.—Mark
by Langston Hughes
Because my mouth
Is wide with laughter
And my throat
Is deep with song,
You did not think
I suffer after
I've held my pain
Because my mouth
Is wide with laughter
You do not hear
My inner cry:
Because my feet
Are gay with dancing,
You do not know
While American politicians emphatically declare the United States to be "the
greatest nation in the history of the earth," we have only to consider the
plight of African Americans, Native Americans and Palestinians to see the hype
for what it is. Has any nation ever established social and economic justice for
the less-favored classes?
I don't know what weapons will be used in World War III, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.—Albert
Dinner Guest: Me
by Langston Hughes
I know I am
The Negro Problem
Being wined and dined,
Answering the usual questions
That come to white mind
Which seeks demurely
To Probe in polite way
The why and wherewithal
Of darkness U.S.A.—
Wondering how things got this way
In current democratic night,
Over fraises du bois,
"I'm so ashamed of being white."
The lobster is delicious,
The wine divine,
And center of attention
At the damask table, mine.
To be a Problem on
Park Avenue at eight
Is not so bad.
Solutions to the Problem,
Of course, wait.
Langston Hughes hit the nail on the head with this poem. Most Americans are much
better at sympathizing with other people's problems than helping to solve them,
which of course requires time, attention and money. It is much easier to profess
fashionable "Christian" repentance, the continue on in the same mode.
Mankind must put an end to war, or war will put an end to mankind.—John F.
Advice to a Girl
by Sara Teasdale
No one worth possessing
Can be quite possessed;
Lay that on your heart,
My young angry dear;
This truth, this hard and precious stone,
Lay it on your hot cheek,
Let it hide your tear.
Hold it like a crystal
When you are alone
And gaze in the depths of the icy stone.
Long, look long and you will be blessed:
No one worth possessing
Can be quite possessed.
Virginia Woolf said that something fundamental changed about human beings in
1910. This poem by Sara Teasdale captures a good bit of that change, I believe.
In peace sons bury their fathers, but in war fathers bury their sons.—Croesus
Piercing the Shell
Michael R. Burch
If we strip away all the accouterments of war,
perhaps we'll discover what the heart is for.
by Sara Teasdale
My heart has grown rich with the passing of years,
I have less need now than when I was young
To share myself with every comer
Or shape my thoughts into words with my tongue.
It is one to me that they come or go
If I have myself and the drive of my will,
And strength to climb on a summer night
And watch the stars swarm over the hill.
Let them think I love them more than I do,
Let them think I care, though I go alone;
If it lifts their pride, what is it to me
Who am self-complete as a flower or a stone.
Sara Teasdale upset the applecart of many a male chauvinist with this fine poem.
How dare she be as "self-complete as a flower or a stone" without a man and
children? The best poets were always rebels and heretics (at least until the
rest of the world came to agree with them).
If there is one thing that we do worse than any other
nation, it is try and manage somebody else's affairs.―Will Rogers
by C. B. Anderson
The politicians living large in Boston
Are never at a loss for words or graft
And piously assume the woods they're lost in
Are there to furnish lumber for a raft
Expressly built to bear them down the Charles
To berths abutting Massachusetts Bay
Where they will stage imaginary quarrels
With shades of Tip O'Neill and JFK.
They act as though they're totally devoted
To citizens across the Commonwealth,
But records show that programs they promoted
Required reserves of midnight oil and stealth
To squeeze such grand impostures into law.
We're shuttlecocks in a game of badminton
With rules like those observed in Arkansas:
No net or chalk lines to hamper Bill Clinton.
What's more, we also face the likes of Teddy
And John, who play us in the national
Arena, serving underhand, already
Declaring our complaints irrational.
The World Is Too Much With Us
by William Wordsworth
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.—Great God! I'd rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.
Like all the best poets, William Wordsworth was far
from an orthodox Christian. In this magnificent poem, he rather ironically
informs "God" that he would rather be a pagan worshiper of Proteus and Triton
than yet another pale conformist.
