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“Virtue’s a kind / of despair, / masquerading as care.” A poem by a leading American ‘Language ...
2019-07-11 10:00:00
deep soundings

The Darkness He Called Night

“L’Atmosphère: Météorologie Populaire”, Camille Flammarion, Paris, 1888
The Darkness He Called Night
The Darkness He Called Night

Virtue’s a kind
of despair,
masquerading as care.
A bitter
current is for
virtue sweet.
Sublime wine sours
its mouth.
Snakes eat from
its hands.
Jackasses obey its
whim. Self-
nomination papers its
path. Method
is its M.O.,
holding tight to
a higher
love and fervently
displayed empathies.
Virtue’s sword
is truth, in
love with
itself, at odds
with others.
Celebrating standards it
fashions, virtue
jams miscreants, shams
malcontents, shaming
those abjure improvement.
The passion
of virtue is
reprimand. Nothing
is more beautiful
to virtue
than compelling justice
and shattering
dissent: slashes in
a pan
that will never
absolve aesthetics.


Read an introduction to this poem.


Charles Bernstein

was born in 1950. He is a poet, critic, educator and advocate of experimental and innovative poetry, one of the founders of the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E movement which came into prominence in the 1970s and influenced the development of American poetry at the turn of the century. He has published numerous collections of poetry, most recent of which is “Near/Miss” (University of Chicago Press, 2018), and several collections of essays, including “Attack of the Difficult Poems: Essays and Inventions” (University of Chicago Press, 2011). From 1990 to 2003, he was David Gray Professor of Poetry and Letters at the State University of New York at Buffalo, and Director of the Poetics Program. At SUNY Buffalo, he co-founded the Electronic Poetry Center with Loss Glazier (epc.buffalo.edu), and in 2002, he was appointed SUNY Distinguished Professor – the university’s highest rank. Bernstein was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences in 2006. Other awards and honors include The 1999 Roy Harvy Pearce / Archive for New Poetry Prize of the University of California, San Diego; the University of Pennsylvania Dean’s Award for Innovative Teaching; a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship; and the Bollingen Prize (2019).