Latest quotes | Random quotes | Vote! | Latest comments | Add quote

Eugene Ionesco

A civil servant doesn't make jokes.

classic quote by Report problemRelated quotes
Added by Veronica Serbanoiu
Comment! | Vote! | Copy!

Share

Related quotes

Sorry doesn't make it right

Sorry
Doesn't make it right
When
All you've done
Is sit and fight
Sorry
Doesn't make it right
After
All the nights you've sat and cried
Sorry
Doesn't make it right
When
All you do is pretend
Sorry
Doesn't make it right
If
You just do it again....


Sorry doesn't make it right girls.. don't let SORRY be the reason you keep going!

poem by Report problemRelated quotes
Added by Poetry Lover
Comment! | Vote! | Copy!

Share

That Doesn't Make Sense

Wait a minute?
That doesn't make sense!
Because you have become successful...
Doing what you have always done,
They feel you will become less successful,
If they ignored you?
I don't get it!
That doesn't make sense!
Haven't they always ignored you?
And you, them?
Wait a minute?
That doesn't make sense!
If you ignored them better than they have ignored you,
Wouldn't that make you even more successful?
And that's what you've done in the first place?
Maybe they're trying to get you to notice they're ignoring you?
And you're not paying them any attention?
But that's what's going on anyway?
Wait a minute?
That doesn't make sense!

'I know!
And less of it is being made everyday!
Hopefully this will become very lucrative? '

poem by Report problemRelated quotes
Added by Poetry Lover
Comment! | Vote! | Copy!

Share

I Am A Civil Servant

I am a civil servant
That's not my real name
I am a baptised civil servant
This name puts bread on my table

I am a civil servant
Codified to obey a set of rules
Straight-jacketed to obey my masters
For a monthly stipend as a reward

I am a civil servant
Ordained to oil the engine of politicians
Who lords their policies on me
To serve like a chef at a banquet

I am a civil servant
My sobriquet is a bureaucrat
I am constantly accused of red-tapism
'Cos of my insistence on procedures

I am a civil servant indeed
My masters blame me for any misdemeanor
My people accuses me of collusion
I am just a scape goat at both ends

I am a civil servant par excellence
I am just a loyal and dutiful citizen
No nation can survive without me
Yet I am hardly appreciated
I am seen as rodent in a farmland

I am always available to serve my country
I am ready to serve the political divides
I am an uunbiased umpire
Soldier go, soldier come
The barrack is immovable

I am a loyal civil servant
Used like fresh rain water in the morning
Thrown away as dirty water at night
Condemned to paltry periodical pension
To survive for the rest of my life
That's my reward for being a loyal servant

poem by Report problemRelated quotes
Added by Poetry Lover
Comment! | Vote! | Copy!

Share

Oh...You've Got Jokes Today, Huh?

Who 'is' you?

'No.
It is who 'are' you.'

'Are' Is You?
That doesn't make sense.

'No. No. No.
Listen...
'Is' you is incorrect.
'Are' you is acceptable text.'

I'm confused.
So you isn't you at all?
Although you 'are' but not 'is'?

Why are you staring at me?

'I'm just thinking...
WHO did you pay,
To get your Master's Degree? '

Oh...
You've got jokes today,
Huh?

'I hope I don't come in contact with too many.
And who is I?
I'm interviewing future doctorate candidates.'

Oh wow. Oh wow..
I just knows I qualify!

poem by Report problemRelated quotes
Added by Poetry Lover
Comment! | Vote! | Copy!

Share

Truth Doesn't Make A Noise

My babys got a heart of stone
cant you people just leave her alone
she never did nothing to hurt you
so just leave her alone
The motion of her tiny hands
and the quiver of her bones below
are the signs of a girl alone
and tell you everything
you need to know
I cant explain it
I feel it often
everytime I see her face
but the way you treat her
fills me with rage and I
want to tear apart the place
You try to tell her what to do
and all she does is stare at you
her stare is louder than your voice
because truth doesnt make a noise

song performed by White StripesReport problemRelated quotes
Added by Lucian Velea
Comment! | Vote! | Copy!

Share

They Make It Look So Easy

What it is they do,
They must really enjoy it.
They make it look so easy.

'Because something done is enjoyed,
Doesn't make it easy.
I know very few people,
Who do what they do because it is easy.
It's difficult as it is...
Getting requests from others,
Asking them to show what it is one does.
Only to be abandoned by the same folks,
Who realize paying attention is involved.
With a work ethic that is disciplined! '

I wasn't referring to you.
I was talking about them!
Keep that in mind.

'Oh...
Well,
You are right!
They must really enjoy what they do.
They make it look so easy.'

Really?
You're kidding?

poem by Report problemRelated quotes
Added by Poetry Lover
Comment! | Vote! | Copy!

Share

Dealing With People Who Anger You

you are angry
and you will be dealing with people now in anger
you face your detractors
you pretend you do not know what they are doing to you
you face them still
you whistle you smile you pretend you like them
you hold them with gentleness in their arms
wish them all the luck in their endeavors
give them money
feed them
tender the nicest dinner possible in that expensive restaurant
talk like you are the best entertainer in the world
ask them if they are sad
or anxious
stare at them a little bit
but still glow that look acceptable
to your betrayers
make them feel that you are not affected
(hide your anger
in the smile and laughter you always share with them)

let us see who will explode
let us find out where the bomb is

the terrorist in you is the most civil servant of them all

poem by Report problemRelated quotes
Added by Poetry Lover
Comment! | Vote! | Copy!

Share

Make Claims Of Your Innocence

You can make claims of your innocence,
To others who may be convinced of it.
Until your naps turn straight,
And hold your breath with a pouting face.
The fact remains...
Your claims are untrue.

At this time and place,
What has happened in the past...
With the lies you've told,
To cover your manure with fresh planted grass...
Doesn't make a difference to me.
I have distanced myself from that existence.

And whether you speak to me or not,
Without admitting what you have started...
With the dropping of your negative debris,
Has been erased just like you have been...
From my memory to believe,
The actions you've taken to such a degree.

To me...
You will always be a child.
With pretentions done behind a faked smile.
Seeking tolerance for your deliberate misdeeds.
With a hope to be perceived as someone with integrity.
I no longer think of you with it to know what it means.

poem by Report problemRelated quotes
Added by Poetry Lover
Comment! | Vote! | Copy!

Share

Mountain Woman

They lived together in a dirty old shack
At the edge of the black rocky mountain
And they drank mountain dew and they lived on the food
That they grew at the side of the mountain
Shes a mountain woman, hes her mountain man
They [? ] down the valley
Shes a mountain woman, hes her mountain man
Uneducated but theyre happy
Mountain woman couldnt read nor write
But she knew good from evil, she know wrong from right
When the government tried to buy her water rights
Her intuition was her only guide
Shes a mountain woman, hes her mountain man
They [? ] by the valley
Shes a mountain woman, hes her mountain man
Uneducated but theyre happy
Spend my life with my mountain woman
Were uneducated by were happy
The civil servant used compulsory purchase
To acquire the [? ] for the nation
Theyll dig up the land, theyre gonna make a dam
And build a hydroelectric power station
And now she lives on the 33rd floor
Of a man-made concrete mountain
She got an elevator and refrigerator
And an automobile to run around in
Fast talkin lawyers from the government
Went and beat proud mountain woman down
Hey mountain woman, take your mountain man
They took your land and flood your valley
Spend my life with my mountain woman
Theyre uneducated by theyre happy

song performed by KinksReport problemRelated quotes
Added by Lucian Velea
Comment! | Vote! | Copy!

Share

Na Tian Piet's Sha'er Of The Late Sultan Abu Bakar Of Johor

In the name of God, let his word begin:
Praise be to God, let praises clear ring;
May our Lord, Jesus Christ's[8] blessings
Guide my pen through these poetizings!

This sha'er is an entirely new composition
Composed by myself, no fear of imitation.
It's Allah's name, I will keep calling out
While creating this poem to avoid confusion.

This story I'm relating at the present moment
I copy not, nor is it by other hands wrought;
Nothing whatsoever is here laid out
That hereunder is not clearly put forth.

Not that I am able to create with much ease,
To all that's to come I'm yet not accustomed;
Why, this sha'er at this time is being composed
Only to console my heart which is heavily laden.

I'm a peranakan[9], of Chinese origin,
Hardly perfect in character and mind;
I find much that I can not comprehend,
I'm not a man given to much wisdom.

Na Tian Piet[10] is what I go by name
I have in the past composed stories and poems;
Even when explained to - most stupid I remain
The more I keep talking the less I understand.

I was born in times gone by
In the country known as Bencoolen[11];
Indeed, I am more than stupid:
Ashamed am I composing this lay.

Twenty-four years have gone by
Since I moved to the island of Singapore;
My wife and children accompanied me
To Singapore, a most lovely country.

