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Collected Poems

The Disadvantages of Being Dead

page 157

The Disadvantages of Being Dead

page 159

The Disadvantages of Being Dead

On reading that Sir Ernest Fisk, Managing Director of Amalgamated Wireless, considers it may be possible before long to get into communication with the dead.

According to Sir Ernest Fisk,
Death is attended with grave risk:
Henceforth when sufferers quit this life
(leaving the duns, the job, the wife),
When weary souls obtain release
They cannot hope to rest in peace.
Ah, no! Sir Ernest and his friends
Will probe beyond the earth's far ends
Armed with a radio transmitter,
And send them (though the thought's more bitter
Than death itself) tidings of battle,
Turf intelligence, tittle-tattle,
Until no privacy is left
To those who are of life bereft,
And the deep silence of the tomb
Resounds like Bedlam's common-room.

Sir Ernest, hear this heartfelt cry!
We who are about to die
Salute … and ask you not to try.

page 160

Now that You've Found the Way, You Must Come and See us Again

Canon for two voices

Well, thank God that's over, I don't want to go through another evening like this in a hurry …

Me neither and I don't intend to; I'm not asking them again, don't worry …

I never in all my life heard a grown man talk such a lot of nonsense…

He doesn't know the first thing about anything and she's a perfect fool, they're worse even than the Johnsons …

Yes, and although he's a dreadful bore and she's a malicious gossip I'd swear I'd rather have even the Burtons…

And the dress she was wearing, did you notice, it looked as if it had been knocked together out of some old curtains…

It was awfully silly of you to invite them at all, you know, knowing what they were like…

I did nothing of the sort, it was you who said drop in and see us some time, any time at all…

Well if you call that an invitation, but anybody in their sane senses would take it as an indication that we'd rather they didn't call…

All right, all right, for God's sake don't nag …

I'm not nagging; I'm just telling you, and there's no need to get out your rag…

Well, you go on and on and on, you give me a thick head…
For God's sake wind the clock and put out the cat and let's go to bed…

page 161

Hymn of Peace

Ring out, ye joyful bells, O ring, ring out!
And all ye happy people, sing and shout!
On borrower and lender
Now dawns in all its splendour
      The Age of Peace
(Without, however, benefit of Lend-Lease).

O happy time, when all the world is free!
The sun of Freedom shines o'er land and sea!
Released from war's alarms
Now men lay down their arms,
      And all is quiet
(Except for an odd Palestinian riot).

In field and factory, too, joy reigns supreme,
For men have realized their age-old dream;
Loving co-operation
Builds Peace within each nation
      (Save, inter alia,
Strikes in America, Java, Britain, Australia).

Go, bind the daffadillies in your hair,
And dance, ye maidens, dance, and cast off care!
Peace reigns: with one accord
Nations renounce the sword
      And meet as brothers
(All but the Big Three, and some forty others).

page 162

Oh —! Oh Hang!

'If at the end of a year we have not made worth-while progress I will resign,' said Mr E. R. Cuzens at a recent meeting of the South Canterbury Regional Planning Council. …The chairman (Mr George Dash) said: 'If I am chairman of this body for twelve months, and at the end of that time we have not made progress, I will hang myself.'

There's terrible tidings from down in the South—
The Regional Planners are down in the mouth.
In spite of the work of a score of committees
In drawing up blue prints for backblocks and cities
They're having to swallow the bitterest pill —
The fact that their progress to date has been nil.
So dim is the outlook for Regional Planners
That one of their number (forgetting his manners)
Has threatened (or promised) to string himself up
At the end of twelve months if their bitch doesn't pup.

'Way down in that region, we've always been told,
The virtues of English reserve are extolled;
Their conduct is flawless — they never say worse
Than 'Oh, Dash!' or 'Oh, Hang!' when they're tempted to curse;
They're all for good manners and rigid decorum,
And genteel refinement and highcockalorum.
So here in the North, where we're rather untamed,
The news of George Dash's most desperate threat
Was received with surprise and a tinge of regret.

Now, knowing the way that committees are run
(They'll talk for twelve months, and their work's never done),
Here and now you'll agree it may safely be said
That the fate of G. Dash can be taken as read.
So, folks, we're all set for a beautiful hanging;
The boys in the bar-room are thumping and banging;
They feel, one and all, that your promise was rash,
But they know they can count on your word, Mr Dash.
Don't think you're unpopular, just from that sound —
They'll give you an item — so just hang around.

page 163

Footnote to Matthew X, 29

When playing from the first tee in a tournament at the Lochiel Club's links, Mr A. E. McDonald, of St. Andrew's Club, Hamilton, hit a sparrow on the wing. The bird was killed.

With trembling hands he tees his ball,
His only one — he risks his all;
He pulls his driver from the bag;
His spirits now begin to sag,
Recalling that a 10 had crowned
His struggles here the last time round.

