“How can a plucked bird live?”/”Guns too are moral”


An article reflecting on the passing of poet Derek Walcott remarks on the poet’s small world: “Brilliant poets find one another: their world is very small even though their influence is wide and deep.”

Therefore I hardly consider it a coincidence that I had already begun writing a brief blog post on Robert Lowell, after having read an article discussing a book about him and his mania/mental health when Lowell is mentioned as one of Walcott’s earliest champions and supporters.

I’ve always been partial to the work of Robert Lowell but never knew much about him – and his mania. But the first of his poems I remember ever reading has stuck closely with me ever since, so wrapped up as it was with gun-related themes tangential to my life 20 or more years ago:

Violence (Robert Lowell)
From the first cave, the first farm, the first sage,
inalienable our human right to murder —
“We must get used,” they say, “to the thought of guns;
we must get used to seeing guns; we must
get used to using guns.” Guns too are moral. Guns
failed Che Guevara, Marie Antoinette,
Leon Trotsky, the children of the Tsar:
chivalrous ornaments to power. Tom Paine said
Burke pitied the plumage and forgot the dying bird.
How can a plucked bird live? Whoever puts
arms in the hands of the people is a criminal,
arms given the people are always used against the people;
the only guns that will not kill the owner
are forged by insight… fear made wise by anger.

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