I stayed in Riau[12] for some time
Together with my wife and children;
Two full years in Riau territory,
Back to Singapore my legs carried me.

At the time when Acheh[13] was waging war
I went there with goods to trade,
I managed to sell them at exhorbitant prices:
Great indeed were the profits I made.

Stricken sick in Acheh were a great many
And those who succumbed were far from few;
As for me I was taken with an infection
In that jungle country hills indeed were legion.

Back to Singapore I retraced my steps
On account of my being felled by illness;
How I was ill! there was no way of telling!
Great was my expenditure! Great my torture!

Once cured, for Acheh again I set sail:
No way for profits, loss was all I got.
Throngs of merchants converged there;
What the Lord wished: bad luck my lot.

Then to the island of Deli[14] set I sail,
There did I abide for a lengthy while;
There too I got to know His Majesty:
Blue-blooded Sultan, the Ruler of Deli!

At that time the ruling Sultan on the throne
Was His Highness Mamun Alrasyid Perkasa[15];
Within his kingdom by far the most mighty:
Of truely gentle and well-mannered integrity.

I also got to know another ruler well,
The ruling Sultan who reigns in Serdang;
His Royal Highness was extremely young:
Of gentle character, of joyous disposition.

The reigning Sultan at that time there
Was His Highness Saleiman Sariful[16],
Within Serdang's kingdom, the most mighty:
In feelings considerate, in thoughts bright.

Both Their Highnesses I got to know well,
Wining and dining we rubbed shoulders;
I owe much to their generous natures,
As long as I live I shan't forget them.

While I was still a resident at Deli,
His Highness threw a gala feast;
Inviting friends he carefully picked,
All of whom he knew best already.

For the marriage of his royal sister
To the Sultan of the kingdom of Serdang,
His Royal Highness summoned me
To present myself at the ceremony.

I addressed my congratulations at the feast:
Indeed most able was I in the use of speech;
Mightily pleased was His Highness himself,
While cheers showered on me from all the guests.

With pleasure His Majesty deigned to tell me
That my wishes were most gratifying,
That only in schools could I have gained
The knowledge to express myself in such a way.

His Highness' joy knew no bounds
He thanked me over and over again;
The rejoicing went on in full throttle,
Only after dusk homeward were we bound.

Both their majesties I came to know well,
Endowed were they of the finest manners:
Courteous of word, gentle in speech,
As long as I live, never will I forget them.

To Allah in high heaven I raised my voice:
Preserve Thee, O Lord, their highnesses' health,
Bestow on them the grace of long life
And protect them from all danger.

During these three years gone by
I have lived in the kingdom of Deli;
Then to Singapore I made tracks:
Oh! what a most lovely country!

Now I'm well grounded in Singapore,
Land of the English Company[17]
Where burgeons bustling activity;
Where every thing may be bought cheap.
Here thrive I in my own flowering cloister
In peace and restful leisure all to myself;
I have sprung deep roots in this island
And at writing day by day I try my hand.

Right at this moment I'm composing a sha'er,
Wherever errors occur I crave your indulgence;
If you find my language[18] rightly wanting,
Know that I'm yet to acquire the necessary flair.

My poem's by a man who needs assistance,
Those adept at poetizing are certainly rare;
I'll own up to my faults wherever they appear:
I do sincerely hope a curse hangs not over me!

I can't make much of the art of poetizing;
One's a great deal more free in one's heart;
When on the day I shall be pronounced dead,
This sha'er will have replaced me in good stead.

This sha'er I'm composing at my own leisure
For I haven't acquired the necessary skill;
If I'm caught making unforgiveable mistakes,
I hope I'll not be made the object of ridicule.

My poem in the hands of the mean
Would suffer the fate of uninformed critics:
In character and intelligence far from perfect,
People who are lacking in wisdom.

What I'm creating is a narrative poem,
Most dull it would be once the plot's obvious;
If my diction leaves much to be desired,
I hope I shan't become the target of abuse!

Composing a sha'er is not an easy task,
For the right idea, one must look high and low;
The tension mounts in one's own chest
Just looking for the word that's best.

With God as a cause, I compose this poem,
This is not an intention which invites mistakes;
If in the making of this poem faults abound,
Forgive me! Dear Reader! I'll recite them all.

Creating this poem relieves my anxiety,
A poem that I fashion, friendless, all alone;
If defects arise, let God acknowledge them,
Forgive me! Oh Lord! Noble art Thou!

I compose this lay at the present moment,
I suffer not that it be other than just right;
I do not commit errors to earn others' scorn:
Whatever I compose, from a clear vision's born.

I sit composing my poem day after day,
With diligence I look for words that are right;
Let me assure you, it's me alone who writes,
There's no one else who speaks in my stead.

In daylight I compose day by day,
Looking for ideas all within myself,
To all I'm open, no deaf ear I turn,
In order to obtain whatever I seek.

I'm labouring at this poem at this moment,
Thanks be to God Almighty's assistance:
Might my task be light and without hindrance
In looking for words in the Malay parlance!

Hardworking am I in my literary endeavour
As always from the beginning to the present;
If ever it appears there looms excess or less,
To my less than clear thoughts blame the mess.

Composing a sha'er is no easy undertaking:
Thoughts get entangled like loose thread;
Always look for ideas while remaining calm
In order that you may find them for easy recall.

The art of writing upon me came,
Its four reaches appear the same;
Do not just put anything down on paper gratis,
Keep looking you must however long it takes.

Most difficult it is to take pen to paper.
Would that it were easy to think clearly!
You may not consign just anything in mind,
For if you miss the mark, blame is your fate.

In writing there develops an art
In order to make reading pleasant,
Searching its poesy till it's found
In order to praise it in our name.

Don't be like a person struck with latah[19]
Unable to understand a word or utterance;
Our name being reduced to utter shambles
In the eyes of all those readers yet to come.

Writing this poem like one in full faith,
Wise, intelligent and sensible as well,
Thoughts so resigned as to right the senses,
So that one may be hailed to the end of time.

Oh God! Lend a ear to my story:
I got to know this King of old lineage
As a result of composing this poem:
Through a newspaper I got to know him.

Herebelow I shall make clear
In order that people may read,
Important to say right from the start,
His Majesty already knew about me.

In this sha'er woven with panegyric
See how the plot of the story unravels:
Of how to the King I came to be known,
Sultan Abubakar was his regal name.

Enthroned was he in the state of Johor:
Wise, intelligent and learned a Sultan,
Most difficult would it be to find a peer,
Great indeed was the fame of his name.

I give praise to his Highness in my poem:
His palace in Singapore, verily a gem,
Chock-full of possessions of all sorts;
I know 'cause I've seen it all myself.

Tijersall was the name of his palace
Where everything was in perfect shape,
Things from Europe, Japan and China,
Of all sorts and of varied colours.

The Tijersall Palace to be found in Singapore
Its beauteous appearance was beyond measure,
Nothing of its kind was anywhere to be seen,
Its internal furnishings were far from cheap.

Compared to other palaces in Johor
Its appearance remains indescribable;
Difficult it would be to find one similar,
So deftly conceived, this Sultan's castle.

My writings began to appear in newspapers;
I reported on everything, on every topic:
My pseudonym: Pen of the Sky in great fame,
My articles displaying much discipline and patience.

In the paper called Betawi Pembrita
Appeared indeed my writings;
Most long in news and reports,
That was why the King rejoiced.

I praised His Majesty at great length,
In, not base, but highly refined terms
Like gold being subject to the precious test:
The name of His Highness was held aloft.

The praises I offered were most fetching
And all of them were heard by the King;
All his vizirs too, as many as there were,
Old and young took most kindly to them.

There was also a Minister to the King,
Mohamad Saleh was his singular name:
A man of great sensibility and wisdom,
Received the honour of Datu' Bintara Luar.

It was this chieftain who read the report
And my eulogy of the monarch revealed
To His Majesty and his Vizir at once;
Having heard it, both of them felt great joy.

Great thanks His Highness addressed me:
Through this chieftain the king got to know me:
Sweet of character, with a joyous disposition,
As long as I live, never will I forget him.

Hope I, the Almighty his life prolong,
His wife and children's together too
So that he may rise ever higher in rank
And live in comfort in a life made long.

This the most true-hearted chieftain
Many the writings he has made clear
From China, Japan and the Whites,
Most good is he in nature and disposition.

Dare you to find one equally clever,
Difficult indeed even in a thousand;
Malays in the land of the Indies:
There are the rich and the poor.

All is most true that I praise in him
Like gold being put to the test;
Most loyal is he when he gives his word,
Gentle of utterance, shorn of all evil.

Most loved is he by the Chinese race,
A minister of much sense and wisdom,
In intelligence and character most perfect,
His fame has spread far and wide.