The clatter of arms drowns out the voice of law.—Michel de Montaigne
In Time of "The Breaking of Nations"
by Thomas Hardy
Only a man harrowing clods
In a slow silent walk,
With an old horse that stumbles and nods
Half asleep as they stalk.
Only thin smoke without flame
From the heaps of couch grass:
Yet this will go onward the same
Though Dynasties pass.
Yonder a maid and her wight
Come whispering by;
War's annals will fade into night
Ere their story die.
Thomas Hardy suggests that Dynasties and the wars they create may be temporary
phenomena to be outlasted by love, romance and mundane life. If so, let's hope
Democracy means simply the bludgeoning of the people by the people for the people.—Oscar Wilde
by Percy Bysshe Shelley
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
Percy Bysshe Shelley was one of the great Romantics who died many, many years
before his time. His touch with meter and rhyme was exquisite.
Whenever a man does a thoroughly stupid thing, it is always from the noblest motives.—Oscar Wilde
On the Eve of His Execution
by Chidiock Tichborne
My prime of youth is but a frost of cares,
My feast of joy is but a dish of pain,
My crop of corn is but a field of tares,
And all my good is but vain hope of gain;
The day is past, and yet I saw no sun,
And now I live, and now my life is done.
My tale was heard and yet it was not told,
My fruit is fallen, yet my leaves are green,
My youth is spent and yet I am not old,
I saw the world and yet I was not seen;
My thread is cut and yet it is not spun,
And now I live and now my life is done.
I sought my death and found it in my womb,
I looked for life and found it was a shade,
I trod the earth and knew it was my tomb,
And now I die, and now I was but made;
My glass is full, and now my glass is run,
And now I live, and now my life is done.
Tichborne's elegy (to himself) remains one of the best and most powerful in the
Do not speak ill of society . . . only people who can't get in do that.—Oscar Wilde
An Irish Airman Foresees His Death
by William Butler Yeats
I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above;
Those that I fight I do not hate,
Those that I guard I do not love;
My country is Kiltartan Cross,
My countrymen Kiltartan's poor,
No likely end could bring them loss
Or leave them happier than before.
Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
Nor public men, nor cheering crowds,
A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.
William Butler Yeats almost perfectly captures the irony of war: many of the
people fighting don't hate the people they're fighting or particularly love the
people they're protecting. The Irish airman mentioned (Robert Gregory, the son
of Yeats's patron, Lady Gregory) didn't hate the Germans or love the Englishmen
he fought to protect, because England was his people's oppressor.
Arguments are extremely vulgar, for everyone in good society holds exactly the same opinion.—Oscar Wilde
Excerpts from "More Poems"
by A. E. Housman
Farewell to a name and a number
To darkness and silence and slumber
In blood and pain.
So ceases and turns to the thing
He was born to be
A soldier cheap to the King
And dear to me;
So smothers in blood the burning
And flaming flight
Of valour and truth returning
To dust and night.
A. E. Housman captures wonderfully well the despair of everyone who has ever
lost a child or lover or friend "cheap to the King" but "dear to me."
A thing is not necessarily true because a man dies for it.—Oscar Wilde
Naming of Parts
by Henry Reed
"Vixi duellis nuper idoneus
Et militavi non sine glori"
Today we have naming of parts. Yesterday,
We had daily cleaning. And tomorrow morning,
We shall have what to do after firing. But today,
Today we have naming of parts. Japonica
Glistens like coral in all of the neighboring gardens,
And today we have naming of parts.
This is the lower sling swivel. And this
Is the upper sling swivel, whose use you will see
When you are given your slings. And this is the piling swivel,
Which in your case you have not got. The branches
Hold in the gardens their silent, eloquent gestures,
Which in our case we have not got.
This is the safety-catch, which is always released
With an easy flick of the thumb. And please do not let me
See anyone using his finger. You can do it quite easily
If you have any strength in your thumb. The blossoms
Are fragile and motionless, never letting anyone see
Any of them using their finger.
And this you can see is the bolt. The purpose of this
Is to open the breech, as you see. We can slide it
Rapidly backwards and forwards: we call this
Easing the spring. And rapidly backwards and forwards
The early bees are assaulting and fumbling the flowers:
They call it easing the Spring.
