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This is the Horror that, Night After Night -- Gerald Gould

       
(Poem #1186) This is the Horror that, Night After Night
 This is the horror that, night after night,
   Sits grinning on my pillow -- that I meant
   To mix the peace of being innocent
 With the warm thrill of seeking out delight:
 This is the final blasphemy, the blight
   On all pure purpose and divine intent --
   To dress the selfish thought, the indolent,
 In the priest's sable or the angel's white.

 For God's sake, if you sin, take pleasure in it,
   And do it for the pleasure. Do not say:
 'Behold the spirit's liberty! -- a minute
   Will see the earthly vesture break away
 And God shine through.' Say: 'Here's a sin -- I'll sin it;
   And there's the price of sinning -- and I'll pay.'
-- Gerald Gould
        (from 'Monogamy')

Superficially, today's poem seems to express the same sentiment that
Millay's "Penitent" [Poem #108] does:

  And, "One thing there's no getting by --
      I've been a wicked girl," said I:
       "But if I can't be sorry, why,
  I might as well be glad!"

but on closer reading, it's diametrically opposed - Millay's narrator feels
glad, though she 'knows' she shouldn't; Gould's makes the same "do it for the
pleasure" argument, but the underlying tone is one of a rather forced and
desperate gaiety, as though the speaker is trying to convince himself as
much as his listener.

There is a particular irony in the use of "For God's sake" that underscores
the poem's basic uncertainty. I was actually reminded far more strongly of
Hemingway's "Chapter Heading" [Poem #976]:

  And we have danced to devil's tunes
      Shivering home to pray

- there is the same sense of pleasures enjoyed only until the price of sinning
intrudes itself on your consciousness.

Gould is a suprisingly unknown poet - I'd never heard of him until I came
across today's piece, and websearching only turned up a couple of other poems
(both excellent - watch this space), and no biography, apart from a rather
sad "Gerald Gould (1885-1936)". If anyone has more information, or some
poems they like, I'd love to hear about them.

martin

Links:
  I found today's poem on Martin Hardcastle's poetry page:
    http://www.chiark.greenend.org.uk/~martinh/poems/

39 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Ian Baillieu said...

The poet here (meaning the poetic voice in the poem) is too
anguished by conscience to be convincing when preaching that
a sinner should at least take honest pleasure in the
sinning. That proposition is put more light-heartedly and
memorably in 'An Argument' by Thomas Moore (1779-1852) :

I've oft been told by learned friars,
That wishing and the crime are one,
And Heaven punishes desires
As much as if the deed were done.

If wishing damns us, you and I
Are damned to all our heart's content;
Come, then, at least we may enjoy
Some pleasure for our punishment!

Sheri K. Stoll said...

GOULD, GERALD (1885-1936) (chron.)
· · * The Earth Child, (pm)
· · Argosy (UK) Jul 1929
· · * Echo, (pm) · Argosy (UK) May 1931
· · * Fallen Cities, (pm)
· · Argosy (UK) Dec 1927
· · * The Happy Tree, (pm)
· · Argosy (UK) May 1939
· · * Loadstone, (pm)
· · Argosy (UK) May 1947
· · * Wander-Thirst, (pm)
· · Argosy (UK) Mar 1940

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