How the King first got to know me
Was through seeing my writing in ink.
How the Monarch liked what he read
And upon me his liking entrusted.

In the newspapers I explained
If ever any one went in search
Of my person and of my self,
To my children his questions address.

The result: my name in that paper
Appears in there as Celestial Plume;
It is because of this fact I say so,
So that people will rightly know.

You can enquire after me from my son,
Na Kim Liong is the name he goes by,
Ditoko Robinson & Co employs him,
Becoming in the process their clerk.

In the year 1894, on the 23rd of May,
Received a letter from the hand of a minister;
An epistle from Datu' Bintang Luar himself:
A royal behest to appear before him.

In the letter it was thus laid down:
To Johore the King requested I go,
The Princess' nuptial ceremony to attend;
To entertain the guests a sumptuous dinner.

Most anxious was I in within myself
That in the letter it was thus laid out;
Never have been invited by the King,
Not until this day such an invitation.

Oh to Allah up high I gave my thanks
For His Majesty's desire to befriend me,
While at the same time I set about
Preparing a complete set of fineries.

When the hour for setting forth arrived,
I undid my slippers and put on my shoes:
I felt all heated up at that very moment,
And then through the door I strode out.

It was by carriage I set out on my journey,
Past through level jungle and plain;
My pleasure then knew no bounds:
The King choosing to show me favour.

Throughout the drive I kept reflecting
On how I should address my greetings,
All those listening must of needs like them:
Praiseworthy they must be, this was clear.

At the time of my arrival in Johor territory,
It was a country of widespread renown;
I arrived in the place on the dot at noon:
The harbour though was not quite deep.

The King's five steamships rode at anchor,
A great many flags flapped from their masts;
One thing was true, I had arrived in Johor:
I saw a great many horses-and-carriages.

Flags by thousands fluttered all the way,
In colours: black, white, yellow and red;
Throngs of people, countless to the eye,
Lived within the borders of this state.

There were four Chinese theatre-houses,
And two Malay wayang[20] halls as well,
Several female ronggeng[21] and joget[22] joints,
Melodious voices streamed far out from there.

The Chinese were gambling much away,
A great many of them milling in the fortress;
Most brave were they, throwing away things,
Hardly showing the slightest remorse.

In Johore State, there were many Chinese,
Tens of thousands inhabited the country,
By far the men outnumbered the women:
Once having come, they sprung roots there.

As soon as the day turned into night,
Most clear, as by fire, one could see:
Thousands of Japanese lamps turned on
Plunged the palace surroundings in daylight!

Not only the immediate palace grounds,
All along the thoroughfares everywhere,
The fire of Japanese lamps brightened
And exposed the flags in varied colours.

Chock-full of people before the wayang stages
Watched under lights that were most clear:
Surely no less than ten thousand spectators
Came and gathered in front of the wayang stages.

All the sounds of rejoicing were most acute:
The Chinese theatre was located apart
From those of the Malay wayang and joget;
Great the rejoicings, nothing like it I've seen.

Great too the rejoicings of the gamblers there,
Numerous the gambling dens, here and there;
Of those gambling, many were Chinese,
Hailing from areas spread far and wide.

Great indeed the food, of all sorts of colours
That were being sold, right where they gambled;
A good part of the food that the Chinese cooked
Were taken and hawked from place to place.

Such then were the Princess' wedding celebrations
Given in marriage to the King's own royal nephew;
Splendorous the rejoicings, verily indescribable:
Lasting full fifteen days and full fifteen nights.

Her Highness the Princess, daughter of the King
Was about to be married to the princely son
Of His Highness Abdul Rahman, the deceased:
The name of the bridegroom was Prince Ahmad.

Drawn into the audience hall for the dinner,
Exactly at seven o'clock in the evening
Were two hundred and forty of the invitees:
Some were peranakan, most local Chinese.

There were thirty tables for the Chinese,
At each table were seated eight invitees;
Chinese themselves prepared their food
And all those present sat themselves down.

Only I still remained all alone standing.
His Royal Highness bade me approach him:
Me, the towkay[23], to the King was drawn.
Why was I standing all alone by myself?

So I replied with as pleasant a face:
Might Your Highness lay wrath aside,
Your Humble Servant doesn't like Chinese fare,
Your Humble Servant stands satiated right now.

His Royal Highness smiled and said:
I am helping myself to Malay cuisine.
If Your Highness wishes to bid me eat,
Humble Servant most delightfully will.

All the Chinese guests had finished eating,
Only I among the Chinese was still waiting;
All those who had dined most surely departed,
All of them making their way out in turns.

They went to watch the Chinese wayang.
Some indeed took to gambling right there;
Yes, all those who had dined turned up there
To watch the men and women in the wayang.

I was the only Chinese left all to myself,
Close to the presence of His Highness;
And all of a sudden the King espied me,
As being one of his guests at the palace.

Present too the Sultan of Pahang with his heirs,
Even as His Royal Highness the Sultan of Riau;
Many indeed were the princes and princesses
From Riau, Pahang, Trengganu and Kedah.

There at the very same moment of time
Were three Englishmen and three Arabs as well;
Of the Chinese, there was no one but me left,
Amidst thirty Malays, right at that moment.

There too could be seen the orang besar[24],
From their breasts dangled starry medals;
Their attire was of exceptional elegance.
All the viziers and ministers were present too.

Almost similar to costumes worn in Turkey
Were those worn by viziers and ministers,
The highborn Sultan's accoutred clothes
Shone resplendent like a polished diamond.

Even when everyone had wined and dined,
There was no-one to offer a vote of thanks;
At the moment when the clock chimed ten,
All the invited guests held their breath.

Just then the Raja entered his private apartments
To demand of his royal daughter the use of henna[25];
Everybody sought the Princess' fingernails to see:
His Highness' daughter, the bride and bridegroom.

According to the Malay Raja's custom
Sixteen gun salute was duely rendered;
As a sign of respect he wore henna
While music sounded in accompaniment.

Great the animation in the private apartments:
Among the wives of the viziers and ministers,
And among the wives of the orang besar
When the prince was being adorned with henna.

In the private quarters there was much activity,
People were drinking, eating and moving about;
The bridal couple were inured to the use of henna:
The hustle and bustle was beyond description.

The palace apartments shone wholly bright,
People just turned on hundreds of lights:
More or less there were fifty lamps,
The four-branched kroon lamps.

The carpet on the floor twinkled like stars,
So numerous, impossible to say how many;
So lovely, so beautiful were they to watch,
The bride and bridegroom together on the dais.

It was beyond description, such the hectic rejoicing:
A good many wayang and joget to dance at;
By the thousands people stood tirelessly watching,
Verily chock-full wherever you cared to look.

The time it took, it was fifteen full days:
Lighted torches by the hundreds of thousands,
Wayang and joget were compelled to perform,
And all who watched felt happily at ease.

The masts of ships were festooned with lights,
The edge of the ocean seemed just at the side,
The Japanese lamps lay hung up like hats,
All along the pathways nothing looked deserted.

Moreover from the houses of the common folk
Lights went up on account of the festivities,
Hundreds of boxes of candles were used in that night
Together with hundreds of petrol lamps to be right!

Again from one good deed it's amply clear
How ten thousand Japanese lamps, no less
Shone out brilliantly from three palaces:
Thousands of lamps were lit by their inmates.

What's more even at home people enjoyed wayang,
Great was the rejoicing during the day and the night,
All had become infused with hightening spirits,
And many indeed even forgot the hour of prayer.

Most elated was everybody, both old and young,
All kinds of fare, all of it was there to be found:
Different sorts of cakes together with sweetmeats,
All indeed most delicious to the touch of the tongue.

Notes

[1] sha'er: also written thus: syair or sha'ir. This poetic form is the equivalent of the ballad in English. Essentially, it narrates an event(s) or, as in this case, undertakes the biography of an individual. As a narrative poem in Malay, it may even assume the proportions of an epic poem, such as, Sha'ir Ken Tambuhan. The structure of the sha'er is quite formal and inflexible: the narration is undertaken in quatrains whose end rhymes are identical: AAAA, or its variant, and as such may prove to be monotonous and even, quite often, forced and jarring to the ear. The line of verse may habitually contain - as with the pantun - anything from eight to twelve syllables or slightly more, each line being thus - given the frequence of bi-syllabic words in Malay - limited to a minimum of four words (nouns/pronouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs) . Often the lines of the quatrain are linked by internal rhyme: both assonance and consonance. Each line is normally self-contained syntactically and/or semantically, though now and then enjambement may occur: the latter are however limited to a couplet.

