The Poles rode out from Warsaw against the German
Tanks on horses. Rode knowing, in sunlight, with sabers,
A magnitude of beauty that allows me no peace.
And yet this poem would lessen that day. Question
The bravery. Say it’s not courage. Call it a passion.
Would say courage isn’t that. Not at its best.
It was impossib1e, and with form. They rode in sunlight,
Were mangled. But I say courage is not the abnormal.
Not the marvelous act. Not Macbeth with fine speeches.
The worthless can manage in public, or for the moment.
It is too near the whore’s heart: the bounty of impulse,
And the failure to sustain even small kindness.
Not the marvelous act, but the evident conclusion of being.
Not strangeness, but a leap forward of the same quality.
Accomplishment. The even loyalty. But fresh.
Not the Prodigal Son, nor Faustus. But Penelope.
The thing steady and clear. Then the crescendo.
The real form. The culmination. And the exceeding.
Not the surprise. The amazed understanding. The marriage,
Not the month’s rapture. Not the exception. The beauty
That is of many days. Steady and clear.
It is the normal excellence, of long accomplishment.

Analysis, meaning and summary of Jack Gilbert's poem The Abnormal Is Not Courage

1 Comment

  1. Bart says:


    That muck, the mucopurulent mud, between trench walls, where men trudge, spirits mull heavy with war strings, barb-wired, worms twisted into serpent coils, humanity’s morass limbed, guts strung under fuming metal bursts; explosions, overhead, resound until you hear your friend’s whimper in the wind, other strange fallen cries sprung in the ether, fade. In the grip, a clench cannot yield. Out of No Man’s Land’s desolate expanse, the fallen whisper tales. Your brother’s voice squalls. A gas mask clings heavily: two coat hooks pinned upon your cheekbones. Imagine the desperate plea: “Salvation for salvation” from your familiar voice that breathes. Even now, a father, another one’s boy, and an unborn man who is you drift through the third stench. Meat hangs heavily, its unordered oils mingled with chlorine and carrion—soil, blood-soaked—the peaceful bystander—witnesses folly fleshed amidst the empire’s ruins. War, dirt, lingers, a specter, your ghost among the others, your doppelganger, and strife alone haunt the collective, a generation entrenched in trenches with the Treaty of Versailles—a feeble reconciliatory attempt—threshing to sow future disputes, while the trash, the chaff—let us not mention scabs—seed breeze. Trepidation is your uniform’s fabric; war translates the thread in the absurd uniform coat. Thirty-five years later, Jack Gilbert writes, “The Abnormal Is Not Courage.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Do you have any comments, criticism, paraphrasis or analysis of this poem that you feel would assist other visitors in understanding the meaning or the theme of this poem by Jack Gilbert better? If accepted, your analysis will be added to this page of American Poems. Together we can build a wealth of information, but it will take some discipline and determination.