Ballad Of An Intellectual, by e. e. cummings


Listen,you morons great and small

to the tale of an intellectuall

(and if you don’t profit by his career

don’t ever say Hoover gave nobody beer).

‘Tis frequently stated out where he was born

that a rose is as weak as its shortest thorn:

they spit like quarters and sleep in their boots

and anyone dies when somebody shoots

and the sheriff arrives after everyone’s went;

which isn’t,perhaps,an environment

where you would(and I should)expect to find

overwhelming devotion to things of the mind.

But when it rains chickens we’ll all catch larks

--to borrow a phrase from Karl the Marks.

As a child he was puny;shrank from noise

hated the girls and mistrusted the boise,

didn’t like whiskey, learned to spell

and generally seemed to be going to hell;

so his parents,encouraged by desperation,

gave him a classical education

(and went to sleep in their boots again

out in the land where women are main).

You know the rest:a critic of note,

a serious thinker,a lyrical pote,

lectured on Art from west to east

--did sass-seyeity fall for it? Cheast!

if a dowager balked at our hero’s verse

he’d knock her cold with a page from Jerse;

why,he used to say to his friends,he used

“for getting a debutante give me Prused”

and many’s the heiress who’s up and swooned

after one canto by Ezra Pooned

(or--to borrow a cadence from Karl the Marx--

a biting chipmunk never barx.)

But every bathtub will have its gin

and one man’s sister’s another man’s sin

and a hand in the bush is a stitch in time

and Aint It All A Bloody Shime

and he suffered a fate which is worse than death

and I don’t allude to unpleasant breath.

Our blooming hero awoke,one day,

to find he had nothing whatever to say:

which I might interpret(just for fun)

as meaning the es of a be was dun

and I mightn’t think(and you mightn’t,too)

that a Five Year Plan’s worth a Gay Pay Oo

and both of us might irretrievably pause

ere believing that Stalin is Santa Clause:

which happily proves that neither of us

is really an intellectual cus.

For what did our intellectual do,

when he found himself so empty and blo?

he pondered a while and he said,said he

“It’s the social system,it isn’t me!

Not I am a fake,but America’s phoney!

Not I am no artist,but Art’s bologney!

Or--briefly to paraphrase Karl the Marx--

‘The first law of nature is,trees will be parx.”’

Now all of you morons of sundry classes

(who read the Times and who buy the Masses)

if you don’t profit by his career

don’t say Hoover gave nobody beer.

For whoso conniveth at Lenin his dream

shall dine upon bayonets,isn’t and seam

and a miss is as good as a mile is best

for if you’re not bourgeois you’re Eddie Gest

and wastelands live and waistlines die,

which I very much hope it won’t happen to eye;

or as comrade Shakespeare remarked of old

All that Glisters Is Mike Gold

(but a rolling snowball gathers no sparks

--and the same hold true of Karl the Marks).

From “e. e. cummings: Complete Poems 1904-1962: Revised, Corrected, and Expanded Edition Containing All the Published Poetry , “ edited by George J. Firmage. (Liveright: $50). This is to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of e. e. cummings (Oct. 14, 1894). 1994 Reprinted by permission.