They call it easing the Spring: it is perfectly easy
If you have any strength in your thumb: like the bolt,
And the breech, and the cocking-piece, and the point of balance,
Which in our case we have not got; and the almond-blossom
Silent in all of the gardens and the bees going backwards and forwards,
For today we have naming of parts.
Henry Reed is likely to be remembered only by this one poem, but fortunately for him
(and for us) it should make him immortal. In it he captures and illustrates the
irony of young men preparing for war and death amid all the vibrancy of spring.
It's not the parts of the Bible that I don't understand that bother me, it's the parts I do understand.—Mark Twain
by Louis MacNeice
It's no go the merrygoround, it's no go the rickshaw,
All we want is a limousine and a ticket for the peepshow.
Their knickers are made of crepe-de-chine, their shoes are made of python,
Their halls are lined with tiger rugs and their walls with head of bison.
John MacDonald found a corpse, put it under the sofa,
Waited till it came to life and hit it with a poker,
Sold its eyes for souvenirs, sold its blood for whiskey,
Kept its bones for dumbbells to use when he was fifty.
It's no go the Yogi-man, it's no go Blavatsky,
All we want is a bank balance and a bit of skirt in a taxi.
Annie MacDougall went to milk, caught her foot in the heather,
Woke to hear a dance record playing of Old Vienna.
It's no go your maidenheads, it's no go your culture,
All we want is a Dunlop tire and the devil mend the puncture.
The Laird o' Phelps spent Hogmanay declaring he was sober,
Counted his feet to prove the fact and found he had one foot over.
Mrs. Carmichael had her fifth, looked at the job with repulsion,
Said to the midwife "Take it away; I'm through with overproduction."
It's no go the gossip column, it's no go the Ceilidh,
All we want is a mother's help and a sugar-stick for the baby.
Willie Murray cut his thumb, couldn't count the damage,
Took the hide of an Ayrshire cow and used it for a bandage.
His brother caught three hundred cran when the seas were lavish,
Threw the bleeders back in the sea and went upon the parish.
It's no go the Herring Board, it's no go the Bible,
All we want is a packet of fags when our hands are idle.
It's no go the picture palace, it's no go the stadium,
It's no go the country cot with a pot of pink geraniums,
It's no go the Government grants, it's no go the elections,
Sit on your arse for fifty years and hang your hat on a pension.
It's no go my honey love, it's no go my poppet;
Work your hands from day to day, the winds will blow the profit.
The glass is falling hour by hour, the glass will fall forever,
But if you break the bloody glass you won't hold up the weather.
To be good is noble; but to show others how to be good is nobler and less trouble.—Mark Twain
Excerpts from "More Poems"
by A. E. Housman
I - Easter Hymn
If in that Syrian garden, ages slain,
You sleep, and know not you are dead in vain,
Nor even in dreams behold how dark and bright
Ascends in smoke and fire by day and night
The hate you died to quench and could but fan,
Sleep well and see no morning, son of man.
But if, the grave rent and the stone rolled by,
At the right hand of majesty on high
You sit, and sitting so remember yet
Your tears, your agony and bloody sweat,
Your cross and passion and the life you gave,
Bow hither out of heaven and see and save.
Always do right. That will gratify some of the people, and astonish the rest.—Mark Twain
Man with a Plan Tan
by Michael R. Burch
he's such a complainer!
His "package," like Weiner's,
is grossly inflated.
His "compassion" and "ethics"
are weirdly conflated.
He strains hard to "govern
like he's constipated.
he's an orange strainer!
Thinking about John Boehner's strange tan and struggles with "governing" make me
dream up the little ditty above ...
Loyalty to petrified opinion never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul.—Mark Twain
Anthem For Doomed Youth
by Wilfred Owen
What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries for them from prayers or bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs—
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.
Wilfred Owen is the greatest of the anti-war poets. If only mothers and fathers
would listen to him, we might end wars in which young people who believe they're
fighting for "national honor" end up dying for
the sake of cynical powermongers.
