The Untrue Artist

“The true artist will let his wife starve, his children go barefoot, his mother drudge for his living at seventy, sooner than work at anything but his art” —George Bernard Shaw

I’ve put untapped potential on a shelf
much like a book one someday wants to read.
I’m less concerned with cultivating “Self;”
and now am more concerned with what we need.

We’re married. You’re more beautiful than books.
The Muse is not my mistress anymore.
Despite how mainstream or mundane he looks,
the Pragmatist is no one to abhor.

If I can make it to retirement,
I’ll pen the poems you deserve to hear.
But if the artist in his art is pent,
I’ll eschew those poor penthouses, my dear.

I hope you know that when I stoke the stove,
get out the door, then labor out of sight,
I show my love—not with poems of love,
but with books of poems I won’t write.

Previously published in First Things.



Marriage as a Dance

Everything that’s living craves Existence:
Plants stretch for soil, sun and sky, and rain.
What creature will not devise a defense
against destruction and impending pain?
Of entities with constituent parts,
like ecosystems—engines which burn fuel—
my heart is one. But in my heart of hearts
you are ensconced like an illumined jewel.
More potent than petroleum or wine,
I crave your fuel that helps my engine run.
Beatrice led Dante nearer to the Son
as you help me back to my Maker’s manse—
Who is Existence; He designed the dance
and called it “Good.” His ducks were in a line.



Reid McGrath lives and writes in the Hudson Valley Region of New York.

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17 Responses

  1. Damian Robin

    Thanks Reid for telling of your good husbandry of poetry and ‘real’ life. And telling it well.

    Here’s what I might say to my wife now (though the ‘payoff’ may not be as grand as yours above).

    Good words from Reid that I once had in mind,
    But now ‘retired’ from hunting cash and goods-in-kind,
    Our ‘hobbies’ get more effort as we find
    Both our focused timetables are much aligned.

    • Reid McGrath

      Thank you, Damian. I’m glad you enjoyed it. And thanks for the rendition of your own. I like it.

  2. Andrew Benson Brown

    Enjoyed these greatly, thanks. I especially liked the lines contrasting the Muse and the Pragmatist. I would like to imagine though, that as when Hesiod was approached by the muses while herding sheep, the inspiration for these poems came to you in the fields during a moment when you stopped to wipe the sweat from your brow.

    • Reid McGrath

      Thanks Andrew. While many of my poems come to me out “in the fields,” I cannot be still or stop in order to encourage them along. I usually have to be moving to count out the meter on my fingers. Sitting atop a tractor while mowing hay and bouncing along is typically the most efficacious, in my experience. Glad you enjoyed.

  3. Peter Hartley

    Reid – a splendid but genial counterblast to the dedicated but tunnel- visioned outlook of GBS’s poet, and headed, too, by a painting from Henry Holiday, one of my favourite Pre-Raphaelite pictures in the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, the city where I was born, and so apposite a choice to go alongside your second poem, whose last line I particularly like.

    • Reid McGrath

      Thanks for the kind words, Peter. Evan and SCP are the best at pairing poems with Classical Art, aren’t they?

  4. Paul Freeman

    Very thought-provoking, especially ‘The Untrue Artist’, I felt.

    Funnily enough, arguably the most famous quote by Shaw – ‘Those who can, do. Those who cant, teach.’ – to some extent contradicts the quote at the beginning.

    Thanks for the reads.

    • Reid McGrath

      Thank you, Paul. That is another gem. Thanks for reminding me of it.

  5. Sally Cook

    Dear Reid –
    I admire yoiu. Instead of waiting until retirement to create, you apparently are rolling along throiugh life in a thoughtful way, caring for yoiur own and – gasp – still writing !
    Isn’t it amazing what one can do when necessary?
    You are someone who knows.

    • Reid McGrath

      Thanks Sally! I admire you as well. These poems are a little dated, haha; and I am not as prolific as I once was, but that is probably a good thing. I only want what’s necessary to come to me.

      • Sally Cook

        Dear Reid –
        Your words mean more than most because of what you know. Your work has such depth and maturity!
        I was getting a bit tired of those who feel first, and
        think later; then you showed up.
        Please, let us see more.

  6. Yael

    The Untrue Artist is great! I admire untrue artists and strive to be one myself. Lovely poem, thank you for sharing.

    • Reid McGrath

      Thanks Yael. It’s good to be a little bit of both, no? But when you have a family, as St. Paul says, a man or woman has to think about his earthly responsibilities too.

  7. Cynthia Erlandson

    I especially love “The Untrue Artist” — in fact, it is so memorable that I recognized it right away, from having read it in First Things!

    • Reid McGrath

      Ah, Cynthia. That’s great. I’m glad I could make something stick in your head and I’ll take that as a win. We need more memorable, and memorizable, poetry. Thank you!


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