The 4 Most Cold-Blooded Things Ever Written Down
Poetry's for wimps! Everyone knows that. But not many people know why. The reason is that poetry makes you feel something, and emotions are a vulnerability. See? Sissy stuff. That's why the Incredible Hulk gets stronger as he gets angrier -- pure reptilian wrath is nature's most effective wall against feelings.
Puny Banner reads poetry, and it is commonly known that he is a milksop.
There was a time when "poetry" meant sprawling epics about burly heroes tearing the limbs off monsters, but now all the monsters are dead or starring in Real Housewives series, so poets switched their focus. Instead of violent epics, poems became squishy sonnets that begged a wood nymph for sex. As is often the case with sensitive people, their duration was usually under two minutes.
Your modern poem is more modest, but no less feeble. The result is that poetry -- much like the sex it politely requests -- is mildly embarrassing to everyone involved once it's finished. It's also poor form to ask someone point blank if they want to enjoy your miserable efforts at it. Your friends don't want to see your O-face any more than they want to hear a human being speak lines like "Fa-dee-lay sing hey nonny."
Poetry is like music, in that I hate 95 percent of it.
But what if I told you not all poetry had to be about sipping dandelion wine in Elysium? Some poems eschew higher emotion to kick your ass up one stanza and down the other. Prepare yourself for the most cold-blooded poems you will read in April's National Poetry Month.
Also, I will be drunk for what follows, which is an important part of English studies. I say this as a fact: I was straight edge for most of college, and my grades suffered terribly for it.
Emily Dickinson? Keg stands every morning.
If goth kids could slam dunk, this piece would be their Air Bud. We'll teach a robot the meaning of love before we teach it this level of resignation. It's stunning, especially when, as a teenager, you come to realize that the society you've spent your life internalizing is man-made and not always well-planned.
About the Author:
Quick, picture a poet! Whoever you envisioned, it wasn't Percy Bysshe Shelley, because you can't capture a Lord of Imagination on his home turf. But you probably visualized a poet who worshiped him, and that's close enough, because Shelley is the most poetic poet who ever poesied.
This Romanticist was born into idyllic bliss in the countryside, until -- as has been the ruin of many a boy's life -- he attended Eton: a school that teaches Britain's future leaders that a year has three halves. And there his tale becomes the most English childhood you can conceive.
Gruel was in short supply. Beatings were not.
Shelley was bullied for his high voice and for refusing to take part in "fagging," which is less what you're thinking and more of a slave system. It was back in the period before England managed to differentiate between prison and school (in prison the prags have a chance of getting out early). These bullying sessions were known among his peers as "Shelley-Baits."
I'm just kidding. Shelley was peerless.
Like most sensitive kids with a bookshelf, Shelley hid in his room and escaped to a wonderland of reading, then stabbed and electrocuted his classmates before blowing up part of the campus. I do not recommend that you do most of that.
What followed was a series of comic escapades in which the young writer traveled the globe by means of eloping with 16-year-old girls. While he was living the dream, everyone around him focused on less scandalous pastimes of the era, like committing suicide and losing children. He spent most of his time writing about fairies, joining the Invisibles, and shagging around Europe with his wife Mary "I, Frankenstein" Shelley.
They often shacked up with their buddy George Gordon, Lord Byron, who had only one good leg, so he convinced every woman he met to split hers with him. They didn't have high-pressure hoses in that era, so Byron would fight fires by reciting poetry to a crowd of female admirers. Unfortunately, his scorching libido lit more fires than it quenched. If you partied with Baron Byron for an hour and weren't drunk and/or pregnant, you have my condolences on learning in such a horrible fashion that you are a robot.
Byron was the model for the first sexy vampire 80 years before Dracula. So, ladies, he's essentially Ur-Edward Cullen.
Back to Shelley: His scandalous views and behavior shocked to a great degree the landed gentry and the parsonage, but bought this saucy fellow great acclaim. Then he drowned, because hey: 19th century. Fuck else are you going to do?
But before trying to breathe water, he wrote "Ozymandias," a haymaker in the goddamn face of history. It's a poem so cold-blooded, you'd need Walter White himself to do it justice. Oh, look.
Why It's Cold-Blooded:
Sic transit gloria mundi, motherfucker. There is literally nothing you can achieve. And that's coming from a man cool enough to hang out with Romantic poetry's equivalent of the Fonz while seducing the freaking author of Frankenstein, a book so brilliant, you can read it 90 different ways. This poem was Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt" 175 years before that was written.
