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Jack Gilbert

The Abnormal is Not Courage

The Poles rode out from Warsaw against the German 
Tanks on horses. Rode knowing, in sunlight, with sabers, 
A magnitude of beauty that allows me no peace. 
And yet this poem would lessen that day. Question 
The bravery. Say it's not courage. Call it a passion. 
Would say courage isn't that. Not at its best. 
It was impossible, and with form. They rode in sunlight, 
Were mangled. But I say courage is not the abnormal. 
Not the marvelous act. Not Macbeth with fine speeches. 
The worthless can manage in public, or for the moment. 
It is too near the whore's heart: the bounty of impulse, 
And the failure to sustain even small kindness. 
Not the marvelous act, but the evident conclusion of being. 
Not strangeness, but a leap forward of the same quality. 
Accomplishment. The even loyalty. But fresh. 
Not the Prodigal Son, nor Faustus. But Penelope. 
The thing steady and clear. Then the crescendo. 
The real form. The culmination. And the exceeding. 
Not the surprise. The amazed understanding. The marriage, 
Not the month's rapture. Not the exception. The beauty 
That is of many days. Steady and clear. 
It is the normal excellence, of long accomplishment.

Jack Gilbert’s first book, Views of Jeopardy (Yale University Press, 1962) won the Yale Younger Poets Series and was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Soon after publishing his first book, Gilbert received a Guggenheim Fellowship and subsequently moved abroad, living in England, Denmark, and Greece. During that time, he also toured fifteen countries as a lecturer on American Literature for the U.S. State Department. Nearly twenty years after completing Views of Jeopardy, he published his second book, Monolithos, which won the Stanley Kunitz Prize and the American Poetry Review Prize. Gilbert is also the author of Collected Poems (Knopf, 2012); The Dance Most of All (2009); Transgressions: Selected Poems (Bloodaxe Books 2006); Refusing Heaven (2005); winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, and The Great Fires: Poems 1982-1992 (1996).

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