Monday Feature by Michaela Kahn: A Poem By the Great Kenneth Rexroth in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

The sky is bluer for the brave …

Years ago I said this to a creative writing class I was teaching. I was pretty new to teaching, excited and enthusiastic, and wanted more than anything, more even than to mold them into great writers, to impart in these students a passion for life, art, and language, for ferreting out and speaking the truth, for joining a great and ongoing community of writers and thinkers. I had the class read the whole poem by Rexroth, “For Eli Jacobson,” aloud, and then repeated my favorite lines several times for emphasis: It is good to be brave – nothing is better. Food tastes better. Wine is more brilliant. Girls are more beautiful. The sky is bluer for the brave.…

With Martin Luther King, Jr. Day upon us, I thought of these lines. It isn’t always easy to be brave … Brave in our writing or brave in our own lives, brave in the face of injustice and callousness. Perhaps it is easier, as in Rexroth’s poem, when we are brave together, as comrades.

FOR ELI JACOBSON

By Kenneth Rexroth

December 1952

There are few of us now, soon
There will be none. We were comrades
Together, we believed we
Would see with our own eyes the new
World where man was no longer
Wolf to man, but men and women
Were all brothers and lovers
Together. We will not see it.
We will not see it, none of us.
It is farther off than we thought.
In our young days we believed
That as we grew old and fell
Out of rank, new recruits, young
And with the wisdom of youth,
Would take our places and they
Surely would grow old in the
Golden Age. They have not come.
They will not come. There are not
Many of us left. Once we
Marched in closed ranks, today each
Of us fights off the enemy,
A lonely isolated guerrilla.
All this has happened before,
Many times. It does not matter.
We were comrades together.
Life was good for us. It is
Good to be brave — nothing is
Better. Food tastes better. Wine
Is more brilliant. Girls are more
Beautiful. The sky is bluer
For the brave — for the brave and
Happy comrades and for the
Lonely brave retreating warriors.
You had a good life. Even all
Its sorrows and defeats and
Disillusionments were good,
Met with courage and a gay heart.
You are gone and we are that
Much more alone. We are one fewer,
Soon we shall be none. We know now
We have failed for a long time.
And we do not care. We few will
Remember as long as we can,
Our children may remember,
Some day the world will remember.
Then they will say, “They lived in
The days of the good comrades.
It must have been wonderful
To have been alive then, though it
Is very beautiful now.”
We will be remembered, all
Of us, always, by all men,
In the good days now so far away.
If the good days never come,
We will not know. We will not care.
Our lives were the best. We were the
Happiest men alive in our day.

2 thoughts on “Monday Feature by Michaela Kahn: A Poem By the Great Kenneth Rexroth in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

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