paint a sigh, and decorate a groan

My grown-ups told me when I started out,
“You have to suffer in order to create.”
It took me twenty years of stubborn doubt
Before I found the half-truth in all that.

We have so many fancy fellows now
That cannot leave their suffering alone.
They spend their precious talents learning how
To paint a sigh, and decorate a groan.

Realistic till it hurts while it astounds
(And to conceal some small defects of art),
They slop their ketchup in the statues wounds
And advertise that blood as from the heart.

I like those masters better who expound
More inwardly the nature of our loss,
And only offhand let us know they’ve found
No better composition than the cross.

[Howard Nemerov, 'To the Bleeding Hearts Association of American Novelists', from The Collected Poems]

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