When UD got to the word “amorality” in the famous anonymous op-ed, she was pleased. She loves the word amoral, its soft letters smoothly rolling out, and inside it love itself – amor, folded equally beautifully inside the famously beautiful word sycamore.


The root of the problem is the president’s amorality
Anyone who works with him knows he is not moored…


The long soft Os
You moored in your prose…

Although everyone knows
Amoral: poetry, moral: prose

When eye and ear encountered those
Something poetic interposed

(Moored, and the Moor himself arose
Root, The Name of the Rose)

Amid constitutional throes
Aesthetic repose


When something poetic interposes, we fly above morality. For his poem, “A Spring Song,” Donald Davie chooses as epigraph a phrase from Pope:

“stooped to truth and moralized his song”

Truth is what we’re moored in; art frees us. Here’s Davie’s poem.


Spring pricks a little. I get out the maps.
Time to demoralize my song, high time.
Vernal a little. Primavera. First
Green, first truth and last.
High time, high time.

A high old time we had of it last summer?
I overstate. But getting out the maps…
Look! Up the valley of the Brenne,
Louise de la Vallière… Syntax collapses.
High time for that, high time.

To Château-Renault, the tannery town whose marquis
Rooke and James Butler whipped in Vigo Bay
Or so the song says, an amoral song
Like Ronsard’s where we go today
Perhaps, perhaps tomorrow.

Tomorrow and tomorrow and… Get well!
Philip’s black-sailed familiar, avaunt
Or some word as ridiculous, the whole
Diction kit begins to fall apart.
High time it did, high time.

High time and a long time yet, my love!
Get out that blessed map.
Ageing, you take your glasses off to read it.
Stooping to truth, we potter to Montoire.
High time, my love. High time and a long time yet.


Spring pricks because the dude is old and way unspringlike; the whole poem is an ironic Spring Song, a sour, self-mocking meditation on the increasing failure of the yearly regreening project, and the unavoidable oncomingness of his dissolution/silence (syntax collapses; diction kit begins to fall apart).

Meanwhile – ahem! – let’s de-moralize our song – that is, let’s use poetry for what it’s always been – a way to sidestep and postpone, beautifully, sinuously, the ugly obdurate boring truth of death. “First / Green, first truth and last.” Obvious truth: We’re born; we die.

So, shit. Have a high time while you can; haul out the maps and travel the Loire Valley.

But it was precisely his wife’s act there, last summer, of getting out a map – such a simple, ordinary gesture – that shatteringly disclosed for the poet the truth of their both being very old. “Ageing, you take your glasses off to read it.”

So, fuck. I just did it. I stooped to truth.

Okay, so sometimes one stoops. But one ought not stop. Let’s not stop at truth. Let’s keep traveling and keep singing the amoral song, the song that doesn’t say anything but truthlessly, ruthlessly, ecstatically, sings.

Merrily we roll along, so where do we go tomorrow? Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow fuck I did it again, let my truthy mind creep in a petty pace to the last syllable and dusty death. James Merrill made the same point, although in the last stanza of his poem, “Santorini: Stopping the Leak,” it’s not singing but dancing:

Here, finally, music that would take Satie
Twenty-five hundred years to reinvent
Put naked immaturity through paces
Of a grave dance – as if catastrophe
Could long be lulled by slim waists and shy faces…


As if!


Shake it off! There. Back to the amoral song and dance. High time, my love. High time, and a long time yet.

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2 Responses to ““[P]rose is principally an ethical project, while poetry is amoral…””

  1. dmf Says:

    This art of dissimulation reaches its peak in man…

  2. Margaret Soltan Says:

    dmf: Yes. That’s the text.

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