Truth, justice, love, profanity and the American way

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Jacob Behymer-Smith, a ninth-grader at Coral Academy of Science in Reno, has excelled in classroom, school and county poetry competitions, reciting a W.H. Auden poem that contains the words “hell” and “damn.” Coral Academy officials have told Behymer-Smith, 14, that he can’t recite the poem, “The More Loving One,” in next week’s state Poetry Out Loud competition, because it contains inappropriate language. Today, U.S. District Judge Brian Sandoval, the former Nevada attorney general, will hear a request for a temporary restraining order to allow Behymer-Smith to recite the poem at the state competition at the Governor’s Mansion in Carson City.

Here’s Auden’s poem:

Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
That, for all they care, I can go to hell,
But on earth indifference is the least
We have to dread from man or beast.

How should we like it were stars to burn With a passion for us we could not return? If equal affection cannot be, Let the more loving one be me. Admirer as I think I am Of stars that do not give a damn, I cannot, now I see them, say I missed on terribly all day. Were all stars to disappear or die, I should learn to look at an empty sky And feel its total dark sublime, Though this might take me a little time.

In addition to an injunction, young Jacob is seeking a declaration that the ban on reciting the poem is unconstitutional, damages for emotional distress and loss of chance, and costs. This lad will go far. Late breaking news – The judge granted Jacob an injunction, so he’ll recite the Auden poem at the state competititon after all.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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18 years ago

Auden is sublime whatever the formatting, Ken. Thanks for the reminder of the poem.

18 years ago

He’s a genius. Give the kid some Ginsberg!