Denial ain't just a river in Egypt.—Mark Twain
by Wilfred Owen
Down the close, darkening lanes they sang their way
To the siding-shed,
And lined the train with faces grimly gay.
Their breasts were stuck all white with wreath and spray
As men's are, dead.
Dull porters watched them, and a casual tramp
Stood staring hard,
Sorry to miss them from the upland camp.
Then, unmoved, signals nodded, and a lamp
Winked to the guard.
So secretly, like wrongs hushed-up, they went.
They were not ours:
We never heard to which front these were sent.
Nor there if they yet mock what women meant
Who gave them flowers.
Shall they return to beatings of great bells
In wild train-loads?
A few, a few, too few for drums and yells,
May creep back, silent, to still village wells
Up half-known roads.
In this poem, Wilfred Owen accurately predicts the fate of soldiers who are sent
off to war with patriotic songs and flowers, only to return home in small
numbers, straggling and creeping up back roads. Sound familiar?
At Wilfred Owen's Grave
Michael R. Burch
A week before the Armistice, you died.
They did not keep your heart like Livingstone's,
then plant your bones near Shakespeare's. So you lie
between two privates, sacrificed like Christ
to politics, your poetry unknown
except for one brief flurry: thirteen months
with Gaukroger beside you in the trench,
dismembered, as you babbled, as the stench
of gangrene filled your nostrils, till you clenched
your broken heart together and the fist
began to pulse with life, so close to death.
Or was it at Craiglockhart, in the care
of "ergotherapists" that you sensed life
is only in the work, and made despair
a thing that Yeats despised, but also breath,
a mouthful's merest air, inspired less
than wrested from you, and which we confess
we only vaguely breathe: the troubled air
that even Sassoon failed to share, because
a man in pieces is not healed by gauze,
and breath's transparent, unless we believe
the words are true despite their lack of weight
and float to us like chlorine—scalding eyes,
and lungs, and hearts. Your words revealed the fate
of boys who retched up life here, gagged on lies.
Truth is the most valuable thing we have. Let us economize it.—Mark
Dulce Et Decorum Est
by Wilfred Owen
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime...
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
Note: "Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori" is
from Horace's Odes and means: "It is sweet and fitting
to die for one's country." This is one of the first and best
ultra-realistic anti-war poems in the English language.
by Seigfreid Sassoon
If I were fierce, and bald, and short of breath,
I'd live with scarlet Majors at the Base,
And speed glum heroes up the line to death.
You'd see me with my puffy, petulant face,
Guzzling and gulping in the best hotel,
Reading the Roll of Honour. 'Poor young chap,'
I'd say—'I used to know his father well;
Yes, we've lost heavily in this last scrap.'
And when the war is done and youth stone dead,
I'd toddle safely home and die—in bed.
Seigfreid Sassoon was a friend of Wilfred Owens, and a fellow soldier. Not much
has changed, as many American soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq have been highly
critical of the leadership and morals of their commanding officers.
Truth is mighty and will prevail. There is nothing wrong with this, except that it ain't so.—Mark Twain
by Matthew Arnold
The sea is calm to-night,
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.
Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Aegean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.
The sea of faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
"Dover Beach" may be the first modern poem. When Arnold speaks of the "Sea of
Faith" retreating, he seems to be setting the stage for Modernism, which to some
degree was the reaction of men who began to increasingly suspect that the
"wisdom" contained in the Bible was hardly the revelation of an all-knowing God.
Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please.—Mark Twain
The Twain Well Met: Epigrams by
Facts are stubborn; statistics are more pliable.
There are lies, damned lies and statistics.
The rule is perfect: in all matters of opinion our adversaries are insane.
It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you do know that ain't so.
Don't tell fish stories where the people know you; but particularly, don't tell them where they know the fish.
The very ink with which history is written is merely fluid prejudice.
It's no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense.
If you don't read the newspaper, you are uninformed; if you do, you are misinformed.
The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them.
Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.
There is probably no distinctly American criminal class, except Congress.
Reader, suppose you were an idiot. Now suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.
