He Goads Himself

And was it I that hoped to rattle
    A broken lance against iron laws?
Was it I that asked to go down in battle
    For a lost cause?

Fool! Must there be new deaths to cry for
    When only rottenness survives?
Here are enough lost causes to die for
    Through twenty lives.

What have we learned? That the familiar
    Lusts are the only things that endure;
That for an age grown blinder and sillier,
    There is no cure.

And man? Free of one kind of fetter,
    He runs to gaudier shackles and brands;
Deserving, for all his groans, no better
    Than he demands.

The flat routine of bed and barter,
    Birth and burial, holds the lot…
Was it I that dreamed of being a martyr?
    How—and for what?

Yet, while this unconcern runs stronger
    As life shrugs on without meaning or shape,
Let me know flame and the teeth of hunger;
    Storm—not escape.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on May 26, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.