All those epic songs of heroism I mentioned in the introduction? This is their answer, and it says "Nope!" like it doesn't even care. Half the poems in human history before this one claimed that what we do in life echoes in eternity, until this bookworm who can't even swim stops writing about fairy queens for 14 lines just to shut the entire art form down.
Pictured: The number of poets who wanted to follow this act.
There are 3,182 lines of Beowulf kicking ass, and the first 2,912 get dismissed by Shelley's two stanzas about how pointless that is. The last 270 are just a reminder that even your glorious death is eventually going to vanish from the slate. There are wasp sprays that are less of a buzzkill than Percy Shelley, though none have wiped out quite as many empires with his trademark panache.
Shelley was an atheist back when that shit would get you killed, and he spits out this nihilism like cartilage off a chicken wing. He indicts every act of conquest, every crime, every moral transgression, and the higher glory that justified them by pointing out you could have stayed at home partying and accomplished exactly as much.
Anyway, have another drink.
"The Second Coming"
If you had Baby Boomer grandparents or tried to sleep with a drama major, you probably heard the musical Hair. And although it's the intersection of the two worst harmless things in modern America -- hippies and musicals -- it describes a rotating cosmos dawning into its Age of Aquarius, when monotheistic religions are going to melt into, like, this groovy collective, man. "The Second Coming" preaches something similar, except the collective is the nascent USSR, and we're all going to be subjugated by the Old Ones, as we deserve.
About the Author:
William Butler Yeats was a handsome sumbitch who spent half his life pining for Maud Gonne, a woman with no interest in him. The only way he could have embarrassed himself worse would be if he had laid his scrotum over a puddle for her to keep her feet dry. He followed her around like a puppy that wrote very stirring poetry, but she was more interested in spending her life freeing Ireland from English rule than darning a poet's socks.
And that is exactly why you are so attractive, you independent, feminist, sexually liberated freedom fighter, you.
The two met when they both joined the Golden Dawn -- not today's Greek fascists, but yesterday's mystic circle of creative types. Like a lot of belief systems, the Golden Dawn is dedicated to achieving oneness and perfection and has spent its entire history splintering over how to do that. And that's important, because "The Second Coming" is all about a cleansing sword sweeping the Earth.
Although he believed in a form of Irish independence, Yeats talked big game while achieving so little that in America he's an honorary member of the Democratic Party. Gonne married a badass soldier instead, Major John MacBride, who was basically the anti-Yeats. When the major was executed following Ireland's 1916 Easter uprising, Yeats eulogized him as hard as his little poet wrists could backhand someone. That summer, the poet proposed to the widow Gonne for the fifth time, and the only thing warmer than MacBride's corpse was her contempt for Yeats' eulogy.
Seriously, dude, write yourself some tact.
"The Second Coming" seems like the kind of poem you write when you finally realize you've wasted a quarter of your life hurling your affections at a woman who didn't ask you to cling to your fantasy of her. And it seems that that's exactly what she told him. Enjoy it now with someone you love who doesn't love you back.
Why It's Cold-Blooded:
Because it murmurs rather than shouts about the Second Coming. Just not the second coming of any god you worship or recognize or could behold without bleeding from the eyes.
Oh, don't worry, faithful Christian soldiers -- Jesus is in the poem. In fact, the entire first stanza describes a world in its chaotic final days, natural bonds broken and as ready as it's ever going to get for its savior.
And then the second stanza explains that no gentle Messiah can help you, having already failed to thwart more powerful gods, and why can't I stop screaming?
Look upon the face of your destroyer and know peace.
This is one of the most quotable poems in human history, probably because it repeats in your brain until it recites itself while you're just trying to eat your goddamn cornflakes, is that too much to ask? It is quite likely that this poem is alive and wriggling out of the magical chains that bind it from transforming reality.
The arcane entries in H.P. Lovecraft's Necronomicon change every time you look at its table of contents, but none of them is as frightening as this prophecy of doom -- or worse, deliverance. "The Second Coming" straddles the line between sociology and gnostic mysticism so fiercely that you almost forget that that line does not exist because those are two completely unrelated systems.