There are many humorous things in the world; among them, the white man's notion that he is less savage than the other savages.
In our country we have three unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to practice either of them.
The Wit and Wisdom of Ronald Wilson Reagan
I do not believe in a fate that will fall on us no matter what we do.
I do believe in a fate that will fall on us if we do nothing.
I wasn't a great communicator, but I communicated great things.
There are simple answers to the nation's problems, but not easy ones.
While I take inspiration from the past, like most Americans, I live for the future.
We don't have a trillion-dollar debt because we haven't taxed enough; we have a
trillion-dollar debt because we spend too much.
I've always stated that the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth is a government program.
I have wondered at times what the Ten Commandments would have looked like if Moses had run them through the U.S. Congress.
The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, "I'm from the government and I'm here to help."
A friend of mine was asked to a costume ball a short time ago. He slapped some egg on his face and went as a liberal economist.
Recession is when your neighbor loses his job. Depression is when you lose yours. Recovery is when
Jimmy Carter loses his.
Politics is supposed to be the second oldest profession. I have come to
realize that it bears a very close resemblance to the first.
Detente — isn't that what a farmer has with his turkey — until Thanksgiving?
Politics is not a bad profession. If you succeed there are many rewards, if you
disgrace yourself you can always write a book.
I am not worried about the deficit. It is big enough to take care of itself.
The difference between
them and us is that we want to check government
spending and they want to spend government checks.
Government's view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases:
If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.
Humor Equals Wit Times Genius Squared: The Epigrams of
Whoever sets himself up as a judge of Truth is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods.
Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen.
We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.
Only two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the former.
Our technology has exceeded our humanity.
I don't know about World War III, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.
Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only be achieved by understanding.
Politics is for the present, but an equation is for eternity.
Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.
The hardest thing in the world to understand is income tax.
The difference between stupidity and genius is that genius has its limits.
Information is not knowledge.
Great spirits have often encountered violent opposition from weak minds.
Weakness of attitude becomes weakness of character.
To punish me for my contempt for authority, fate made me an authority myself.
There are two ways to live your life: one is as though nothing is a miracle, the other is as though everything is a miracle.
Epigrams Reign: Michel de Montaigne
The clatter of arms drowns out the voice of law.
Nothing is so firmly believed as that which least is known.
Man cannot make a worm, yet he will make gods by the dozen.
To forbid us anything is to make us have a mind for it.
Everyone calls barbarity what he is not accustomed to.
No man is a hero to his own valet.
There is no conversation more boring than the one where everybody agrees.
There are some defeats more triumphant than victories.
The way of the world is to make laws, but follow custom.
The thing I fear most is fear.
Nobody can make you feel inferior without your permission.—Eleanor Roosevelt
If you can't be a good example, then you'll just have to be a horrible warning.—Catherine the Great
In politics, if you want anything said, ask a man. If you want anything done, ask a woman.—Margaret Thatcher
Pierced by Bierce: Epigrams by Ambrose Bierce
Applause, n. The echo of a platitude.
Bigot, n. One who is obstinately and zealously attached to an opinion that you do not entertain.
Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited.
The Death of Class
I am his Highness' dog at Kew;
Pray tell me, sir, whose dog are you?
Errors and Terrors
Treason doth never prosper; what's the reason?
For if it prosper, none dare call it treason.
—Sir John Harrington
The Errors of a Wise Man make your Rule
Rather than the Perfections of a Fool.
Bigotry is the sacred disease.—Heraclitus
a politician is an arse upon
which everyone has sat except a man
—e. e. cummings
This Humanist whom no beliefs constrained
Grew so broad-minded he was scatter-brained.
—J. V. Cunningham
A Word to the Wise, by the Wordwise
It is Homer who has chiefly taught other poets the art of telling lies
Poetry comes nearer to vital truth than history.—Plato
Man does not live by words alone, despite the fact that sometimes he has to eat
It is easy when we are in prosperity to give advice to the afflicted.―Aeschylus
Money is the wise man's religion.—Euripides
When it is a question of money, everybody is of the same religion.—Voltaire
The shortest road to wealth lies in the contempt of wealth.—Seneca
If you'd know the power of money, go and borrow some.—Ben Franklin
If God has the cattle on a thousand hills, why does he
need my tithes?—Mike Burch
I found out that I was a Christian for revenue only and I could not bear the thought of that, it was so ignoble.—Mark
In war, truth is the first casualty.