[2] Sultan Abu Bakar: b.1831 in Singapore, d.4 June 1895 in London. Sultan of Johore State. When the Malacca sultanate disintegrated under the assault of European colonialism, its legitimate heirs fanned out to Singapore/Johore, Perak and Pahang principally, founding as it were other lineages which are still the 'ruling houses' in these states. Abu Bakar was the son of the bendahara (princely court official ranking immediately after the heir apparent or crown prince in Malay royal succession) who acceded to the Johor throne after the death of the sultan who ceded Singapore to Sir Stamford Raffles.

[3] Syair is the alternative modern spelling of sha'er and Johor likewise of the old spelling Johore.

[4] Na Tian Piet: b.1836, a Chinese peranakan [cf.note 5] in Bencoolen, Sumatra. The date of his demise in Singapore is yet to be determined, though, according to Claudine Salmon, it is certain that he died before Song Ong Siang began the writing of his book: One Hundred Years' History of the Chinese in Singapore in 1923. Biographical details of the author may be gleaned from the poem itself. He was a peripatetic trader in his youth, voyaging between Singapore and Sumatra (as far as Enggano island in the Indian Ocean) in order to trade in spices and small goods before contributing to ephemeral journals and newspapers in Singapore, where he settled in later life after having sojourned for periods of years at a time in Riau and Deli. It is evident that he was a respected member of his community in Singapore. He had a son and daughter who settled in Singapore themselves. Before Claudine Salmon undertook research for her article on him [cf. the Introduction], he was practically unknown to contemporary researchers in the field.

[5] Quoted by P.Parameswaran in Journal of the Institute of Asian Studies, XII,2, (Chennai) , March 1995, p.50.

[6] J.C.Catford, A Linguistic Theory of Translation (An Essay in Applied Linguistics) , London-New York-Toronto: Oxford University Press (Language and Language Learning Series) ,1974, pp.20 & 22ff.

[7] A.K.Ramanujan, The Interior Landscape: Love Poems from a Classical Tamil Anthology, London: Peter Owen (UNESCO Collection of Representative Works) ,1970,125p.

[8] Although Na evokes Allah frequently in his text, this is one rare occasion when Jesus Christ replaces the former. Na was both a Protestant Christian and a lay-preacher.

[9] peranakan: offspring of non-Malay and Malay unions. In Na's case, his father was Chinese.

[10] Na Tian Piet: the first name: 'Tian Piet' means Heavenly Plume.

[11] Bencoolen: Bengkulu, town on the southwest coast of Sumatra. (3.48S-102.16E)

[12] Riau: group of islands to the south of Singapore. (1.00N-102.00E)

[13] Aceh: on the northeast coast of Sumatra. (4.00N-97.00E)

[14] Deli: island south of the south-western coast of Java. (7.00S-105.32E)

[15] Mamun Alrasjid Perkasa Alamsjah: Maakmun Alrasyid Perkasa Alamsyah, Sultan of Deli (1857-1924) , reigned from 1875.

[16] Saleimun Sariful Alamsjah: Sultan Sulaiman Syariful Alamsyah (1862-1946) , reigned in Serdang from 1881 onwards.

[17] English Company: East India Company which bought the island of Tumasik (former name of Singapore) from the Sultan of Johor for a stipend of five thousand dollars, payable annually.

[18] Malay: the Malay used by Na, especially in his prose, appears to have been the spoken form of many in Singapore and the west-coast Malayan towns, right up to the postwar period.

[19] latah: kind of hysteria, according to dictionaries, but Frank A.Swettenham in his Malay Sketches (1896) has this to say on the subject: (cf.p.72)

'The lâtah man or woman usually met with, if suddenly startled, by a touch, a noise, or the sight of something unexpected, will not only show all the signs of a very nervous person but almost invariably will fire off a volley of expressions more or less obscene, having no reference at all to the circumstance which has suddenly aroused attention. As a rule it is necessary to startle these people before they will say or do anything to show that they are differently constituted to their neighbours, and when they have betrayed themselves either by word or deed their instinct is to get away as quickly as possible.'

[20] the Malay word for theatrical shows in general, but also serves as an adjective, as for example: wayang gambar means cinema, or wayang kulit means shadow play.

[21] A traditional popular Malay dance, performed in public at amusement parks where taxi-girls dance for a fee with (mostly) men without effecting any form of bodily contact; the participants sway back and forth to the accompaniment of the rebab (a violin with three chords) and the gendang (a two-faced drum) . The participants also indulge in casual conversation or in a bout of repeating or composing pantun (the traditional Malay form of poetry known to be perfected in the Malay world only) .

[22] A dancing-girl for hire or the dance-hall where such taxi-girls dance the ronggeng (cf. note xvii) or other modern dances like the rumba or samba with their paying partners.

[23] Corrupted spelling of a word of Chinese origin and referring generally to a Chinese businessman or man of wealth in Malaysia or Singapore.

[24] Malay composite word for the aristocracy; orang means human being, man or woman, and besar literally big, large or great while together they mean big man or aristocrat.

[25] A red dye obtained from the inai shrub in Malaysia and used for colouring the finger and toe nails; according to Malay custom, the bride has to ceremoniously colour her finger and toe nails on the eve of her wedding ceremony and known as malam berinai.

(Copyright ©: T. Wignesan, Paris,1994: [Published in The Gombak Review, Vol.4, n° 1 (International Islamic University Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur) ,1999, pp.101-121 and in T. Wignesan. Sporadic Striving amid Echoed Voices, Mirrored Images and Stereotypic Posturing in Malaysian-Singaporean Literatures. Allahabad: Cyberwit.net,2008.)

Translated by T. Wignesan. (c) T. Wignesan,1994, Paris, France.

poem by Report problemRelated quotes
Added by Poetry Lover
Comment! | Vote! | Copy!

Share

The White Cliffs

I
I have loved England, dearly and deeply,
Since that first morning, shining and pure,
The white cliffs of Dover I saw rising steeply
Out of the sea that once made her secure.
I had no thought then of husband or lover,
I was a traveller, the guest of a week;
Yet when they pointed 'the white cliffs of Dover',
Startled I found there were tears on my cheek.
I have loved England, and still as a stranger,
Here is my home and I still am alone.
Now in her hour of trial and danger,
Only the English are really her own.

II
It happened the first evening I was there.
Some one was giving a ball in Belgrave Square.
At Belgrave Square, that most Victorian spot.—
Lives there a novel-reader who has not
At some time wept for those delightful girls,
Daughters of dukes, prime ministers and earls,
In bonnets, berthas, bustles, buttoned basques,
Hiding behind their pure Victorian masks
Hearts just as hot - hotter perhaps than those
Whose owners now abandon hats and hose?
Who has not wept for Lady Joan or Jill
Loving against her noble parent's will
A handsome guardsman, who to her alarm
Feels her hand kissed behind a potted palm
At Lady Ivry's ball the dreadful night
Before his regiment goes off to fight;
And see him the next morning, in the park,
Complete in busbee, marching to embark.
I had read freely, even as a child,
Not only Meredith and Oscar Wilde
But many novels of an earlier day—
Ravenshoe, Can You Forgive Her?, Vivien Grey,
Ouida, The Duchess, Broughton's Red As a Rose,
Guy Livingstone, Whyte-Melville— Heaven knows
What others. Now, I thought, I was to see
Their habitat, though like the Miller of Dee,
I cared for none and no one cared for me.


III
A light blue carpet on the stair
And tall young footmen everywhere,
Tall young men with English faces
Standing rigidly in their places,
Rows and rows of them stiff and staid
In powder and breeches and bright gold braid;
And high above them on the wall
Hung other English faces-all
Part of the pattern of English life—
General Sir Charles, and his pretty wife,
Admirals, Lords-Lieutenant of Shires,
Men who were served by these footmen's sires
At their great parties-none of them knowing
How soon or late they would all be going
In plainer dress to a sterner strife-
Another pattern of English life.

I went up the stairs between them all,
Strange and frightened and shy and small,
And as I entered the ballroom door,
Saw something I had never seen before
Except in portraits— a stout old guest
With a broad blue ribbon across his breast—
That blue as deep as the southern sea,
Bluer than skies can ever be—
The Countess of Salisbury—Edward the Third—
No damn merit— the Duke— I heard
My own voice saying; 'Upon my word,
The garter!' and clapped my hands like a child.

Some one beside me turned and smiled,
And looking down at me said: 'I fancy,
You're Bertie's Australian cousin Nancy.
He toId me to tell you that he'd be late
At the Foreign Office and not to wait
Supper for him, but to go with me,
And try to behave as if I were he.'
I should have told him on the spot
That I had no cousin—that I was not
Australian Nancy—that my name
Was Susan Dunne, and that I came
From a small white town on a deep-cut bay
In the smallest state in the U.S.A.
I meant to tell him, but changed my mind—
I needed a friend, and he seemed kind;
So I put my gloved hand into his glove,
And we danced together— and fell in love.

