Strange poems here. Perhaps the poet really meant…

On with a few more reblogged poems now with added explanation. Hmm… could try a “three poems for the price of two” offer or an extra-long poem for the same price as a short one. No?

 

BRITISH NATIONALITY

 

Nobody gave me a choice

Of where I’d like to be born

Nobody set me a test

Nor asked me to swear allegiance

To a fixed smile in a dress

 

I feel as Irish as Scottish

I’m English and Welsh in the blood

How could they accept me as British

Who’d trade in the crown for the mud?

 

When people become British citizens now, they take part in a ceremony. This seems to be well-received and a happy occasion. Before this, they have to take a test to show they know enough about the country – a test which most British-born people fail, with strange questions and with no internal balancing mechanism so that though the questions are randomly selected from a l;arge pool, it’s perfectly possible for them to be biased towards one subject.

 

They then have to swear allegiance to the queen, which I would have real problems with, not mainly because I’d prefer a republic, but because as a Quaker and from my heart I reject the whole concept of allegiance, of automatic loyalty and subservience to any human power, as opposed to agreeing to observe the laws and accept punishment if conscience brought me to break them, and to be an active citizen, voting, belonging to voluntary organisations and so on

 

For myself, I struggle a bit with the concept “British” unless it’s purely a description of a political unit. I’m 3/4 English and 1/4 Welsh. I don’t feel alien in Ireland, though technically I am: I’m as aware of being English in Scotland as I  am in Ireland, and I recognise a cultural, historical and scenic alliance or bundle of all the nations and places of the North-east Atlantic islands.

 

So – a long discussion for a short poem!

 

NASTY WOMEN

 

The Nasty Women’s Institute

Meets in the Church Hall vestibule,

Discusses who to garrotte or shoot,

Collects for violins for school,

 

Embroiders rumours, cushions too,

Poisons the constable with tea,

Arranges flowers, makes curates stew

And drops the Bishop in the sea.

 

The works of God are wondrous strange;

The Nasty women are strange as well.

They spread the mildew and the mange

And pull the bellrope on the bell.

 

In my county of origin, Hertfordshire, there’s a village called Nasty. On entering the village, you see a sign about the Women’s Institute, but it isn’t the Nasty Women’s Institute: it’s joint with the next village and takes that village’s name. The village of Ugley in Essex had a similar issue.

 

Here I imagine there is a Nasty Women’s Institute and they really are nasty, along with being the sort of traditional ladies you’d find in Agatha Chrisie’s “Miss Marple” stories. There are two punning double meanings: to make someone stew means to make them wait with a worried mind, but it could be literal; and the Bishop has a see (his area of responsibility), so maybe he’s being givewn a lift to that – or being dropped in the sea.

 

VISITOR

 

Come to me: I am strange.

My skin is like a drowned man’s, but my hair

Like some wild animal’s from the hills.

I wear a hat.

I am important: other carry

My food, my bed, my tools, the thing I watch

Speaking hard words and stroking it

Come to me: I am strange.

 

Come to me, for I threaten:

I climbed the river to this point

To turn and go right back again

I kill the birds but do not eat them

I kill the men, forget and leave them

Come to me, for I threaten.

 

Come to me, I am rich.

In bags my men have colours and shapes

You never saw, but will see more

I was asleep, you saw me wake

Come to me, I am rich and strange.

 

This imagines a European explorer in Africa from the point of view of the locals, with some hindsight. The explorer speaks as they imagine he might.

 

The thing he strokes, speaking hard words, could be the Bible – or a notebook of his travels, maybe, or a map. The locals do not understand why he travels up the river and then turns round and goes back again. They do not understand why he shoots animals not for food (he’s collecting them for science). They perceive that he does not care about human life, or at least, their lives. He will bring enormous change they cannot imagine. They have the idea described for the Australian Aborigines that all that will happen in the world is already there but hidden: so this is the time at which this asleep stranger being wakes up and shows himself.

 

Next time I think I’ll post another poem for the first time.

 

all writing on this site is copyright of Simon Banks 2012.

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6 Comments

  1. LadyBlueRose's Thoughts Into Words

     /  March 27, 2012

    I liked all three of these strange poems
    and I enjoyed your explanations as you saw them…
    I agreed with one in particular…

    I liked this very much, Simon..
    Thank you for sharing!

    )0(
    maryrose

    Reply
  2. I really like the ‘British Nationality’ poem. How neat to explore how we did not choose our birthplace and the implications of where we are born… Well done Simon!

    Reply
    • This was cleverly explored in the British film “Chariots of Fire” about the UK 1924 Olympics team. Harold Abrahams, a top runner in that team, is a Gilbert and Sullivan fan and we see him singing the well-known song “To Be an Englishman” (“And in spite of all temptations/ To belong to other nations”). Gilbert & Sullivan are satirising pride in nationality (“What did you do to become English? Nothing!”). But Abrahams is Jewish, and as we’ve seen earlier in the film, people do doubt that he’s really English or British, so for him there IS effort involved.

      Reply
      • Thanks for the further details here Simon. I have heard the film but admit I have not seen it. I have English heritage and this interests me!

      • It’s a brilliant film. Just a fraction sentimental – certainly a feel-good film – but very cleverly done and observant. The main characters are real historical ones except for Lord Lindsey, whose real title was Burleigh: the family objected to the portrayal of him, strangely as he comes across as a thoroughly nice and unassuming guy.

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