Death is better, a milder fate than tyranny.
I know how men in exile feed on dreams of hope.
It is easy when we are in prosperity to give advice to the afflicted.
Destiny waits alike for the free man as well as for him
enslaved by another's might.
Where there's a Will there's a Way: the Epigrams of Will
An economist's guess is liable to be as good as anybody else's.
Make crime pay. Become a lawyer.
A fool and his money are soon elected.
Be thankful we're not getting all the government we're paying for.
Diplomacy is the art of saying "Nice doggie" until you can find a rock.
Communism to me is one-third practice and two-thirds explanation.
I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat.
I don't make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts.
The U.S. Senate
opens with a prayer and closes with an investigation.
Congress in session is like when the
baby gets hold of a hammer.
You can't say civilization don't advance...in every war they kill you in a new
A remark generally hurts in proportion to its truth.
America is becoming so educated that ignorance will soon be a novelty.
An ignorant person is one who doesn't know what you have just
Being a hero is about the shortest-lived profession on earth.
Buy land. They ain't making any more of the stuff.
Everything is changing. People are taking comedians
seriously and politicians as a joke.
Everything is funny, as long as it's happening to somebody
Get someone else to blow your horn and the sound will carry
twice as far.
Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes
from bad judgment.
I bet after seeing us, George Washington would sue us for
calling him "father."
It isn't what we don't know that gives us trouble, it's what we know that ain't
Lettin' the cat outta the bag is a whole lot easier 'n puttin'
it back in.
Liberty doesn't work as well in practice as it does in
One-third of the people in the United States promote, while
the other two-thirds provide.
Our constitution protects aliens, drunks and U.S. Senators.
People are getting smarter nowadays; they're letting lawyers,
not their conscience, be their guide.
Politics has become so expensive that it takes a lot of money
even to be defeated.
The income tax has made liars out of more Americans than golf.
The only way you can beat the lawyers is to die with nothing.
The United States never lost a war or won a conference.
There is no more independence in politics than there is in jail.
There is nothing so stupid as the educated man if you get him off his subject.
There ought to be one day , just one, when there is open
season on senators.
Things in our country run in spite of government, not by aid
We don't seem to be able to check crime, so why not legalize
it and then tax it out of business?
We will never have true civilization until we have learned to
recognize the rights of others.
What the country needs is dirtier fingernails and cleaner
When ignorance gets started it knows no bounds.
Worrying is like paying on a debt that may never come due.
The only difference between death and taxes is that death doesn't get worse
every time Congress meets.
I have a scheme for stopping war: no nation can enter a
war till it's paid for the last one.
Take diplomacy out of war, and the thing would fall
flat in a week.
Anything important is never left to the vote of the people. We only get to vote
on some man; we never get to vote on what he is to do.
Eighty percent of success is showing up.
Money is better than poverty, if only for financial
Not only is there no God, but try getting a plumber on
To you I'm an atheist; to God, I'm the Loyal Opposition.
If it turns out that there is a God, I don't think that
he's evil. The worst you can say about him is that basically he's an
Every dog must have his day.
Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.
Censure is the tax a man pays to the public for being eminent.
As blushing may make a whore seem virtuous, so modesty may make a fool seem sensible.
Government without the consent of the governed is the very definition of slavery.
Politics, as the word is commonly understood, are nothing but corruptions.
Poor nations are hungry, and rich nations are proud; and pride and hunger will ever be at variance.
Power is no blessing in itself, except when it is used to protect the innocent.
We have enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.
What they do in heaven we are ignorant of; what they do not do we are told expressly.
When a true genius appears, you can know him by this sign: that all the dunces are in a confederacy against him.
Martial Law: the Epigrams of Marcus Valerius Martial
There is no glory in outstripping donkeys.
