each other to the death. Fortunately for one and all thenbattles are almost exclusively on what Kierkegaard called thenaesthetic level of reality. They very seldom rise to the next,nthe ethical level. Because their hearts are turned towards thenburied treasure of aesthetics, they are all too often ethicallyn— that is, socially and politically — primitive and as alike asnpeas in a pod. We need not look to our writers for muchnpolitical and social wisdom or even the excitement andnchallenge of individual eccentricity. As for truth, which is,nafter all, inward and spiritual, we have to be honestly awaren(as so many of our writers are not) that we all live together innthe selfsame social world, sharing not merely experiencesnbut judgments and follies, as well. As a nation, as a society,nour outward and visible problems are not beyond solving.nBut our inward and spiritual weaknesses, our true faults andnflaws then, are more intractable. For instance, we havenbecome accustomed to, inured to, atrocity. Nothing, not thencontinuing Passover or the Slaughter of the Innocents cannraise our eyebrows in shock and surprise. The pain ofnstrangers is meaningless to us. Yet at the same time we arendesperately, sentimentally afraid. As I wrote once, long ago,nin a poem:nWe have lived too long with fear. We takenfear for granted like a drunken uncle,nlike a cousin not quite all therenwho’s always there.nWe are compassionate in the abstract and without muchncharity. We are sentimental and self-pitying in the particular.nAnd we are not even ashamed of it, because we have lostnour capacity for shame. We luxuriate in the bubblebath ofnprivate guilts and lack the essential common and communaln’sense of shame without which there can be no communitynof secular justice. Even the most brutal Caesars werencapable of some shame. Without shame there can be nonconscience. Without conscience there can be no truencompassion, only the illusory comforts of youth and beauty,nof good health while it lasts. No wonder that the words —n”and there is no health in us” — were struck from thengeneral confession in The Book of Common Prayer. Theynare too painful and exact to utter even in prayer.nThere is one more thing that should be said about thenstate of the literary arts in the two generations ofnwriters in America since World War II; namely that, like thenlarger society, having freed themselves more or less from theninhibitions of ethics and religion, many of our most successfulnand celebrated artists have been busy seeking to managenand to control not merely the present — or, like commonplacentotalitarian leaders, revising and reshaping the past tonmake it suit and fit their present purposes—but also, withnwhat earlier generations would surely and immediately havenidentified as unmitigated hubris, have urgently sought tonmanipulate and control the unborn future, making it ancolony, a captured possession, an extension of the present.nThat is, they are trying relentlessly to create and write theirnown history before it happens. That they will fail goesnwithout saying; though precisely how they will fail tonadminister the unimaginable future, can be taken as anninteresting mystery. Equally interesting, here and now, is thencockeyed form of innocence which allows them to imaginen20/CHRONICLESnthat they can possibly succeed.nAll aesthetic claims aside, the artist is not charged withnany priestly duties. We must work out our own salvation andndo so separately and diligentiy. But the artist can, if he will,nspare us somewhat from the heavy yoke of abstraction fromnCreation. And the artist can also, like others in the activenvocations (which is to say the practice of the arts is notnessentially contemplative), the artist can offer us the examplenof his continuing performance, of risking by doing. Asnan important character in Saint-Exupery’s Wind, Sand andnStars says: “What saves a man is to take a step. Then anothernstep. It is always the same step, but you have to take it.”nNot a great claim, but a huge demand, if you think about it.nI have tried, as one must do in an elegy for an admirednartist, to put much of all of this into image and poetry, in anpoem in memory of John Ciardi, an old friend I wish (for allnkinds of reasons) could be here with us tonight. Here it is:nDEAR JOHNnEven as, inch by living inch,nI contrive to chip and cut and carvenmyself into various and sundry parts —nfirst, of course, the fingersnand toes, then ears and nose,nthese offered, as it were, in wordsnof The Book of Common Prayer, to “ben”a reasonable, holy and living sacrifice.”nEyes before sex, arms before legs,nnext the thin peeled skin and lastnthe bloody mess of muscles and meat,nfat and the lonely internal organs.nMust we all be universal donors, John?nToo much to wish for.nBetter (and you knew it and said so,nso well, so many times)nto spend skin and bones, to paynout blood and breath uponn, the wholly unimportant poem:nsomething reasonably simple and simplyn(while memory continues) unforgettable,nyou and I one time, late on my front porchnin York Harbor, Maine, drinkingnstone fences — your special favorite,napplejack and apple cider, allnthe fumes and essences of Eden;ntwo old guys, feeling no pain,nbeneath the brightiy reeling starsnnnwhile nearby, shiny and smoothnas a blacksnake, the river is rising upnto high tide, inch by living inch.n<£>n