David Ball

Generations

In the night of August 4th 1914
Henry James writing an American friend
envied those of his generation who had
not lived to see that hour,
to feel the anguish and dismay (his words)
that a long century of betterment had led finally
to this, to the unleashing of monstrous war.

The generation of my parents
fought the war to defeat fascism
established the welfare state
experienced full employment
granted independence to the empire.

But at the time it was their philistinism,
their narrow respectability,
which seemed to me so timid, compared
to the life of art that I would lead,
and who will blame the artist if
a generation later it was other voters
who turned timid
opted for law and order
for making others pay
for finding new or old enemies?

 

David Ball, professor emeritus of French and comparative literature, is a poet in his own right and a practicing translator. He has published nine book-length collections from French (five with collaborator Nicole Ball.)