Weekly Feature: Poetry at The Arts Fuse

Welcome to “Poetry at The Arts Fuse.” A new poem every Thursday.



“I had rather have a fool to make me merry than experience to make me sad— and to travel for it, too.” —ROSALIND, As You Like It.


[After trying to describe

our Euro-concept of war to my master,

a sage in peaceful Houyhnhnm land,


how wars began with the greed of princes,

or with differences of opinions—


[or how] “sometimes our neighbors want

the things we have, or have the things

we want; and we both fight…”


[How we’ve invented weapons, including]

“cannons, culverins, muskets, carabines,

pistols, bullets, powder, swords, bayonets”;


[how we make] “battles, sieges, retreats, attacks,”

[use]  “undermines, countermines, bombardments,”

[have] “sea-fights; ships sunk with a thousand men,

twenty thousand killed on each side”;


[how we suffer] “dying groans, limbs flying in the air,

smoke, noise, confusion, trampling to death

under horses’ feet; flight, pursuit, victory;

fields strewed with carcases left for food

to dogs, and wolves, and birds of prey…”


[—my master remarked:]


“That although he hated the yahoos

of [his own country], yet he no more

blamed them for their odious qualities,

than he did a gnnah (a bird of prey) for its cruelty,

or a sharp stone for cutting his hoof.


“But when a creature pretending to reason”—

such as me and my European breed—

could be capable of such enormities,

he dreaded lest the corruption of that faculty

might be worse than brutality itself.


“He seemed therefore confident,

that instead of reason,

we were only possessed of some quality

fitted to increase our natural vices,


“as the reflection from a troubled stream

returns the image of an ill-shaped

body; not only larger, but more distorted.”


I had hoped to stay with Houyhnhnms

forever, but was banished after three years

by reason of flawed nature.


Their council had decided,

and even my master finally agreed.

A yahoo was a yahoo, however “wonderful.”


He said, “yahoos were known to hate

one another more than they did

any different species of animals;

and the reason usually assigned

was the odiousness of their own shapes,

which all could see in the rest,

but not in themselves.”


I had to build a canoe and set sail

again into the ocean’s vast indifference.


I did reach home, but found

even my family disgusted me.

I’d learned self-hate.


Proudly, I exempted myself from pride,

the greatest fault of yahoos,

and bought two horses for companions.


Except: except for love,

why write my travels?

Houyhnhnms have no need to read.

It’s you dear reader that I seek.

Found poem in Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift, 1726 (edited by Louis A. Landa for Riverside Press/Houghton Mifflin, copyright by Louis A. Landa, 1960).


Quotes from writers copyrighted since 1926 are under “fair use,” with clear attribution.  Those from earlier writers are in the public domain.  Direct quotes are so indicated by conventional single and double quote marks; and paraphrased or indirect quotes by parentheses or brackets.  Omissions from the original texts are indicated by ellipses.  Titles are created by the finder.  Narrative summaries also, where needed, are supplied by the finder, as are verse line breaks, stanzas, and spacing for rhythms and emphasis of voice.  The ambition is to create a new form, while remaining “faithful” to the prose original.

DeWitt Henry’s recent prose collection, Endings & Beginnings: Family Essays (MadHat Press, 2021), was longlisted for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay, 2022. Foundlings: Found Poems From Prose (Gazebo Books, 2022) is soon to be reissued in the US by Pierian Press; and his first full collection, Restless For Words: Poems (Finishing Line Press, 2023), is just out. He co-founded Ploughshares with Peter O’Malley, and is Prof. Emeritus at Emerson College. Details at www.dewitthenry.com.

Note: Hey poets! We seek submissions of excellent poetry from across the length and breadth of contemporary poetics. See submission guidelines here. The arbiter of the feature is the magazine’s poetry editor, John Mulrooney.

Arts Fuse editor Bill Marx

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