Sunday, 27 September 2009

KENNETH REXTROTH -THOU SHALL NOT KILL ( a memorial for Dylan Thomas )

Kenneth Rextroth was born on December 22,1905, in South Bend,Indiana, and died on June 6,1982, in Montecito,California.He moved to San Francisco from Chicago in 1927 to become involved in leftist politics and began by helping to organize maritime labour unions. During World War II Rextroth was a conscietious objector, a political stance he shared with his friend , the Californian poet William Everson, who later summarized Rextroth's predominant influence on local writers in the essay "Rextroth: Shaker and Maker."

An Anarchist poet, critic, translator and playwright,Rextroth also wrote regular columns as the West Coast literary correspondent for the NATION and the Saturday Review. In particular ,Rextroth's interest in Asian literature and philosophy contributed to the Beat writers' study of what Ginsberg called "Bhuddha consciousness."Rextroth's translations of Asan poetry published by New Directions were a seminal influence on Gary Snyder and other young poets.

It was at one of Rextroth's weekly "seminars in his apartment at 250 Scott Street above Jack's Record Cellar that Ginsberg heard him read an early mimeographed version of his eulogy for the popular Welsh poet Dylan Thomas titled "Thou Shalt Not Kill."Rextroth wrote the poem shortly after Thomas's death from alcoholism on November 9, 1953. In "Thou Shalt Not Kill," Rextroth's scathing charge that capitalism had vanquished the century's most promising writers in it materialistic pursuit of power and its worship of the destructive god Mammon would reverberate in Ginsberg's' later poem "Howl."


This poem was written in one sitting, a few hours after a phone came from New York with the news that Dylan(Thomas)had died. It was circulated widely, mimeo'd to all my friends. The copies were all plainly labelled "NOT FOR PUBLICATION".Nevertheless it has been printed without my permission, in Japanese, Greek, French, English and several other languages, in a shortened form. In most cases I believe it was thoght to be effective ammunition in the Cold War. After seeing the last section in print a friend wrote me "You have a point, powerfully put, but the other side is much worse." The "other side "? Dylan and I are the "other side" The poem is directed against the twentieth, the Century of Horror. It says the same thing Holderin or Baudelaire said of the nineteenth century, but it has the benefit of what the philosophers call " an inclusion series ";one hundred more years. I am well aware that ther are no loger the suicides east of the Iron Curtain there used to be. The first wave was thorough and effective.
Kenneth Rextroth


They are murdering all the young men.
For half a century now, every day,
They have hunted them down and killed them.
They are killing them now.
At this minute, all over the world,
They are killing the young men.
They know ten thousand ways to kill them.
Every year they invent new ones.
In the jungles of Africa,
In the marshes of Asia,
In the deserts of Asia,
In the slave pens of Siberia
In the slums of Europe,
In the nightclubs of America,
The murderers are at work.

They are stoning Stephen
They are casting him forth from every city
in the world.
Under the Welcome sign,
Under the Rotary emblem,
His body lies under the hurling stones.
He was full of faith and power.
He did great wonders among the people.
They could not stand against his wisdom.

They could not bear the spirit with which
he spoke.
He cried out in the name
Of the tabernacle of witness in the wilderness.
They were cut to the heart.
They gnashed against him with their teeth.
They cried out with a loud voice.
They stopped their ears.
They ran on him with one accord.
They cast him out of the city and stoned him.
The witnessess laid down their clothes
At the feet of a man whose name was your name -

You are the murderer.
You are killing the young men.
You are broiling Lawrence on his gridiron.When you demanded he divulge
The hidden trasures of the spirit,
He showed you the poor.
You set your heart against him.
You seized hin and bound him with rage.
You roasted him on a slow fire.
His fat dripped and spurted in the flame.
The smell was swwet to your nose.
He cried out,
"I am cooked on this side,
Turn me over and eat,
Eat of my flesh."

You are murdering the young men.
You are shooting Sebastion with arrows.
He kept the faithfull stadfast under

First you shot him with arrows.
The you beat him with rods.
Then you threw him in the sewer.
You fear nothing more than courage.You who turn away your eyes
At the bravery of the young men.

The hyena with polished face and bow tie,
In the office of a billion dollar
Corporation devoted to service;
The vulture dripping with carrion,
Carefully and carelessly robed in imported
Lecturing on the Age of Abundance;
The jackal in double-breasted gabardines,
Barking by remote control,
In the United Nations;
The vampire bat seated at the couch head,
Notebook in hand, toying with his decerebrator;
The autonomous, ambulalatory cancer,
The Superego in a thousand uniforms;
The finger man of behemoth,
The murderer of the young men.


What happened to Robinson,
Who used to stagger down Eighth Street,
Dizzy with solitary gin /
Where is Masters, who crouched in
His law office for ruinous decades?
Where is Leonard who thought he was
A locomotive? And Lindsay,
Wise as a dove, innocent
As a serpent, where is he?
Timor mortis contubat me.
What became of Jim Oppenheim?
Lola Ridge alone in an
Icy furnished room? Orrick Johns,
Hopping into the surf on his
One leg? Elinor Wylie
Who leaped likr Kierkeegaard?
Sar Teasdale, where is she?
Timor mortis conturbat me.

Where is George Sterling, that tame fawn?
Phelps Putnam who stole away?
Jack Wheelwright who couldn't cross the bridge?
Donald Evans with his cane and
Monocle, where is he?
Timor mortis conturbat me.

