Proverbs for Engraving onto Imperial Monuments

War is the price of freedom. Depths bewilder.
The blow aimed at the beast hits him who shields it.
The sword of Justice best serves him who wields it.
The gibbet’s final victim is its builder.
A round coin rolls to him who most deserves it.
A tree outlives its leaves; an age, its fashions.
A carthorse needs its blinders; man, his passions.
The word of Justice best shields him who serves it.
The ardent spirit breaks the firm retort.
Power bears scrutiny like the sun the gaze.
God speaks His queer commands one thousand ways.
The worm awaits. The butterfly is dreaming.
The price of peace is bondage. Chains support.
Persuasion is a proof. Seeing is seeming.

previously published in Philosophy Now


By a Poet of Two-and-Twenty

(When Rimbaud Was Retired and Chatterton Was Dead)

Today I’m two-and-twenty,
__As Housman’s “Lad” was, once,
But no sum of sighs a-plenty
__Can educate a dunce.
And yet the Muse has mired
__In many a youthful head:
Here Rimbaud was retired,
__And Chatterton was dead.

Since I was one-and-twenty
__(Or rather, twenty-one),
I’ve no dolce far niente
__For I hear the clock-hands run.
They shout semaphore instructions,
__“Tock” close on the heels of “Tick,”
Cry “No time for introductions!
__Rock boats! Make ripples! Quick!”

At fifteen Gauss solved the sigma;
__Mozart’s “Serenade for Winds”
Came at nine. Their shared enigma:
__How to follow Wunderkinds
Who scribbled words inspired
__Till their artful fingers bled
When Rimbaud was retired
__And Chatterton was dead.

previously published in The Lyric



Daniel Galef’s comic verse has been published in Light Quarterly, Measure, and New York Magazine, and he is a featured author in the Potcake Chapbooks series of mini-anthologies from Sampson Low.

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2 Responses

  1. James Sale

    I think these two poems are both wonderful, especially the first: I love its gnomic, gnarly quality and yet the wisdom too it contains, but which officialdom rarely, if ever, states so baldly. War is the price of freedom? Usually we get the more anodyne ‘vigilance’ or ‘eternal vigilance’ is the price; and of course the last line packs such a punch: ‘Seeing is seeming’. Nothing is really what it is and we are pretty deluded if we think otherwise. And as for the last two lines of the Rimbaud/Chatterton piece – absolutely brilliant. The idea that Rimbaud was actually ‘retired’ at 22, given his restless (and I would say, evil) energies seems ludicrously inappropriate … yet so right too. This is writing of a very high order indeed.


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