Give over seeking bastard joy
Nor cast for fortune’s side-long look.
Indifference can be your toy;
The bitter heart can be your book.
(Its lesson torment never shook.)
In the cold heart, as on a page,
Spell out the gentle syllable
That puts short limit to your rage
And curdles the straight fire of hell,
Compassing all, so all is well.
Read how, though passion sets in storm
And grief’s a comfort, and the young
Touch at the flint when it is warm,
It is the dead we live among,
The dead given motion, and a tongue.
The dead, long trained to cruel sport
And the crude gossip of the grave;
The dead, who pass in motley sort,
Whom sun nor sufferance can save.
Face them. They sneer. Do not be brave.
Know once for all: their snare is set
Even now; be sure their trap is laid;
And you will see your lifetime yet
Come to their terms, your plans unmade,
And be belied, and be betrayed.
I love this poem but I can find almost nothing written about it and I have some questions. First, what is “the gentle syllable”-? “No”-? I first learned of this poem in a book by Yvor Winters and if I recall correctly he thought that “the dead” refers to other people or at least most other people and how they live. Would appreciate some more comments
Almost 8 years later, I just came across my own comment/question. I still wonder what the “gentle syllable” is. I found the Winters’ book “Forms of Discovery” online, and he wrote that he was sure that “Exhortation” was Bogan’s greatest poem! He did think that by “the dead we live among” she meant most other people. I still hope others will comment.