I Just Wanted You to Know, by Westbrook Pegler

I Just Wanted You to Know

by Westbrook Pegler

(From George Spelvin, American and Fireside Chats, 1942, pp. 17-20)


Not many of my readers suspect that, in addition to my well-known knack of expressing petty irritation in terms of high-sounding, moralistic scorn, I possess also an ability to create poetry of great confusion and charm. That is my fault, for these months have been crowded with shrill bickering with the New Deal, the gangsters of the labor rackets, the furriners of the Newspaper Guild, and that always provocative he-shrew, Mr. Harold L. Ickes. Now I feel, however, that I owe it to myself to show something of my esthetic nature, but, as a preliminary, would like to explain that poetry is a great fake, at once the most pretentious and the least respectable method of literary expression.

The poet has a tremendous advantage over those who write in prose in that he works under no requirements to make any meaning clear. This explains why Kipling and Longfellow, for example, are regarded as hack, or naive, poets and their work as doggerel. Thus Mr. George Ade was banging his old gray head against a reinforced concrete artistic absolute when he said that James Whitcomb Riley was "a genuine poet, even if people could understand him." A brave but futile remonstrance on behalf of an old friend. If it had been true Mr. Ade would not have felt the need to say it, and he said it only because he realized that, for all its beauty, Riley's poetry could never be certified as poetry because of the very fact that people can understand it.

Now, I find poetry quite easy and a pleasant relaxation from the toil of standard writing under what might be called straight commission rules. You start with no idea, and write in all directions from a point some distance off center, and your work can ask no higher praise than the verdict that it doesn't seem to mean anything.

For instance:

NIGHT OVER YUGOSLAVIA

Let cravens crawl when the bugles call
And war clouds lower near;
Let vultures fly in the tumbling skies,
What know the brave of fear?

For 'tis the Spartan breed that cries
From soul to soul o'er the centuries
And all is lost when honor dies
For the hearth-fires burning dear

So spring to arms 'mid war's alarms
And curs'd be he who quails.
When strong men fight to defend the right
And Sharon stalks the vales.

It is man's way to die in war
Undaunted yet, forevermore;
What else was valor given for
While freedom yet prevails?

Starts nowhere, goes nowhere, means nothing, but resounds in a sort of way. In short, poetry.

Or this:

Last night, in the storm-wrack down the glade,
Where cowslips bloom in the gentle shade,
My soul went wandering, sore afraid
To drink the wine of fear.

While lightning flashed in the ebon sky,
Your hot lips murmured in a gentle cry,
"My Lover," and I knew 'twas I,
Alone at Cupid's bier.

And yet from the crucible of time
In ectasy of love sublime
The shades in eerie pantomine
They danced in measures drear.

Oh, say, when in the bosky swale
The kine are lowing, wan and pale,
My love sings as the nightingale,
For you are ever near.

I could develop this demonstration if I had more space, but there are Mrs. R., General Johnson and Ray Clapper to think of, and the desk will probably cut hell out of it as it is, which, to poetry, fortunately, makes no difference. But I just wanted you to know.


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