Consider this phrase: "the blood-dimmed tide." Whoa. Hold that up to the light for a second and reflect on it. Do you know how much blood it takes to tinge the ocean? When Yeats wrote the poem, World War I had just finished drawing new charts of inhumanity, and the Soviet Revolution had kicked off its world tour by murdering teenage girls.
Not that the czars were great people, but come on.
So it's not just blood, but a "flood of Reds," you might say. But this can't go unanswered, right? Surely these immoral beasts in the East will be met by an equal force. Surely some revelation is at hand. I mean, surely -- oh, jumping jelly beans, here comes the Sphinx.
The era of the resurrected messiah is falling away, Yeats assures us. But if we don't live in an era of forgiveness and morality, at least there can be just deserts and desert justice. At least some kind of god exists, with an unforgiving "blank and pitiless" gaze that will crush the stupid along with the weak, if not the passionate worst. You've had your time in the benevolent sun, you savage sons of bitches. A monster is coming to transform the Earth and bring humanity to bear, some alien intelligence maybe we can back ...
Quite possibly TV's Gordon Ramsay.
... unless -- wait, what if it doesn't? What if these thugs shooting children in the head in the name of new ideologies go unanswered? What if the Sphinx is as much myth as the Messiah?
And that's when the full doom of this poem is upon you: The terror is not that this dread creature heralds a new age, but that it might fail to arrive, and we are alone with villains.
"A Poison Tree"
There's anger, there's boiling rage, there's simmering, abiding hatred, and beyond all that sits an icy ball of preserved wrath. The speaker in "A Poison Tree" is the man that wrath dreams of one day becoming.
A quiet man who kept to himself.
About the Author:
There is so, so, so much badass poetry from William Blake, a guy so conscious that life's heartbreaks gave him fever dreams and so poetic that he turned those dreams into his own private religion. Which is why you should read "The Tyger" and realize that it's always the quiet ones.
But if you want to see why it's always the quiet ones, you have to read "A Poison Tree." When Loki writes his memoirs, "A Poison Tree" will be their epigraph.
And the tears of 10 million Tom Hiddleston groupies will water the flowers at his grave.
I'm going to frame this one with Internet terms you recognize. Imagine that every Socially Awkward Penguin meme you ever saw was compressed into a single person. That person would explode into Courage Wolf and be known colloquially as William Blake -- a man so complex, his worldview gets its own appendix in physics textbooks. His work meditated on the transition from innocent naif to scarred but capable badass, just like you're doing right now by assuming your final form, teenagers!
Here's how his best friend saw him.
If you mapped his beliefs starting with "Go, gnostic Lucifer!" and ending at "We are all God!" you'd run out of universe before you ran out of ink, and there'd be at least three crossovers with Doctor Who. Suffice it to say that this is a man who felt Dante's Divine Comedy wasn't complicated enough.
That cosmology is the entire basis for Red Dragon, meaning within the core of Hannibal Lecter lurks a Romantic poet buried at least three secret origins deep. And he saved his wrath for important targets that made life suck for people.
Oh, and he wrote a poem calling his wife selfish for not letting him tomcat around. Let's face it: It's a big world out there, and Willy Blake wasn't singing songs of experience in enough of it.
With his Willy Blake.
Now you know all the William Blake things. Here is the poem:
Why It's Cold-Blooded:
If you've ever hated -- if you've ever really hated someone, ongoing and even in your quiet, calm moments -- you understand this poem perfectly. In the fugue of rage, it's more important to hurt the other guy than to not be hurt yourself.
This poem has all of that rancor, plus self-control.
This man built a trap entirely of hate and pretending not to hate, which you might recognize as the Republican legislation strategy, but which I assure you is much more impressive in poetry. He aggravated his own misery, subsumed his own happiness, and denied his own identity in order to foster his enemy's demise. You think in your life that you've explored the terrain of hatred. William Blake draws maps of it, and in the unexplored corners he writes, "Beware, Here there be Me!"
God couldn't craft a Tyger without first imagining William Blake to meditate on it.
The first stanza is important because it makes it clear that Blake is not a fuck. Otherwise it would just be a poem about a guy who can't take the high road. Why are they enemies? We don't know. But in context, we know that Blake is a reasonable guy. Someone did him wrong, and he'd rather rectify matters. He airs his grievances and sets that balloon of anger out in the world to drift away beyond sight and choke the sea turtles of forgetfulness.
OK, second go: same setup. But now, this is not someone the speaker can be reconciled with. This enemy was never in the right. You go to him and make peace, he'll just keep on acting nine flavors of asshole in a bathroom that only seats three.
