HARVARD SQUARE COMMENTARY

December 10, 2007
The Truck Driver Poet: Three Poems by C.L. Guthrie

John R. Guthrie


Full disclosure: The poet was also my father. Clarence Luther Guthrie, Sr. He was born on a frosty and windswept day on January 31, 1899. He arrived in this world in an unpainted clapboard tenant shack in the miniscule rural community of White Plains, located in the Piedmont hills of South Carolina in the Smoky Mountain Chain of Appalachia. At 12 he gained employment as a sweeper in the cotton mill—50 cents a day--sunrise to sunset, six days a week. Following Army service escorting the bodies of soldiers who fell on the killing fields of WW I Europe home, he began college. Though a straight “A” student, he was forced to drop out due to the Great Depression; “Hoover Days” was his bitter phrase for those troubled times. The poet eventually found a job as a janitor in the US Post Office. He parlayed that position into employment as a truck driver for the postal service, working there until his retirement. Though he had no formal training as a poet, he was an autodidact, influenced in particular by the works of the transcendentalist poets such as Emerson and Thoreau. He published here and there and gained a degree of regional renown as poet. He was also a civic leader, (Appalachian Commission, Hospital Board, etc.) as well as an enthusiastic and dedicated labor leader (AF of L CIO and National Association of Letter Carriers). South Carolina was then and remains viciously anti-union. Inevitably, during the McCarthy era, he was labeled variously a Communist, a Bolshevik, and perhaps more generously, a Menshevik. The comment I favor, though, came from an impoverished neighbor who said, “…a Communist? Please then, Dear Lord, send us more Communists.”

Examples of this blue collar poet’s work are below:      
 


The Never Ebbing Tide

1. The Prayer

Dear Lord, I see this weary world
With human cargo fraught,
A pygmy world of pygmy men
With trains of pygmy though.

Futility lays hold on me,
In vain we’ve toiled and fought,
In vain we’ve spilled our heroes’ blood,
In vain our victories wrought.

How long, how long, Oh Lord, must we
Await the promised day
When the lamb shall lie in perfect peace –
No fear the beasts of prey?

2. The answer
I fashioned man deep of my thought;
From nothingness the spheres;
I’ll work my will upon this earth
If it takes ten thousand years.

Time weighs not heavy on my hands,
Time is a boundless sea.
An aeon is but a passing hour
Spaced in infinity.

My will’s a never ebbing tide
Unchanged by smiles and tears;
I’ll work my purpose hear with man
If it takes ten million years.

When I began the race of man,
My purpose I decreed,
Nor shall his pulsing, erring thoughts
My moveless plan impede.

There is an upward sweep, divine,
A universal swell,
That lifts man on the crest of time
To heights no tongue can tell.

Man’s destiny is as the stars,
And there at last shall he,
Through halting steps, through vaulting faith,
Achieve that destiny.



Paradox

Of all like’s inconsistencies
This one I most decry:
Men seal the prophet’s burning lips,
Then bid him prophesy.



The Money Changers

The tricksters, driven from the temple, soon returned
And bought it with their wealth of gold.
They bought if from without and from within,
And captive Christ at mammon’s booth is sold.

Their preacher offers solace in the end,
To all content to be a slave.
The verities of life are taught and thin—
Their preacher offers peace – beyond the grave.

“The poor you have with you, and always must –
The rich are very good, and very just ---
The meek shall own the earth – when they are dust;
And it’s no sin for those of means to lust.”

Indeed, the Lord may be in such a den,
But weeping for the erring sons of men.


Dr. John R. Guthrie practiced family medicine in the Smokey Mountain foothills of Appalachia for years. As an adolescent he was a U.S. Marine infantry rifleman and later served as a physician in the U.S. Navy Reserve. He lives in Southern California and is a writer and social activist.


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