“To make injustice the only measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.”

The line is from the front poem (“A Brief for the Defence”) in the late Jack Gilbert’s Refusing Heaven, and was brought to my attention by an Idlepost reader. It distils a point I made yesterday, against the adepts of “progress,” and would go well with a beer chaser.

Of this poet, Jack Gilbert, I should say too little. I’ll have to read him now, I suppose. I had successfully avoided him till yesterday (though I knew vaguely who he was), and now I see from the Internet sources, and a few of his pieces electronically purloined, that he was some sort of reprobate, like the rest of us. But let us read one poem at a time, and then verse by verse:

We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil. …

That, I would say, showed genuine inspiration, and a sudden, stumbling, theological depth. The line-breaks expose an astute argument, and the shameless didacticism could also be praised. For what I already take as his little foibles, and what looks like narrowness of range, Gilbert has taken poetry seriously. This is seldom done today, when poets so easily satisfy themselves with near approaches to cleverness, choose only among the popular vices, and flee beauty. They desperately jiggle for anyone’s attention; they position themselves for academic advancement; it does not occur to them to say, “Listen, for this is important.”

Turned another way, we omit the Gloria. We look only for where the Gloria is not, and flinch if by accident we see it.

Our world is rather ugly in certain respects, but as I saw from my balconata this evening, in a moment of cloud-break from an overcast day, there is indisputable backlight from Heaven. And on the streets this morning, a most happy scene, with a mother and a child.

We do not want to be always scolding, but sometimes showing the way. But if we must scold, we should scold the scolds, whose fingers are pointed incessantly downwards.