Conceal a flaw, and the world will imagine the worst.
To the ashes of the dead glory comes too late.
Lawyers are men who hire out their words and anger.
Too late is tomorrow's life; live for today.
Anyone capable of getting made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.
Nothing travels faster than the speed of light with the possible exception of bad news.
You will never be alone with a poet in your pocket.
In my many years I have come to a conclusion that one useless man is a shame,
two is a law firm, and three or more is a congress.
Nota Bene: the Notable Epigrams of
Little strokes fell great oaks.
There never was a good war nor a bad peace.
A man between two lawyers is like a fish between two cats.
Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain and most fools do.
Experience keeps a dear school, but fools will learn in no other.
Fish and visitors smell after three days.
Genius without education is like silver in the mine.
He that goes a-borrowing goes a-sorrowing.
If you would persuade, you must appeal to interest rather than intellect.
We must indeed all hang together, or, most assuredly, we shall all hang
They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety
deserve neither liberty nor safety.
If you want to understand how fascists think, consider the words of
one who spoke honestly about himself and his cynical beliefs:
A Constitution should be short and obscure.—Napoleon
History is a set of lies agreed upon.—Napoleon
A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon.—Napoleon
A man will fight harder for his interests than for his rights.—Napoleon
Men are more easily governed through their vices than through their virtues.—Napoleon
Men are moved by two levers only: fear and self interest.—Napoleon
A revolution is an idea which has found its bayonets.—Napoleon
A throne is only a bench covered with velvet.—Napoleon
I can no longer obey; I have tasted command, and I cannot give it up.—Napoleon
I love power ... as a musician loves his violin, to draw out its sounds and
chords and harmonies.—Napoleon
If you wish to be a success in the world, promise everything, deliver
In politics stupidity is not a handicap.—Napoleon
In politics never retreat, never retract, never admit a mistake.—Napoleon
Power is my mistress. I have worked too hard at her conquest to allow anyone
to take her away from me.—Napoleon
Religion is excellent stuff for keeping common people quiet.—Napoleon
It is the cause, not the death, that makes the martyr.—Napoleon
Immersed in Emerson: the Epigrammatic Wisdom of
Ralph Waldo Emerson
To be great is to be misunderstood.
For nonconformity the world whips you with its
If you would lift me you must be on higher ground.
Quoting one is plagiarism; quoting many is research.—Unknown
Space is a dangerous place . . . especially if it's between your ears!—Unknown
The man who can't make mistakes, can't make anything.—Abraham Lincoln
Success comes in cans, not can't s.—Unknown
The tragedy of life is not so much what men suffer but rather what they
When you come to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.—Franklin D. Roosevelt
The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today.—Franklin D. Roosevelt
A thousand words will not leave so deep an impression as one deed.—Henrik
Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.—Rudyard
Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadows.—Helen Keller
I may disagree with what you say, but I shall defend to the death
your right to say it.—Voltaire
Let others praise ancient times; I am glad I was born in these.—Ovid
The hands that help are better far than the lips that pray.—Robert G. Ingersoll
There is none so blind as they that won't see.—Jonathan Swift
If I have seen a little farther than others,
it is because I have stood on
the shoulders of giants.—Sir Isaac Newton
More Epigrams of Richard Moore:
Logic, like Rilke's angel, is beautiful but dangerous.
The social animal—at least, in the human case—is necessarily an imitative
animal; for it would seem to be our capacity to imitate others and to let their
thoughts and personalities invade ours that makes coherent society possible.
We descendants of Christianity,
we creations of that book, The Bible, can't endure Lucretius' lush relish and
appreciation of the sensuous life here on earth. Everything in our abstract,
celluloid-charmed, computer-driven, and, above all, money-maddened lifestyle
separates us from that life on earth.
Christians, humanists, existentialists—whatever we are—we gaze toward higher, or
at least more interesting things.
Government and the arts, alas, they just don't mix.
Your bed of roses, bureaucrat, is full of pricks.
2016 Republican First Presidential Debate: Winners, Losers and Impressions