John Gould Fletcher who could not
Unbreak his powerful heart?
Bodenheim butchered in stinking
Squalour? Edna Millay who took
Her last straight whiskey? genivieve
Who loved so much; where is she?
Timor mortis conturbat me.

Harry who didn't care at all?
Hart who went back to the sea (Hart Crane 1899-1932)
Timor mortis conturbat me.

Where is Sol Funaroff?
What happened to Potemkin?
Isidor Schneider? Claude McKay?
Who animates their corpes today?
Timor mortis conturbat me.

Where is Ezra, that noisy man? ( Ezra Pound)
Where is Larsson whose poems were prayers?
Where is Charlie Snider, that gentle
Bitter boy? Carnevali, (Italian poet)
What became of him?
Carol who was so beautiful, where is she?
Timor mortis conturbat me.


Was their end noble and tragic,
Like the mask of a tyrant?
Like Agammemmon's secret golden face?
Indeed it was not. Up all night
In the focsle, bemused and beaten,
Bleeding at the rectum, in his
Pocket a review by the one
Colleaque he respected, "If he
Really means what these poems
Pretend to say. he has only
One way out-." Into the
Hot acrid Caribeann sun,
Into the acrid, transparent,
Smoky sea. Or another, lice in his
Armpits and crotch, garbage littered
On the floor, grey greasy rags on
The bed. " I Killed them because they
Were dirty , stinkin Communists.
Ishould get a medal." Again,
Another, Simenon foretold,
His end at a glance. " I dare you
To pull the trigger." Sheshut her eyes
And spilled gin over her dress.
The pistol wobbles in his hand.
It took them hours to die.
Another threw herself downstairs,
And broke her back, it took her years.
Two put their heads under water
In the bath and filled their lungs.
Another threw himself under
The traffic of a crowded bridge.
Another, drunk, jumped from a
Balcony and broke her neck.
Another soaked herself in
Gasoline and ran blazing
Into the street and lived on
In cutody. One made love
Only once with a beggar woman.
He died later of syphilis
Of the brain and spine. Fifteen
Years of pain and poverty,
While his mind leaked away.
One tried three times in twenty years
To drown himself. The last time
He succeeded. One turned on the gas
When she had no more food, no more
Money, and only half a lung.
One went up to Harlem, took om
Thirty men, came home and
Cut her throat. One sat up all night
Talking to H.L Mencken and
Drowned himself in the morning.

How many stopped writing at thirty?
How many went to work for Time?
How many died of prefrontal
Lobotomies in the Communist Party?
How many are lost in the back wards
Of provincial madhouses?
How many on the advice of
Their psychoanalysts, decided
A businss career was best of all?
How many are hopeless alcoholics?

Rene Crevel!
Jacques Ricgaut!
Antonin Artaud!
Robert Desnos!
Saint Pol Roux!
Max Jacob!
All over the world
The same disembodied hand
Strikes us down.
Here is a mountain of death.
A hill of heads like the Khans piled up.
The first born of a century
Slaughtered by Herod.
Three generations of infants
Stuffed doen the maw of Moloch


He is dead.
The bird of Rhiannom.
He is dead.
In the winter of the heart.
He is dead.
In the canyons of death,
They found him dumb at last
In the blizzard of lies.
He never spoke again.
He died.
He is dead.
In their antseptic hands,
He is dead.
The little spellbinder of Cader Idris.
He is dead.
The sparrow of Cardiff.
He is dead.
The canary of Swansea.
Who killed the bright-headed bird?
You did, you son of a bitch.
You drowned him in your cocktail brain.
He fell down and died in your synthetic heart.
You killed him,
Oppenhemer the Million-Killer.
You killed him,
Eintein the Grey Eminence.
You killed him.
Havanahaana, with your nobel prize.
You killed him,General,
Through the proper channels.

You strangled him, Le Mouton,
With yor mains etendus.
He confessed in open court to a pince-nezed skull.
You shot him in the back of the head
As he stumbled in the last cellar.
You killed him,
Benign Lady on the postage stamp.
He was found dead at a liberal weekly luncheon.
He was found dead on the cutting room floor.
He was found dead at a Time policy conference.
Henry Luce killed him with a telegram to the Pope.
Mademoiselle stangled him with a padded brassiere.
Old possum sprinled him with a tea ball.
After the wolves were done, the vaticides
Crawled of with his bowels to their classrooms
and quarterlies.
When the news came over the radio
You personally rose up shouting, "Give us
In your lonely crowd you swept over him.
Your custom built brogans and your ballet slippers
Pummelled himto death in the gritty street.

You hit him with an album of Hindemith.
You stabbed him with stainless steel by Isamu
He is dead.
He is Dead.
Like Ignacio the bullfighter,
At four o.clock in the afternoon.
At precisely four o'clock.
I too do not want to hear it.
I too do not want to know it.
I want to run inyo the street,
Shouting,"Remember Vanzetti!"
...And all the birds of the deep sea rise up
Over the luxury liners and scream,
"You killed him! You killed him.
In your God damned Brooks Brothers suit ,
You son of a bitch."


  1. Helo - ydw i'n iawn bod ni'n nabod ein gilydd?

  2. oh diolch ti'n nabod fi, croeso,heddwch

  3. This is amazing..... how I've never seen this poem before I don't know....

    Thank you for posting this Dave... :0)

  4. most welcome... glad you found it.... all the best.