Weave a circle round him thrice, __And close your eyes with holy dread, __For he on honey-dew hath fed, And drunk the milk of Paradise. —Coleridge, “Kubla Khan” Sam Coleridge smoked opium. Ho hum. If that’s what fueled the fire in his pupils I think Sam would have been a trifle dumb To pass it up because of petty scruples. Talent and morals have no fixed relation— A poet can do anything he pleases: Take drugs, bed whores, drink whiskey, court stupration… He’s not meant to be Socrates or Jesus. Who are these little moralizing schmucks Who wag their fingers at poor poets’ failings? I’m tired of their prim schoolmarmish clucks, Their preachy disapproval, and their railing. If Coleridge enjoyed a whiff of dope You’ve got no call to question the man’s preference. DeQuincey liked it too, and I sure hope You’ll treat their work with due respect and reverence. Dowson took the prize for taboo things— Absinthe, hashish, and prepubescent lasses. And yet the man could write in fluent rings Around his dull contemporary asses. Old Hemingway drank vodka by the quart; F. Scott Fitzgerald went around half-pickled. Charles Dickens lived on Bombay gin and port And frankly, anybody would be tickled To generate the literature they gave The world, despite their liquor-sodden brains. So who the hell are you to try to save Great genius from itself? My patience strains When listening to critics who grow stern And judge a poet’s lifestyle, not his skill. Who knows but that those faults and flaws may earn Him psychic strength to climb the Muses’ hill? The point is this: Weigh artists by their work. It doesn’t matter if a man’s a cad, A liar, drunkard, lecher, or a jerk— Is what he puts on paper good or bad? You pious moralists whose tongues are dripping With priggish cant and strictures against Sam— I’d rather see you stoned, or drunk, or tripping, If you’d then write a poem worth a damn. from Skirmishes (2010) Joseph S. Salemi has published five books of poetry, and his poems, translations and scholarly articles have appeared in over one hundred publications world-wide. He is the editor of the literary magazine Trinacria and writes for Expansive Poetry On-line. He teaches in the Department of Humanities at New York University and in the Department of Classical Languages at Hunter College.