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POETICAL EXCURSION #4

“The Measures Taken”, by Erich Fried (1921-1988).

The lazy are slaughtered

the world grows industrious

The ugly are slaughtered

the world grows beautiful

The foolish are slaughtered

the world grows wise

The sick are slaughtered

the world grows healthy

The sad are slaughtered

the world grows merry

The old are slaughtered

the world grows young

The enemies are slaughtered

the world grows friendly

The wicked are slaughtered

the world grows good

(Michael Hamburger, trans. From World Poetry.)

German poet Erich Fried was an Austrian Jew who fled that country following the Anschluss in 1938 after his father’s beating death by the Gestapo. Fried eventually became a prominent Socialist, and he also became a prominent figure in Germany’s anti-war movement during the Viet Nam era. This particular poem strikes me as being fairly relevant today as War reasserts itself as a force in human affairs. Fried uses the word “slaughtered” over and over, allowing its connotations to give the lie to the central idea behind war — i.e., that by making war on that which we consider undesirable the world will necessarily be better as a result. A “slaughter” implies a very messy affair, a certain ugliness. Consider a battlefield drenched in blood, cities demolished by bombing, rampant disease and starvation that seem to follow such devastation — all these are suggested by the word “slaughter”. Fried is telling us that war, by itself, never makes the world “industrious”, “beautiful”, “wise”, or anything else. Agree or disagree with Fried’s anti-war position, this poem is still an elegant summation of that position.

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