IV
Young and in love-how magical the phrase!
How magical the fact! Who has not yearned
Over young lovers when to their amaze
They fall in love and find their love returned,
And the lights brighten, and their eyes are clear
To see God's image in their common clay.
Is it the music of the spheres they hear?
Is it the prelude to that noble play,
The drama of Joined Lives? Ah, they forget
They cannot write their parts; the bell has rung,
The curtain rises and the stage is set
For tragedy-they were in love and young.

V
We went to the Tower,
We went to the Zoo,
We saw every flower
In the gardens at Kew.
We saw King Charles a-prancing
On his long-tailed horse,
And thought him more entrancing
Than better kings, of course.
At a strange early hour,
In St. James's palace yard,
We watched in a shower
The changing of the guard.
And I said, what a pity,
To have just a week to spend,
When London is a city
Whose beauties never end!

VI
When the sun shines on England, it atones
For low-hung leaden skies, and rain and dim
Moist fogs that paint the verdure on her stones
And fill her gentle rivers to the brim.
When the sun shines on England, shafts of light
Fall on far towers and hills and dark old trees,
And hedge-bound meadows of a green as bright—
As bright as is the blue of tropic seas.
When the sun shines, it is as if the face
Of some proud man relaxed his haughty stare,
And smiled upon us with a sudden grace,
Flattering because its coming is so rare.

VII
The English are frosty
When you're no kith or kin
Of theirs, but how they alter
When once they take you in!
The kindest, the truest,
The best friends ever known,
It's hard to remember
How they froze you to a bone.
They showed me all London,
Johnnie and his friends;
They took me to the country
For long week-ends;
I never was so happy,
I never had such fun,
I stayed many weeks in England
Instead of just one.

VIII
John had one of those English faces
That always were and will always be
Found in the cream of English places
Till England herself sink into the sea—
A blond, bowed face with prominent eyes
A little bit bluer than English skies.
You see it in ruffs and suits of armour,
You see it in wigs of many styles,
Soldier and sailor, judge and farmer—
That face has governed the British Isles,
By the power, for good or ill bestowed,
Only on those who live by code.

Oh, that inflexible code of living,
That seems so easy and unconstrained,
The Englishman's code of taking and giving
Rights and privileges pre-ordained,
Based since English life began
On the prime importance of being a man.

IX
And what a voice he had-gentle, profound,
Clear masculine!—I melted at the sound.
Oh, English voices, are there any words
Those tones to tell, those cadences to teach!
As song of thrushes is to other birds,
So English voices are to other speech;
Those pure round 'o's '—those lovely liquid 'l's'
Ring in the ears like sound of Sabbath bells.

Yet I have loathed those voices when the sense
Of what they said seemed to me insolence,
As if the dominance of the whole nation
Lay in that clear correct enunciation.

Many years later, I remember when
One evening I overheard two men
In Claridge's— white waistcoats, coats I know
Were built in Bond Street or in Savile Row—
So calm, so confident, so finely bred—
Young gods in tails— and this is what they said:
'Not your first visit to the States?' 'Oh no,
I'd been to Canada two years ago.'
Good God, I thought, have they not heard that we
Were those queer colonists who would be free,
Who took our desperate chance, and fought and won
Under a colonist called Washington?

One does not lose one's birthright, it appears.
I had been English then for many years.

X
We went down to Cambridge,
Cambridge in the spring.
In a brick court at twilight
We heard the thrushes sing,
And we went to evening service
In the chapel of the King.
The library of Trinity,
The quadrangle of Clare,
John bought a pipe from Bacon,
And I acquired there
The Anecdotes of Painting
From a handcart in the square.

The Playing fields at sunset
Were vivid emerald green,
The elms were tall and mighty,
And many youths were seen,
Carefree young gentlemen
In the Spring of 'Fourteen.

XI
London, just before dawn-immense and dark—
Smell of wet earth and growth from the empty Park,
Pall Mall vacant-Whitehall deserted. Johnnie and I
Strolling together, averse to saying good-bye—
Strolling away from some party in silence profound,
Only far off in Mayfair, piercing, the sound
Of a footman's whistle—the rhythm of hoofs on wood,
Further and further away. . . . And now we stood
On a bridge, where a poet came to keep
Vigil while all the city lay asleep—
Westminster Bridge, and soon the sun would rise,
And I should see it with my very eyes!
Yes, now it came— a broad and awful glow
Out of the violet mists of dawn. 'Ah, no',
I said. 'Earth has not anything to show
More fair— changed though it is— than this.'
A curious background surely for a kiss—
Our first— Westminster Bridge at break of day—
Settings by Wordsworth, as John used to say.

XII
Why do we fall in love? I do believe
That virtue is the magnet, the small vein
Of ore, the spark, the torch that we receive
At birth, and that we render back again.
That drop of godhood, like a precious stone,
May shine the brightest in the tiniest flake.
Lavished on saints, to sinners not unknown;
In harlot, nun, philanthropist, and rake,
It shines for those who love; none else discern
Evil from good; Men's fall did not bestow
That threatened wisdom; blindly still we yearn
After a virtue that we do not know,
Until our thirst and longing rise above
The barriers of reason—and we love.

XIII
And still I did not see my life was changed,
Utterly different—by this love estranged
For ever and ever from my native land;
That I was now of that unhappy band
Who lose the old, and cannot gain the new
However loving and however true
To their new duties. I could never be
An English woman, there was that in me
Puritan, stubborn that would not agree
To English standards, though I did not see
The truth, because I thought them, good or ill,
So great a people—and I think so still.

But a day came when I was forced to face
Facts. I was taken down to see the place,
The family place in Devon— and John's mother.
'Of course, you understand,' he said, 'my brother
Will have the place.' He smiled; he was so sure
The world was better for primogeniture.
And yet he loved that place, as Englishmen
Do love their native countryside, and when
The day should be as it was sure to be—
When this was home no more to him— when he
Could go there only when his brother's wife
Should ask him—to a room not his— his life
Would shrink and lose its meaning. How unjust,
I thought. Why do they feel it must
Go to that idle, insolent eldest son?
Well, in the end it went to neither one.

XIV
A red brick manor-house in Devon,
In a beechwood of old grey trees,
Ivy climbing to the clustered chimneys,
Rustling in the wet south breeze.
Gardens trampled down by Cromwell's army,
Orchards of apple-trees and pears,
Casements that had looked for the Armada,
And a ghost on the stairs.

XV
Johnnie's mother, the Lady Jean,
Child of a penniless Scottish peer,
Was handsome, worn high-coloured, lean,
With eyes like Johnnie's—more blue and clear—
Like bubbles of glass in her fine tanned face.
Quiet, she was, and so at ease,
So perfectly sure of her rightful place
In the world that she felt no need to please.
I did not like her—she made me feel
Talkative, restless, unsure, as if
I were a cross between parrot and eel.
I thought her blank and cold and stiff.

XVI
And presently she said as they
Sooner or later always say:
'You're an American, Miss Dunne?
Really you do not speak like one.'
She seemed to think she'd said a thing
Both courteous and flattering.
I answered though my wrist were weak
With anger: 'Not at all, I speak—
At least I've always thought this true—
As educated people do
In any country-even mine.'
'Really?' I saw her head incline,
I saw her ready to assert
Americans are easily hurt.

XVII
Strange to look back to the days
So long ago
When a friend was almost a foe,
When you hurried to find a phrase
For your easy light dispraise
Of a spirit you did not know,
A nature you could not plumb
In the moment of meeting,
Not guessing a day would come
When your heart would ache to hear
Other men's tongues repeating
Those same light phrases that jest and jeer
At a friend now grown so dear— so dear.
Strange to remember long ago
When a friend was almost a foe.

XVIII
I saw the house with its oaken stair,
And the Tudor Rose on the newel post,
The panelled upper gallery where
They told me you heard the family ghost—
'A gentle unhappy ghost who sighs
Outside one's door on the night one dies.'
'Not,' Lady Jean explained, 'at all
Like the ghost at my father's place, St. Kitts,
That clanks and screams in the great West Hall
And frightens strangers out of their wits.'
I smiled politely, not thinking I
Would hear one midnight that long sad sigh.

I saw the gardens, after our tea
(Crumpets and marmalade, toast and cake)
And Drake's Walk, leading down to the sea;
Lady Jean was startled I'd heard of Drake,
For the English always find it a mystery
That Americans study English history.

I saw the picture of every son—
Percy, the eldest, and John; and Bill
In Chinese Customs, and the youngest one
Peter, the sailor, at Osborne still;
And the daughter, Enid, married, alas,
To a civil servant in far Madras.

A little thing happened, just before
We left— the evening papers came;
John, flicking them over to find a score,
Spoke for the first time a certain name—
The name of a town in a distant land
Etched on our hearts by a murderer's hand.

