Reprinted from April 15, 2016
As today is tax day, I looked around for a good tax poem and stumbled across one from the much mocked Edgar Guest, once known as “the people’s poet.” The poem isn’t great but, in an age when various irresponsible politicians have declared a war on taxes, it usefully reminds us what our money is for.
These days the poem almost seems quaint as it harkens back to a time when civic responsibility was regarded as a good thing. Remember when we saw paying taxes as a patriotic duty? How in the world did we allow Grover Norquist to take over our politics?
By Edward Guest
When they become due I don’t like them at all.
Taxes look large be they ever so small
Taxes are debts which I venture to say,
No man or no woman is happy to pay.
I grumble about them, as most of us do.
For it seems that with taxes I never am through.
But when I reflect on the city I love,
With its sewers below and its pavements above,
And its schools and its parks where children may play
I can see what I get for the money I pay.
And I say to myself: “Little joy would we know
If we kept all our money and spent it alone.”
I couldn’t build streets and I couldn’t fight fire
Policemen to guard us I never could hire.
A water department I couldn’t maintain.
Instead of a city we’d still have a plain
Then I look at the bill for the taxes they charge,
And I say to myself: “Well, that isn’t so large.”
I walk through a hospital thronged with the ill
And I find that it shrivels the size of my bill.
As in beauty and splendor my home city grows,
It is easy to see where my tax money goes
And I say to myself: “if we lived hit and miss
And gave up our taxes, we couldn’t do this.”
If Guest’s poem makes you feel any better about paying your taxes today—well then, that’s further proof that poetry is capable of heavy lifting.