Song of Social Despair

By Marvin Bell b. 1937 Marvin Bell
Ethics without faith, excuse me,   
is the butter and not the bread.
You can’t nourish them all, the dead   
pile up at the hospital doors.
And even they are not so numerous   
as the mothers come in maternity.

The Provider knows his faults—
love of architecture and repair—   
but will not fall into them for long:   
he can’t afford the adolescent luxury,   
the fellowship of the future   
looks greedily toward his family.

The black keys fit black cylinders   
in the locks in holes in the night.   
He had a skeleton key once,
a rubber arm and complete confidence.   
Now, as head of the family, he is   
inevitably on the wrong side looking out.

Marvin Bell, “Song of Social Despair” from Nightworks: Poems 1962-2000. Copyright © 2000 by Marvin Bell. Reprinted with the permission of Copper Canyon Press, P. O. Box 271, Port Townsend, WA 98368-0271,

Source: Nightworks: Poems 1962-2000 (Copper Canyon Press, 2000)

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Poet Marvin Bell b. 1937

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

Subjects God & the Divine, Death, Living, Religion, Faith & Doubt

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza

 Marvin  Bell


American poet and critic Marvin Bell "is a poet of the family. He writes of his father, his wives, his sons, and himself in a dynamic interaction of love and loss, accomplishment, and fear of alienation. These are subjects that demand maturity and constant evaluation. A complete reading of Bell's canon shows his ability to understand the durability of the human heart. Equally impressive is his accompanying technical . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT God & the Divine, Death, Living, Religion, Faith & Doubt

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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