A Dilemma - Poem by Ambrose Bierce
Filled with a zeal to serve my fellow men,
For years I criticised their prose and verges:
Pointed out all their blunders of the pen,
Their shallowness of thought and feeling; then
Damned them up hill and down with hearty curses!
They said: 'That's all that he can do-just sneer,
And pull to pieces and be analytic.
Why doesn't he himself, eschewing fear,
Publish a book or two, and so appear
As one who has the right to be a critic?
'Let him who knows it all forbear to tell
How little others know, but show his learning.'
The public added: 'Who has written well
May censure freely'-quoting Pope. I fell
Into the trap and books began out-turning,
Books by the score-fine prose and poems fair,
And not a book of them but was a terror,
They were so great and perfect; though I swear
I tried right hard to work in, here and there,
(My nature still forbade) a fault or error.
'Tis true, some wretches, whom I'd scratched, no doubt,
Professed to find-but that's a trifling matter.
Now, when the flood of noble books was out
I raised o'er all that land a joyous shout,
Till I was thought as mad as any hatter!
(Why hatters all are mad, I cannot say.
'T were wrong in their affliction to revile 'em,
But truly, you'll confess 'tis very sad
We wear the ugly things they make. Begad,
They'd be less mischievous in an asylum!)
'Consistency, thou art a'-well, you're _paste_!
When next I felt my demon in possession,
And made the field of authorship a waste,
All said of me: 'What execrable taste,
To rail at others of his own profession!'
Good Lord! where do the critic's rights begin
Who has of literature some clear-cut notion,
And hears a voice from Heaven say: 'Pitch in'?
He finds himself-alas, poor son of sin
Between the devil and the deep blue ocean!
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