Mother and son exchanged a glance,
A curious glance of strength and dread.
I thought: what matter to them if Franz
Ferdinand dies? One of them said:
This might be serious.' 'Yes, you're right.'
The other answered, 'It really might.'

XIX
Dear John: I'm going home. I write to say
Goodbye. My boat-train leaves at break of day;
It will be gone when this is in your hands.
I've had enough of lovely foreign lands,
Sightseeing, strangers, holiday and play;
I'm going home to those who think the way
I think, and speak as I do. Will you try
To understand that this must be good-bye?
We both rooted deeply in the soil
Of our own countries. But I could not spoil
Our happy memories with the stress and strain
Of parting; if we never meet again
Be sure I shall remember till I die
Your love, your laugh, your kindness. But—goodbye.
Please do not hate me; give the devil his due,
This is an act of courage. Always, Sue.

XX
The boat-train rattling
Through the green country-side;
A girl within it battling
With her tears and pride.
The Southampton landing,
Porters, neat and quick,
And a young man standing,
Leaning on his stick.
'Oh, John, John, you shouldn't
Have come this long way. . .
'Did you really think I wouldn't
Be here to make you stay?'
I can't remember whether
There was much stress and strain,
But presently, together,
We were travelling back again.

XXI
The English love their country with a love
Steady, and simple, wordless, dignified;
I think it sets their patriotism above
All others. We Americans have pride—
We glory in our country's short romance.
We boast of it and love it. Frenchmen when
The ultimate menace comes, will die for France
Logically as they lived. But Englishmen
Will serve day after day, obey the law,
And do dull tasks that keep a nation strong.
Once I remember in London how I saw
Pale shabby people standing in a long
Line in the twilight and the misty rain
To pay their tax. I then saw England plain.

XXII
Johnnie and I were married. England then
Had been a week at war, and all the men
Wore uniform, as English people can,
Unconscious of it. Percy, the best man,
As thin as paper and as smart as paint,
Bade us good-by with admirable restraint,
Went from the church to catch his train to hell;
And died-saving his batman from a shell.

XXIII
We went down to Devon,
In a warm summer rain,
Knowing that our happiness
Might never come again;
I, not forgetting,
'Till death us do part,'
Was outrageously happy
With death in my heart.
Lovers in peacetime
With fifty years to live,
Have time to tease and quarrel
And question what to give;
But lovers in wartime
Better understand
The fullness of living,
With death close at hand.

XXIV
My father wrote me a letter—
My father, scholarly, indolent, strong,
Teaching Greek better
Than high-school students repay—
Teaching Greek in the winter, but all summer long
Sailing a yawl in Narragansett Bay;
Happier perhaps when I was away,
Free of an anxious daughter,
He could sail blue water
Day after day,
Beyond Brenton Reef Lightship, and Beavertail,
Past Cuttyhunk to catch a gale
Off the Cape, while he thought of Hellas and Troy,
Chanting with joy
Greek choruses— those lines that he said
Must be written some day on a stone at his head:
'But who can know
As the long years go
That to live is happy, has found his heaven.'
My father, so far away—
I thought of him, in Devon,
Anchoring in a blind fog in Booth Bay.

XXV
'So, Susan, my dear,' the letter began,
'You've fallen in love with an Englishman.
Well, they're a manly, attractive lot,
If you happen to like them, which I do not.
I am a Yankee through and through,
And I don't like them, or the things they do.
Whenever it's come to a knock-down fight
With us, they were wrong, and we right;
If you don't believe me, cast your mind
Back over history, what do you find?
They certainly had no justification
For that maddening plan to impose taxation
Without any form of representation.
Your man may be all that a man should be,
Only don't you bring him back to me
Saying he can't get decent tea—
He could have got his tea all right
In Boston Harbour a certain night,
When your great-great-grandmother— also a Sue—
Shook enough tea from her husband's shoe
To supply her house for a week or two.
The war of 1812 seems to me
About as just as a war could be.
How could we help but come to grips
With a nation that stopped and searched our ships,
And took off our seamen for no other reason
Except that they needed crews that season.
I can get angry still at the tale
Of their letting the Alabama sail,
And Palmerston being insolent
To Lincoln and Seward over the Trent.
All very long ago, you'll say,
But whenever I go up Boston-way,
I drive through Concord—that neck of the wood,
Where once the embattled farmers stood,
And I think of Revere, and the old South Steeple,
And I say, by heck, we're the only people
Who licked them not only once, but twice.
Never forget it-that's my advice.
They have their points—they're honest and brave,
Loyal and sure—as sure as the grave;
They make other nations seem pale and flighty,
But they do think England is god almighty,
And you must remind them now and then
That other countries breed other men.
From all of which you will think me rather
Unjust. I am. Your devoted Father.

XXVI
I read, and saw my home with sudden yearning—
The small white wooden house, the grass-green door,
My father's study with the fire burning,
And books piled on the floor.
I saw the moon-faced clock that told the hours,
The crimson Turkey carpet, worn and frayed,
The heavy dishes—gold with birds and flowers—
Fruits of the China trade.
I saw the jack o' lanterns, friendly, frightening,
Shine from our gateposts every Hallow-e'en;
I saw the oak tree, shattered once by lightning,
Twisted, stripped clean.

I saw the Dioscuri— two black kittens,
Stalking relentlessly an empty spool;
I saw a little girl in scarlet mittens
Trudging through snow to school.

XXVII
John read the letter with his lovely smile.
'Your father has a vigorous English style,
And what he says is true, upon my word;
But what's this war of which I never heard?
We didn't fight in 1812.' 'Yes, John,
That was the time when you burnt Washington.'
'We couldn't have, my dear. . .' 'I mean the city.'
'We burnt it?' 'Yes, you did.' 'What a pity!
No wonder people hate us. But, I say,
I'll make your father like me yet, some day.'

XXVIII
I settled down in Devon,
When Johnnie went to France.
Such a tame ending
To a great romance—
Two lonely women
With nothing much to do
But get to know each other;
She did and I did, too.
Mornings at the rectory
Learning how to roll
Bandages, and always
Saving light and coal.
Oh, that house was bitter
As winter closed in,
In spite of heavy stockings
And woollen next the skin.
I was cold and wretched,
And never unaware
Of John more cold and wretched
In a trench out there.

XXIX
All that long winter I wanted so much to complain,
But my mother-in-Iaw, as far as I could see,
Felt no such impulse, though she was always in pain,
An, as the winter fogs grew thick,
Took to walking with a stick,
Heavily.
Those bubble-like eyes grew black
Whenever she rose from a chair—
Rose and fell back,
Unable to bear
The sure agonizing
Torture of rising.
Her hands, those competent bony hands,
Grew gnarled and old,
But never ceased to obey the commands
Of her will— only finding new hold
Of bandage and needle and pen.
And not for the blinking
Of an eye did she ever stop thinking
Of the suffering of Englishmen
And her two sons in the trenches. Now and then
I could forget for an instant in a book or a letter,
But she never, never forgot— either one—
Percy and John—though I knew she loved one better—
Percy, the wastrel, the gambler, the eldest son.
I think I shall always remember
Until I die
Her face that day in December,
When in a hospital ward together, she and I
Were writing letters for wounded men and dying,
Writing and crying
Over their words, so silly and simple and loving,
Suddenly, looking up, I saw the old Vicar moving
Like fate down the hospital ward, until
He stood still
Beside her, where she sat at a bed.
'Dear friend, come home. I have tragic news,' he said
She looked straight at him without a spasm of fear,
Her face not stern or masked—
'Is it Percy or John?' she asked.
'Percy.' She dropped her eyes. 'I am needed here.
Surely you know
I cannot go
Until every letter is written. The dead
Must wait on the living,' she said.
'This is my work. I must stay.'
And she did— the whole long day.

XXX
Out of the dark, and dearth
Of happiness on earth,
Out of a world inured to death and pain;
On a fair spring mom
To me a son was born,
And hope was born-the future lived again.
To me a son was born,
The lonely hard forlorn
Travail was, as the Bible tells, forgot.
How old, how commonplace
To look upon the face
Of your first-born, and glory in your lot.

To look upon his face
And understand your place
Among the unknown dead in churchyards lying,
To see the reason why
You lived and why you die—
Even to find a certain grace in dying.

To know the reason why
Buds blow and blossoms die,
Why beauty fades, and genius is undone,
And how unjustified
Is any human pride
In all creation— save in this common one.

XXXI
Maternity is common, but not so
It seemed to me. Motherless, I did not know—
I was all unprepared to feel this glow,
Holy as a Madonna's, and as crude
As any animal's beatitude—
Crude as my own black cat's, who used to bring
Her newest litter to me every spring,
And say, with green eyes shining in the sun:
'Behold this miracle that I have done.'
And John came home on leave, and all was joy
And thankfulness to me, because my boy
Was not a baby only, but the heir—
Heir to the Devon acres and a name
As old as England. Somehow I became
Almost an English woman, almost at one
With all they ever did— all they had done.

