W. EUGENE SMITH (1918-1978)
The storm gods sent him, W. Eugene Smith,
A photojournalist who lived as large as myth.
He made his pictures with his blood and sweat and soul
Of saints and soldiers, workers with Pittsburgh coal.
He flew to the Pacific during World War II,
And went with the Marines in island battles, too.
He longed to have his photographs end all wars
Between all people, on every nation’s shores.
A subject was a Country Doctor on each case,
Who held a cup of coffee, weariness on his face.
In the South was Maude Cullen, a nurse midwife,
The first black woman in an essay in LIFE.
He covered Albert Schweitzer in his distant town,
A doctor and musician, he was world-renowned.
Smith spent three nights to print one photo of the man,
And then resigned from LIFE, wanting a free hand.
The grit and grime of Pittsburgh, meat to Smith’s dark eye,
Blast furnaces and factories under dark skies
He did that photo essay, longest he ever made,
With his life savings and an agency’s aid.
Japanese in Minamata were eating poisoned fish;
Smith photographed those crippled and shared their poisoned dish.
He was attacked in his crusade by corporate men,
But villagers stopped the polluters in the end.
Smith challenged death many times for his photo stories;
The photo essay was his art; he struggled for its glories:
His compassion for the poor, the sufferers, the wronged
Shone through his master prints, and made his life’s work strong.
I met the man in Tucson when he’d had a stroke;
He walked with a cane, and had trouble when he spoke;
Yet he had a fire deep inside, a sense of justice denied,
Battling darkness on all sides even ‘til the day he died.