Political Poetry

On Communists

What is a Communist? One who has yearnings
For equal division of unequal earnings;
Idler or bungler, or both, he is willing
To for out his penny and pocket your shilling.

–Ebenezer Elliott (1781-1849)

I enjoyed this poem last night.  This is an example of a poem that counters the romantic idealism that floats around in the meme pool where people confuse the Romanticism movement with the form of expression called “poetry”.

But I also enjoyed the “communism” discussion from such an early time and so decided to read a bit about Ebenezer.  Let me share a few chronological points from this Wiki article:

  • He was born the son of a extreme, fiery Calvinist preacher.
  • At 6 years-old he became “fearfully disfigured” from smallpox and as a child, he was generally regarded as a dunce.  Apparently he had a rather solitary and morbid childhood.
  • He became and artist and a poet (first poem at age 17) while helping with his father’s lucrative steel business.
  • He married at age 25 and with his wife eventually had 13 children
  • He went bankrupt and destitute at age 35.  He blamed his losses on the Corn Laws (anti-free trade laws) and fought to repeal them.  Because of this, and his political poems, he became know as “the Corn Law Rhymer”.  Historical notes:  Adam Smith wrote “The Wealth of Nations” in 1776 opposing mercantilism.  John Stuart Mill wrote “On Liberty” in 1859.
  • By age 48 he regained his wealth by successful re-entry as a merchant in the iron industry.  But his previous poverty left him inspired to fight for “the conditions of both the manufacturer and the worker”.  His famous poetry “Corn Law Rhymes were initially thought to be written by an uneducated Sheffield mechanic who had rejected conventional Romantic ideals for a new style of working class poetry aimed at changing the system.
  • He retired at age 60 with a small fortune and died 8 years later.  In the end of his life, Elliott suffered much pain and depression.
I remember seeing this Venn Diagram (by James Sinclair) that went viral a month ago.  It shows how both a concern for the poor and a concern for prosperity can overlap by focusing on government manipulations that can harm both:
Interestingly, the wiki article says: “… [Elliott’s]  poems on the subject [of free trade & the plight of the poor] are saved from the common fate of political poetry by their transparent sincerity and passionate earnestness.”  And he did that all without being romantic.  Likewise, I see that blogs which are not explicitly political blogs harm themselves when they take political positions — unless their writings contain a quality that stands out stronger than a simple political message.


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

3 responses to “Political Poetry

  1. rautakyy

    @Sabio. Your diagram about the OWS and the Tea Party movements is simply great! It really does define both of the movements in a nuthshell. It should be presented to all the adherents of these movements. Which of the two, do you think, would find it easier to accept?

    I have personally known many hard working, intelligent and honest communists, who thought their ideology was all about social justice. Strange how, easily any group of people with such simple agendas get to be abused for power. Is it not?

  2. @ rautakky — actually, it is not my diagram, it is James Sinclair’s. I doubt either group would want to think they have anything in common with the other — that is the nature of groups. But it would be a fun survey.

  3. rautakyy

    “A letter to God

    Today, on the day of the October Revolution,
    I thank thee and praise you, comerade in heavens
    what ever thy name may be, Jahve, Allah, Nirvana, the Gate of Infinity,
    by blood of stubborn people bought and therfore a friend
    and sacred
    to so many who would drown in pain without you,
    today I will dance and sing and drink booze
    and thank and praise you too, small god
    not because you never achieved anything
    on your own,
    but because, you invisible guerilla leader,
    that once in a distant october you were disconnected for good
    from the syphilis eaten lords and maggot filled priests
    and charged with sword in hand to fight for humanity, and have ever since fought alongside human against all sorts of devils
    who try to stop man from taking what is due to him.

    I salute you, God, the silent comrade, sword
    in the smallest of hands of the smallest of slaves in the slave army of Spartacus, you did not waver in Brest when did not falter the soviet soldier,
    you did not evade from the forests of Vietnam
    when the fattest of military pastors tried to sit on your skinny friends,
    together you drove it back to the smelly church,
    and would you have run from Managua when sixteenyearolds in drags spat at their hands,
    to grab the US trained dryland pirate majors by the balls,
    to throw them back over the pond to their own bars
    to drink themselves to death because there is no return.

    Oh God, you faithfull and humble soldier,
    what epic poetry have you been
    on the side of man who made you in his image.

    I thank thee and praise you, the Allah of nations, god of all the poor and labouring
    for in no crucial battle have you not abandoned thy congregation,
    and though the witchdoctors swearing in your name have run away to pay homage and alligiance to those who have with what to pay, allways has the victory come home like a poor person to strike for life and justice,
    and for what else would a poor god strike whose riches are from this world, from the riches of its poor.

    And now, regardless of pressure you have given your support to
    the planned economy and to the equal co-operation of nations, there is a rumour going around the herd of Satan:
    that Aleksandr Blok, a poet, a friend of the people, but also your friend, when claiming having seen your son in the december of 1918 leading an assault at the back of the white guards by a red army partisans, had actually seen absolutely right, and it was not just bombastic behaviour of youth rather your common will,
    born from the strength of the poor people,
    the will of the father and the son and the longhaired, shoeles, hungry, multimillion and totally impatient holy ghost.

    Today, on the day of October Revolution
    I thank thee and praise you also, silent fighter, comrade God, Jahve, Allah, Nirvana, The Gate of Infinite, or what ever thy name be.”

    It is my own free translation of the poem by Finnish poet Matti Rossi from the year 1980. You may make your own conclusions as to what sort of political alignment he recognized, when he wrote all this. There might actually be a better version of it in English by himslef as he studied English in both the University of Edinburgh and in the University of Pensylvania.

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