XXXII
'I want him called John after you, or if not that I'd rather—'
'But the eldest son is always called Percy, dear.'
'I don't ask to call him Hiram, after my father—'
'But the eldest son is always called Percy, dear.'
'But I hate the name Percy. I like Richard or Ronald,
Or Peter like your brother, or Ian or Noel or Donald—'
'But the eldest is always called Percy, dear.'
So the Vicar christened him Percy; and Lady Jean
Gave to the child and me the empty place
In hr heart. Poor Lady, it was as if she had seen
The world destroyed— the extinction of her race,
Her country, her class, her name— and now she saw
Them live again. And I would hear her say:
'No. I admire Americans; my daughter-in-law
Was an American.' Thus she would well repay
The debt, and I was grateful— the English made
Life hard for those who did not come to her aid.

XXXIII
'They must come in in the spring.'
'Don't they care sixpence who's right?'
'What a ridiculous thing—
Saying they're too proud to fight.'
'Saying they're too proud to fight.'
'Wilson's pro-German, I'm told.'
'No, it's financial.' 'Oh, quite,
All that they care for is gold.'
'All that they care for is gold.'
'Seem to like writing a note.'
'Yes, as a penman, he's bold.'
'No. It's the Irish vote.'

'Oh, it's the Irish vote.'
'What if the Germans some night
Sink an American boat?'
'Darling, they're too proud to fight.'

XXXIV
What could I do, but ache and long
That my country, peaceful, rich, and strong,
Should come and do battle for England's sake.
What could I do, but long and ache.
And my father's letters I hid away
Lest some one should know the things he'd say.
'You ask me whether we're coming in—
We are. The English are clever as sin,
Silently, subtly they inspire
Most of youth with a holy fire
To shed their blood for the British Empire
We'll come in— we'll fight and die
Humbly to help them, and by and by,
England will do us in the eye.
They'll get colonies, gold and fame,
And we'll get nothing at all but blame.
Blame for not having come before,
Blame for not having sent them more
Money and men and war supplies,
Blame if we venture to criticise.
We're so damn simple— our skins so thin
We'll get nothing whatever, but we'll come in.'

XXXV
And at last—at last—like the dawn of a calm, fair day
After a night of terror and storm, they came—
My young light-hearted countrymen, tall and gay,
Looking the world over in search of fun and fame,
Marching through London to the beat of a boastful air,
Seeing for the first time Piccadilly and Leicester Square,
All the bands playing: 'Over There, Over There,
Send the word, send the word to beware—'
And as the American flag went fluttering by
Englishmen uncovered, and I began to cry.

XXXVI
'We're here to end it, by jingo.'
'We'll lick the Heinies okay.'
'I can't get on to the lingo.'
'Dumb-they don't get what we say.'
'Call that stuff coffee? You oughter
Know better. Gee, take it away.'
'Oh, for a drink of ice water! '
'They think nut-sundae's a day.'

'Say, is this chicken feed money?'
'Say, does it rain every day?'
'Say, Lady, isn't it funny
Every one drives the wrong way?'

XXXVII
How beautiful upon the mountains,
How beautiful upon the downs,
How beautiful in the village post-office,
On the pavements of towns—
How beautiful in the huge print of newspapers,
Beautiful while telegraph wires hum,
While telephone bells wildly jingle,
The news that peace has come—
That peace has come at last—that all wars cease.
How beautiful upon the mountains are the footsteps
Of the messengers of peace!

XXXVIII
In the depth of the night betwixt midnight and morning,
In the darkness and silence forerunning the dawn,
The throb of my heart was a drum-beat of warning,
My ears were a-strain and my breath was undrawn.
In the depth of the night, when the old house was sleeping,
I lying alone in a desolate bed,
Heard soft on the staircase a slow footstep creeping—
The ear of the living—the step of the dead.
In the depth of the night betwixt midnight and morning
A step drawing near on the old oaken floor—
On the stair— in the gallery— the ghost that gives warning
Of death, by that heartbreaking sigh at my door.

XXXIX
Bad news is not broken,
By kind tactful word;
The message is spoken
Ere the word can be heard.
The eye and the bearing,
The breath make it clear,
And the heart is despairing
Before the ears hear.
I do not remember
The words that they said:
'Killed—Douai—November—'
I knew John was dead.
All done and over—
That day long ago—
The while cliffs of Dover—
Little did I know.

XL
As I grow older, looking back, I see
Not those the longest planted in the heart
Are the most missed. Some unions seem to be
Too close for even death to tear apart.
Those who have lived together many years,
And deeply learnt to read each other's mind,
Vanities, tempers, virtues, hopes, and fears—
One cannot go—nor is one left behind.
Alas, with John and me this was not so;
I was defrauded even of the past.
Our days had been so pitifully few,
Fight as I would, I found the dead go fast.
I had lost all—had lost not love alone,
But the bright knowledge it had been my own.

XLI
Oh, sad people, buy not your past too dearly,
Live not in dreams of the past, for understand,
If you remember too much, too long, too clearly,
If you grasp memory with too heavy a hand,
You will destroy memory in all its glory
For the sake of the dreams of your head upon your bed.
You will be left with only the worn dead story
You told yourself of the dead.

XLII
Nanny brought up my son, as his father before him,
Austere on questions of habits, manners, and food.
Nobly yielding a mother's right to adore him,
Thinking that mothers never did sons much good.
A Scot from Lady Jean's own native passes,
With a head as smooth and round as a silver bowl,
A crooked nose, and eyes behind her glasses
Grey and bright and wise—a great soul !
Ready to lay down her life for her charge, and ready
To administer discipline without consulting me:
'Is that the way for you to answer my leddy?
I think you'll get no sweet tonight to your tea.'

Bringing him up better than I could do it,
Teaching him to be civil and manly and cool
In the face of danger. And then before I knew it
The time came for him to go off to school.

Off to school to be free of women's teaching,
Into a world of men— at seven years old;
Into a world where a mother's hands vainly reaching
Will never again caress and comfort and hold.

XLIII
My father came over now and then
To look at the boy and talk to me,
Never staying long,
For the urge was strong
To get back to his yawl and the summer sea.
He came like a nomad passing by,
Hands in his pockets, hat over one eye,
Teasing every one great and small
With a blank straight face and a Yankee drawl;
Teasing the Vicar on Apostolic Succession
And what the Thirty-Nine Articles really meant to convey,
Teasing Nanny, though he did not
Make much impression
On that imperturbable Scot.
Teasing our local grandee, a noble peer,
Who firmly believed the Ten Lost Tribes
Of Israel had settled here—
A theory my father had at his fingers' ends—
Only one person was always safe from his jibes—
My mother-in-law, for they were really friends.

XLIV
Oh, to come home to your country
After long years away,
To see the tall shining towers
Rise over the rim of the bay,
To feel the west wind steadily blowing
And the sunshine golden and hot,
To speak to each man as an equal,
Whether he is or not.

XLV
Was this America—this my home?
Prohibition and Teapot Dome—
Speakeasies, night-clubs, illicit stills,
Dark faces peering behind dark grills,
Hold-ups, kidnappings, hootch or booze—
Every one gambling—you just can't lose,
Was this my country? Even the bay
At home was altered, strange ships lay
At anchor, deserted day after day,
Old yachts in a rusty dim decay—
Like ladies going the primrose way—
At anchor, until when the moon was black,
They sailed, and often never came back.

Even my father's Puritan drawl
Told me shyly he'd sold his yawl
For a fabulous price to the constable's son—
My childhood's playmate, thought to be one
Of a criminal gang, rum-runners all,
Such clever fellows with so much money—
Even the constable found it funny,
Until one morning his son was found,
Floating dead in Long Island Sound.
Was this my country? It seemed like heaven
To get back, dull and secure, to Devon,
Loyally hiding from Lady Jean
And my English friends the horrors I'd seen.

XLVI
That year she died, my nearest, dearest friend;
Lady Jean died, heroic to the end.
The family stood about her grave, but none
Mourned her as I did. After, one by one,
They slipped away—Peter and Bill—my son
Went back to school. I hardly was aware
Of Percy's lovely widow, sitting there
In the old room, in Lady Jean's own chair.
An English beauty glacially fair
Was Percy's widow Rosamund, her hair
Was silver gilt, and smooth as silk, and fine,
Her eyes, sea-green, slanted away from mine,
From any one's, as if to meet the gaze
Of others was too intimate a phase
For one as cool and beautiful as she.

We were not friends or foes. She seemed to be
Always a little irked— fretted to find
That other women lived among mankind.
Now for the first time after years of meeting,
Never exchanging more than formal greeting,
She spoke to me— that sharp determined way
People will speak when they have things to say.

