TS Eliot smoked himself to death. At the end, he was more kipper than man, fit only for consumption by his own cats. They were – like the continuing and eternal success of poetry – to remain in his imagination.
Lungs and poets have a poor relationship. For Shelley, that didact and dire romantic target of Eliot’s contempt, contemplation would have been more profitable were it of sea-legs rather than those without trunks. Even lovers cannot breathe the ocean.
Dante died in 1321. Another didact, TS said. Politician, partisan and papal agitator, a rough baptism in tempestuous Spezian seas might seem preferable to a narrowly- escaped burning at the stake, and the unavoidable eventuality of febrile seizures and malarial termination.
Despair does not overtake the world at the death of a poet. When Thomas went ungently under the influence of alcohol and smog, he left behind him ₤100 and villanelle. A life filled with words, reduced to a repetend. And on.
But at least we know their names. A thousand poets every year cough their last, from smoke or drink or drowning or disease or nothing more threatening than despair. And Ashraf Fayadh waits for death in a prison defended by the allies of freedom. Of freedom.
Yes, Shelley, poets may try to legislate – but all the laws are lost. The world shrinks and the bites get bigger. Words fade behind the gunfire that is masked by the white noise of spluttering justification. But it comes to this: when you can do no good without dealing in evil, you can do no good.