University

By Karl Shapiro 1913–2000 Karl Shapiro
To hurt the Negro and avoid the Jew
Is the curriculum. In mid-September
The entering boys, identified by hats,
Wander in a maze of mannered brick
      Where boxwood and magnolia brood
      And columns with imperious stance
      Like rows of ante-bellum girls
         Eye them, outlanders.

In whited cells, on lawns equipped for peace,
Under the arch, and lofty banister,
Equals shake hands, unequals blankly pass;
The exemplary weather whispers, “Quiet, quiet”
      And visitors on tiptoe leave
      For the raw North, the unfinished West,
      As the young, detecting an advantage,
         Practice a face.

Where, on their separate hill, the colleges,
Like manor houses of an older law,
Gaze down embankments on a land in fee,
The Deans, dry spinsters over family plate,
      Ring out the English name like coin,
      Humor the snob and lure the lout.
      Within the precincts of this world
         Poise is a club.

But on the neighboring range, misty and high,
The past is absolute: some luckless race
Dull with inbreeding and conformity
Wears out its heart, and comes barefoot and bad
      For charity or jail. The scholar
      Sanctions their obsolete disease;
      The gentleman revolts with shame
         At his ancestor.

And the true nobleman, once a democrat,
Sleeps on his private mountain. He was one
Whose thought was shapely and whose dream was broad;
This school he held his art and epitaph.
      But now it takes from him his name,
      Falls open like a dishonest look,
      And shows us, rotted and endowed,
         Its senile pleasure.

Karl Shapiro, “University” from Selected Poems (New York: Library of America, 2003). Copyright © 2003 by Estate of Karl Shapiro. Reprinted with the permission of Wieser & Elwell, Inc.

Source: Poetry (October 1940).

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This poem originally appeared in the October 1940 issue of Poetry magazine

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October 1940
 Karl  Shapiro

Biography

Karl Shapiro’s poetry received early recognition, winning a number of major poetry awards, including the Pulitzer Prize, during the 1940s. Strongly influenced by the traditionalist poetry of W. H. Auden, Shapiro’s early work is “striking for its concrete but detached insights,” Alfred Kazin wrote in Contemporaries. “It is witty and exact in the way it catches the poet’s subtle and guarded impressions, and it is a poetry full of . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Humor & Satire, Activities, Social Commentaries, School & Learning, Arts & Sciences

Poetic Terms Syllabic, Blank Verse, Ode

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