XLVII
ROSAMUND: Susan, go home with your offspring. Fly.
Live in America. SUSAN: Rosamund, why?
ROSAMUND: Why, my dear girl, haven't you seen
What English country life can mean
With too small an income to keep the place
Going? Already I think I trace
A change in you, you no longer care
So much how you look or what you wear.
That coat and skirt you have on, you know
You wouldn't have worn them ten years ago.
Those thick warm stockings— they make me sad,
Your ankles were ankles to drive men mad.
Look at your hair— you need a wave.
Get out— go home— be hard— be brave,
Or else, believe me, you'll be a slave.
There's something in you— dutiful— meek—
You'll be saving your pin-money every week
To mend the roof. Well, let it leak.
Why should you care? SUSAN: But I do care,
John loved this place and my boy's the heir.

ROSAMUND: The heir to what? To a tiresome life
Drinking tea with the vicar's wife,
Opening bazaars, and taking the chair
At meetings for causes that you don't care
Sixpence about and never will;
Breaking your heart over every bill.
I've been in the States, where everyone,
Even the poor, have a little fun.

Don't condemn your son to be
A penniless country squire. He
Would be happier driving a tram over there
Than mouldering his life away as heir.
SUSAN: Rosamund dear, this may all be true.
I'm an American through and through.
I don't see things as the English do,
But it's clearly my duty, it seems to me,
To bring up John's son, like him, to be
A country squire—poor alas,
But true to that English upper class
That does not change and does not pass.

ROSAMUND: Nonsense; it's come to an absolute stop.
Twenty years since we sat on top
Of the world, amusing ourselves and sneering
At other manners and customs, jeering
At other nations, living in clover—
Not any more. That's done and over.
No one nowadays cares a button
For the upper classes— they're dead as mutton.
Go home. SUSAN: I notice that you don't go.

ROSAMUND: My dear, that shows how little you know.
I'm escaping the fate of my peers,
Marrying one of the profiteers,
Who hasn't an 'aitch' where an 'aitch' should be,
But millions and millions to spend on me.
Not much fun— but there wasn't any
Other way out. I haven't a penny.
But with you it's different. You can go away,
And oh, what a fool you'd be to stay.

XLVIII
Rabbits in the park,
Scuttling as we pass,
Little white tails
Against the green grass.
'Next time, Mother,
I must really bring a gun,
I know you don't like shooting,
But—!' John's own son,
That blond bowed face,
Those clear steady eyes,
Hard to be certain
That the dead don't rise.
Jogging on his pony
Through the autumn day,
'Bad year for fruit, Mother,
But good salt hay.'
Bowling for the village
As his father had before;
Coming home at evening
To read the cricket score,
Back to the old house
Where all his race belong,
Tired and contented—
Rosamund was wrong.

XLIX
If some immortal strangers walked our land
And heard of death, how could they understand
That we—doomed creatures—draw our meted breath
Light-heartedly—all unconcerned with death.
So in these years between the wars did men
From happier continents look on us when
They brought us sympathy, and saw us stand
Like the proverbial ostrich-head in sand—
While youth passed resolutions not to fight,
And statesmen muttered everything was right—
Germany, a kindly, much ill-treated nation—
Russia was working out her own salvation
Within her borders. As for Spain, ah, Spain
Would buy from England when peace came again!
I listened and believed— believed through sheer
Terror. I could not look whither my fear
Pointed— that agony that I had known.
I closed my eyes, and was not alone.


Later than many, earlier than some,
I knew the die was cast— that war must come;
That war must come. Night after night I lay
Steeling a broken heart to face the day
When he, my son— would tread the very same
Path that his father trod. When the day came
I was not steeled— not ready. Foolish, wild
Words issued from my lips— 'My child, my child,
Why should you die for England too?' He smiled:
'Is she not worth it, if I must?' he said.
John would have answered yes— but John was dead.

L
Is she worth dying for? My love, my one
And only love had died, and now his son
Asks me, his alien mother, to assay
The worth of England to mankind today—
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war;
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea—
Ah, no, not that—not Shakespeare—I must be
A sterner critic. I must weigh the ill
Against the good, must strike the balance, till
I know the answer— true for me alone—
What is she worth— this country— not my own?

I thought of my father's deep traditional wrath
Against England— the redcoat bully— the ancient foe—
That second reaping of hate, that aftermath
Of a ruler's folly and ignorance long ago—
Long, long ago— yet who can honestly say
England is utterly changed— not I— not I.
Arrogance, ignorance, folly are here today,
And for these my son must die?
I thought of these years, these last dark terrible years
When the leaders of England bade the English believe
Lies at the price of peace, lies and fears,
Lies that corrupt, and fears that sap and deceive.
I though of the bars dividing man from man,
Invisible bars that the humble may not pass,
And how no pride is uglier, crueller than
The pride unchecked of class.
Oh, those invisible bars of manners and speech,
Ways that the proud man will not teach
The humble lest they too reach
Those splendid heights where a little band
Have always stood and will always stand
Ruling the fate of this small green land,
Rulers of England—for them must I
Send out my only son to die?

LI
And then, and then,
I thought of Elizabeth stepping down
Over the stones of Plymouth town
To welcome her sailors, common men,
She herself, as she used to say,
Being' mere English' as much as they—
Seafaring men who sailed away
From rocky inlet and wooded bay,
Free men, undisciplined, uncontrolled,
Some of them pirates and all of them bold,
Feeling their fate was England's fate,
Coming to save it a little late,
Much too late for the easy way,
Much too late, and yet never quite
Too late to win in that last worst fight.

And I thought of Hampden and men like him,
St John and Eliot, Cromwell and Pym,
Standing firm through the dreadful years,
When the chasm was opening, widening,
Between the Commons and the King;
I thought of the Commons in tears— in tears,
When Black Rod knocked at Parliament's door,
And they saw Rebellion straight before—
Weeping, and yet as hard as stone,
Knowing what the English have always known
Since then— and perhaps have known alone—
Something that none can teach or tell—
The moment when God's voice says; 'Rebel.'

Not to rise up in sudden gust
Of passion— not, though the cause be just;
Not to submit so long that hate,
Lava torrents break out and spill
Over the land in a fiery spate;
Not to submit for ever, until
The will of the country is one man's will,
And every soul in the whole land shrinks
From thinking—except as his neighbour thinks.
Men who have governed England know
That dreadful line that they may not pass
And live. Elizabeth long ago
Honoured and loved, and bold as brass,
Daring and subtle, arrogant, clever,
English, too, to her stiff backbone,
Somewhat a bully, like her own
Father— yet even Elizabeth never
Dared to oppose the sullen might
Of the English, standing upon a right.

LII
And were they not English, our forefathers, never more
English than when they shook the dust of her sod
From their feet for ever, angrily seeking a shore
Where in his own way a man might worship his God.
Never more English than when they dared to be
Rebels against her-that stern intractable sense
Of that which no man can stomach and still be free,
Writing: 'When in the course of human events. . .'
Writing it out so all the world could see
Whence come the powers of all just governments.
The tree of Liberty grew and changed and spread,
But the seed was English.
I am American bred,
I have seen much to hate here— much to forgive,
But in a world where England is finished and dead,
I do not wish to live.

poem by Report problemRelated quotes
Added by Poetry Lover
Comment! | Vote! | Copy!

Share

Don't make jokes about food.

quote by Report problemRelated quotes
Added by Lucian Velea
Comment! | Vote! | Copy!

Share

A rhyme doesn't make a song.

quote by Report problemRelated quotes
Added by Lucian Velea
Comment! | Vote! | Copy!

Share

Wit doesn't make girls pretty.

quote by Report problemRelated quotes
Added by Lucian Velea
Comment! | Vote! | Copy!

Share

One shower doesn't make a flood.

Native American proverbsReport problemRelated quotes
Added by Lucian Velea
Comment! | Vote! | Copy!

Share

One swallow doesn't make summer.

Dutch proverbsReport problemRelated quotes
Added by Lucian Velea
Comment! | Vote! | Copy!

Share

The habit doesn't make the monk.

Portuguese proverbsReport problemRelated quotes
Added by Lucian Velea
Comment! | Vote! | Copy!

Share

One swallow doesn't make a spring.

Bulgarian proverbsReport problemRelated quotes
Added by Lucian Velea
Comment! | Vote! | Copy!

Share

One swallow doesn't make a summer.

English proverbsReport problemRelated quotes
Added by Lucian Velea
Comment! | Vote! | Copy!

Share

One occasion doesn't make the rule.

Sicilian proverbsReport problemRelated quotes
Added by Lucian Velea
Comment! | Vote! | Copy!

Share
 

Search


Recent searches | Top searches