Two Laws

In this imperfect world who suffers less:
A good man wrongly jailed with conscience clear?
Another whose low deeds he can’t confess
Though from man’s laws he nothing has to fear?
The first may sleep quite soundly in his cell,
With physical discomfort he can live;
The miscreant cannot his guilt dispel,
Nor deep down in himself his sins forgive.
For actions can be wrong yet lawful still
And harming others bears this mental price:
That prisons without walls these sinners fill
Who morals and their conscience sacrifice.
__Two sets of laws pertain upon this earth,
__One man’s, but moral law much more is worth.



The Sentimental Builder

Who’ll live here now ‘long with my mem’ries
What stranger walk these floors I laid
Who’ll trust the walls to keep out enemies
When lashed by storms sit unafraid?

Who’ll peer through windows I assembled
In thoughtful times my ceiling scan
Climb these stairs that never trembled
Crafted by this working man?

Though deed will say he is freeholder,
This place in spirit I still claim
For I bent arm and back and shoulder;
Yet none will ever know my name.

Do I begrudge an owner’s leisure
In this house I labored on?
No, I’ll take hammer, saw and measure,
Draw my pay and I’ll be gone.



The Cost of Free Money

When man is given everything he needs
The motivation for his labor ends;
Sufficiency to idle living leads,
As want upon deficiency depends.
While soporific thoughts pervade his mind
Remaining diligence will be the cost
And when he’s by his indolence defined,
From others and himself, respect is lost.
Less favored man must work an honest day
Before he can enjoy some hours of rest;
Yet his reward’s much greater than his pay,
Of dignity and pride he is possessed.
__Perhaps it’s there a golden lesson lies:
__It’s not a life of ease that satisfies.


Philip Keefe was born in Wales and educated in England. A sometime carpenter, sailor and song lyricist he is now a naturalized American citizen retired and living in Rockledge, Florida.

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9 Responses

  1. Martin Rizley

    Very enjoyable and insightful reflections on perennial themes: the nature of liberty, the value of work and the danger of idleness. A good deal of practical wisdom here, presented in a poetically pleasing way. Well done!

    • Philip Keefe


      Thank you for your comment. I am very glad you enjoyed the poems and their content.

  2. C.B. Anderson

    Martin is correct. These poems were well wrought. And having written that, I think that you will not be offended by a bit of technical criticism. In the next-to-last line of the first poem, I think that “obtain” would be better than “pertain.” The poem is, of course, a discussion about conscience, something that everyone except sociopaths must deal with.

    In the second poem, I think you are shy a few commas or other marks of punctuation, which would have made the thrust of your narrative much clearer. And (in the first stanza) “memories” (without the apostrophe) is a much better slant rhyme for “enemies.” I like this poem especially for its bearing on the value of honest work done well.

    The third poem, to me, pretty much explains the moral depravity of the modern Welfare State and, for that matter, indolent trust-fund children.

    Your work is rather good, Philip. Keep it going.

    • Peter Hartley

      Philip – three well-constructed poems with a theme perhaps not so popular today as hitherto, the giving of moral guidance (which can sometimes preface the horror of being judgmental). The praise of honest toil is well handled.

      • Philip Keefe


        Thank you for your positive comments.
        You are right about the tendency to be judgmental and some might say that it is a failing of mine to be so but writing on a moral theme I do keep asking myself how does it apply or how has it applied to me, and the answer can be very unsettling looking back on a long life!

    • Philip Keefe

      I have read many of your comments on this site and because I respect your opinions I have to say that I am very appreciative of your kind words about my poems.
      I think your suggestion of “obtain” as a substitute for “pertain” is an interesting one though having checked an online dictionary they seem to be quite interchangeable in meaning in this context.
      Thank you very much for your encouragement.

      • C.B. Anderson

        The definition of “obtain” that pertains here is: to be established, accepted, or customary.

  3. Philip Keefe


    Below is one definition of “pertain” which gives “obtain” as a synonym. “Obtain” would be a perfectly good substitute though so I guess we’re both right.


    synonyms: exist, be the order of the day, obtain, be in effect, be the case, be prevalent, prevail, be current, be established
    “salaries which are much lower than those that pertain in Western Europe”

    • C.B. Anderson

      Though I have never heard or read “pertain” being used in any of the senses you cited (“pertain” usually meaning in relation to), I suppose we are arguing about the prefixes “ob-” and “per-” as to how they affect the meaning of the root-word “-tain” from a Latin word that means “to hold.” It’s just not worth it. Your poems were good, and I hope to read more of them in the fullness of time.


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