The Murder of William Remington

By Howard Nemerov 1920–1991 Howard Nemerov
It is true, that even in the best-run state   
Such things will happen; it is true,
What’s done is done. The law, whereby we hate   
Our hatred, sees no fire in the flue
But by the smoke, and not for thought alone   
It punishes, but for the thing that’s done.

And yet there is the horror of the fact,   
Though we knew not the man. To die in jail,   
To be beaten to death, to know the act   
Of personal fury before the eyes can fail   
And the man die against the cold last wall   
Of the lonely world—and neither is that all:

There is the terror too of each man’s thought,   
That knows not, but must quietly suspect   
His neighbor, friend, or self of being taught   
To take an attitude merely correct;   
Being frightened of his own cold image in   
The glass of government, and his own sin,

Frightened lest senate house and prison wall
Be quarried of one stone, lest righteous and high   
Look faintly smiling down and seem to call   
A crime the welcome chance of liberty,   
And any man an outlaw who aggrieves   
The patriotism of a pair of thieves.

Howard Nemerov, “The Murder of William Remington” from The Collected Poems of Howard Nemerov (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1977). Copyright © 1977 by Howard Nemerov. Reprinted with the permission of Margaret Nemerov.

Source: The Collected Poems of Howard Nemerov (The University of Chicago Press, 1977)

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Poet Howard Nemerov 1920–1991

Subjects Crime & Punishment, Social Commentaries

 Howard  Nemerov


Howard Nemerov was a highly acclaimed poet often cited for the range of his capabilities and subject matter, "from the profound to the poignant to the comic," James Billington remarked in his frequently quoted announcement of Nemerov's appointment to the post of United States poet laureate. A distinguished professor at Washington University in St. Louis from 1969 to 1990, Nemerov wrote poetry and fiction that managed to engage . . .

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SUBJECT Crime & Punishment, Social Commentaries

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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