The older among us will remember that there was a very sad chap named William Remington, who on the bad old McCarthy days suffered for some relatively minor sins, having to do with what had been at one time, our Russian allies. He would have been stuck in jail and forgot, except that he suffered the further misfortune of being beaten to death by a couple of fellow prisoners. This is The Murder of William Remington.

The Murder of William Remington


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.

from The Collected Poems of Howard Nemerov (University of Chicago Press, 1977), copyright © 1977 by Howard Nemerov, used by permission of Margaret Nemerov. The recording was made in 1962/1964 at the Library of Congress, Washington DC, and are used with permission of the Library of Congress.

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