Poem: Une Belle Dame Sans Merci

I wrote this some time in the early 1980s before moving to Rockford.  It's been printed in one or two places.  Lovers of Ernest Dowson will recognize the line I have borrowed from one of his best poems.


I spent the night, I could not get to sleep,

         in counting out six million Yiddish sheep.

         It took more time on the slow Russian tongue

         to tell the tale of each Ukrainian,

         and every Cossack, Kulak, Finn and Lett--

         to count ten million, how can I forget?

         I wonder now and then did Chairman Mao

         ask how old so-and-so was doing now?

         Forgetting, much like Claudius, Roman Emperor,

         that he'd dispatched him in a fit of temper.

         So many so-and-sos from which to choose

         your favorite: rich men, poor men, beggarmen,  Jews,

         nameless and faceless as each drop of rain

         that vanishes upon my window pane.


They were all very careful to explain

         the thing that grew inside me felt no pain.

         It was routine--they swore they spoke the truth--

         no more than pulling out a wisdom tooth.

         The room was bright--all porcelain and steel.

         The nurses promised that I would not feel

         anything.  It's strange, this modern math--

         six million over one.  I take a bath--

         such firm athletic flesh (I did not kill!)--

         come downstairs, watch TV, and take my pill.



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Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina

2 Responses

  1. Raymond Olson says:

    I didn’t recognize the Dowson line, but I quite like the whole poem.

  2. Vince Cornell says:

    I would not have thought such an elegant poem could be written about abortion without stooping to sentimentality. Clearly I was wrong.