Sabbaths, 2003: VII

This, then, is to be the way? Freedom’s candle will be

snuffed out by freedom’s sworn defenders, chanting

hourly the praise of freedom. Their praise

will console the free waking in their prisons

when the Bill of Rights has at last

dissolved in the indifference of the great Self

of force. When the strong have perfected their triumph

over the weak, great symphonies will still

be played in the concert halls and on the radio

to console the forgetful and the undisturbed; the doors

will still stand open at the art museus,

rewarding the oppressed for their oppression; poets

will still intone fluently their songs

of themselves, to reward the fearful for their fear. Oh,

the lofty artists of sound, of shape and color,

of words, will still accept proudly their jobs

in universities, their prizes, grants, and awards.

On the day that ugliness is perfected in rubble

and blood, beauty and the love of beauty will

still be praised by those well paid to praise it.

*

When they cannot speak freely in defiance

of wealthy self-elected to righteousness,

let the arts of pleasure and beauty cease.

Let every poet and singer of joy be dumb.

When those in power by owning all the words

have made them mean nothing, let silence

speak for us. When freedom’s light goes out, let color

drain from all paintings into gray puddles

on the museum floor. When every ear awaits only

the knock on the door in the dark midnight,

let all the orchestras sound just one long note of woe.

—Wendell Berry

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