OK then. It is on like Don Juan's condom, son. You just gave the world's most powerful imagination cause to think of nothing but ways to destroy you. And this isn't just anger. This is WRATH. This is righteous, holy, over-the-top fury reserved for the Lord God himself, right down to the forbidden tree-based methodology.
He's so conniving, a monocle actually makes him look LESS evil.
Does Blake attack him? No. He smiles, nods, and waits. He goes about his business. He plants a tree. Are these the actions of a man seeking vengeance, officer? These are the creative pursuits of an 18th century Englishman moving on with his life ... knowing that his happiness will infuriate his foe and draw him closer. Blake puts more revenge into 14 lines of gardening than most nations put into a century of war.
The enemy is poisoned by his own vice. Sure, Blake grew a poisonous apple from his misery. But if this guy -- let's call him Pat Boone, because that guy was the first person to ruin rock-and-roll -- hadn't relished Blake's misery, that would have been the end of it. And this is how we know that Pat Boone's an asshole -- all he had to do was leave a fellow alone.
And not bleach the life out of "Tutti Frutti" like some kind of dickhead.
But no, Blake's wrath was irresistible to him, so he comes running to taste it. It's like that old saying: "You catch more flies with honey than vinegar, and then you poison the goddamn honey so no fly ever enters your house again."
"My Last Duchess"
You know how Carrie would be a suburban fairy tale about a nerd who becomes prom queen if it stopped right there? But instead it keeps going to become a horrific rampage? This is like that. It's Beauty & the Beast if it stopped in the second act.
About the Author:
Robert Browning and his wife, Elizabeth, were two sensitive souls in utter awe of each other.
Feel the heat radiating from these entangled stars.
This poem is about a dude nothing like that. He's a monster that walks like a man. It's the longest poem here, but I dare you to read it and not think of someone you feared in high school. (Perhaps Chad? It's always a Chad or a Dean.)
Why It's Cold-Blooded:
Whoa whoa whoa ... did that guy just whack his child bride for smiling too much? If I could sum up my ethos in three rules, it would be:
1) Don't date kids.
2) Don't kill anybody.
3) Don't crush happiness.
This guy breaks all of those rules with one command for a compounded result of 10 to the 14th screaming horrified power. When he reaches the moral bottom of humanity, he grabs a shovel and starts excavating the floor. Scholars are pretty certain the speaker is Italian duke Alfonso II d'Este, but I believe it's actually Vandal Savage. Who, in turn, is the speaker in the Rolling Stone's "Sympathy for the Devil."
All Vandal Savage does in comics is heal from mortal wounds and drink wine.
This champion of unprecedented greed couldn't stand that his servants received the same share of unconditional love as he did. It costs him nothing for her to be happy, but it offends him that his nobility fetches the same reward as a sunset. He wants to own everything, and he hates anything he can't possess. If he can't have it -- or if he has to share it -- a guy like this will always destroy it instead.
And on a deeper level, he hates that her innocent joy is beyond his grasp. He wouldn't understand real happiness if the Ghost of Christmas Past blew him on a roller coaster, so he destroys what he cannot possess. Some people (let's call them "our rulers") only understand the world in terms of what they can own.
All that money and no dignity.
But it's also a reminder that most people don't know what they want, and money and power don't change that. So he fills his life with valuable possessions to impress people whose opinion he doesn't care about.
And the worst bit is that murdering or imprisoning his child bride for the crime of being happy is another objet d'art for him to flash, a way to impress somebody's servant with his power -- not even an equal of his! Also -- jokes or something go here. Make your own, because I'm too aghast.
But such is the spirit of man that the drive to own and control would rather snuff it. He'll take a mere echo of what she brought to the world because he can hide it for himself. He doesn't understand that it can be shared without losing value.
And now he is going downstairs to arrange his next marriage ...
Brendan didn't pay that much attention in English class, but he learned the meaning of "cold-blooded" writing about the Illuminati in Five Weird Search Terms You Used. But he'd much rather you enjoy his friend Karen's cooking blog.
Related Reading: Some poets made their name with plagiarism, but Brendan preferred to call it satire when he taught you how to write men's fiction by stealing from Cormac McCarthy.
For more real conversation for your ass, check out 18 Unexpected (and Real) Quotes by Famous Figures.