His knees are knocking as he stands
And grips the club with desperate hands.
He breathes a prayer and drags it back,
Then lurches blindly forward … whack!
Great snakes! Now, who would dare predict
Such miracles as this? He's clicked!

Just at that moment, sad to say,
A sparrow flits across the way;
The ball flies straighter than an arrow
And strikes that God-forsaken sparrow,
Which (in defiance of Holy Writ)
Falls dead the moment that it's hit.
He stands and stares, in blank surprise —
'Come, Fate!' he yells, 'now do your worst:
I've got a birdie at the first!'

Coal Comfort

The collier 'Wingatui', which left Wellington for Westport to get coal for Wellington, arrived back in without the cargo of coal but having circumnavigated the North Island.

We're sailing off to Westport
rend="indent"To fetch a load of coal;
We won't be home to breakfast;
The wind is from the Pole.

page 164

We're sailing off to Westport
By Bristol and Hong Kong;
We'll have our lunch in Greenland;
We hope we won't be long.

We're going to stop at 'Frisco
To have a bite of tea,
Then spend the night exploring
The dark Sargasso Sea.

We're off to scoop and shovel
To fetch the folk some coal;
We'll touch the coast of Iceland,
But Westport is our goal.

We're sailing off to Westport
By way of Kingdom Come;
We won't be home till Christmas—
So keep some dinner, Mum!

The Ends of Man

The Auckland Metropolitan Drainage Engineer gave it as his opinion that one might almost think that Providence had provided Brown's Island specially for the purposes of the drainage scheme.

When Brown's at first, by Heaven's command, arose
From out the Waitemata's azure main,
It was no accident, as fools suppose:
No one in Heaven received a 'Please Explain';
The whole thing was ordained in Heaven's plan
To serve, quite literally, the ends of man.

It may seem strange to you, who know no history,
That Providence should blue-print such a scheme;
Perhaps you think the whole thing is a mystery?
Then, brother, let me wake you from your dream:
Of all the world's vast areas of dry land,
Heaven, it seems, has commandeered Brown's Island.

Now let me ask this question: Who was Brown?
Does he deserve this cruel, astringent fame?
page 165 What has he done, that the whole flaming town
Should build this monument to bear his name?
And can it be said that they must make this votive
Offering with some posterior motive?

I do not question Heaven — its smile or frown—
But can't help feeling sad for poor old Brown.

Political Science

Fight the good fight with all thy might
(but please recall, if it should suit
the party line, or King Canute,
white may be black, or black be white).

Vote the right vote with all thy might
(and please remember, eating pottage
inside your castle — or State cottage —
you won't get left if you vote right!).

The Tourist

I met him in a cocktail bar,
he said his name was Jones,
he spoke of Reparations and
of Debts and Foreign Loans,
I propped him up in, front of me
and kicked him in the stones.

I found him in the Abbey with
an illustrated guide,
I took him by the buttonhole
and led him to one side,
I hammered him and jumped upon
his stomach till he cried.

I met him by the Palace
making notes upon his shirt,
page 166 I poked a finger in his eye
and asked him if it hurt,
and later on I took his face
and rubbed it in the dirt.

I saw him up at Stratford and
he told me of the Bard,
he would have said a lot more but
I took him off his guard,
I thought of his posterity
and kicked him very hard.

He knew the map of Europe as
a monkey knows its pelt,
He said that English churches were
the nicest he had smelt,
I pulled his nose and kicked his shins
and asked him how he felt.

He said he wondered what this place
was like before the War,
I led him to the limousine and
pushed him through the door.
I took him down to Stonehenge which
he hadn't seen before.

He mentioned that he'd like to get
some prehistoric bones,
I stood him in the shadow of
the largest of the stones,
I pushed it on his neck and said
good-bye to Mr Jones.

To my Butcher

On having a pound of steak delivered in the 'Sunday Express'.

Sir, I protest. You've sent my meat
wrapped in this blood-stained Sunday sheet;
and now, it seems, my dinner must
smell rank with other people's lust,
page 167 and gossip of the stage and screen,
and crimes of blood and cash and spleen,
and turf-notes, and the dirty tricks
of men who play at politics.
Pray you in future, sir, to use

the 'Philatelist' or the 'Poulterers' News';
or stay! for what were weeklies made?
here is our safe and fitting aid.
No active germ could find gestation
inside the 'Week-End' or the 'Nation';
it would not even spoil my lunch
to find my viands wrapped in 'Punch'.
So keep your Sunday sheets, my friend,
and put them to a better end.
For meat, use weeklies — safe, and cheap:
employ your weeklies, sir, and keep
the custom (else, good sir, we part!)
of one who, in his simple heart,
finds Sunday papers running sores,
and weeklies merely harmless bores.

The 105 Per Cent Loaf

On bakers protesting when they were compelled to wrap bread.

When tea-time comes, and I sit down
To chew my bread-and-butter,
I love to find that, white or brown,
It savours of the gutter.

There's nothing quite so nice to munch
As bread that tastes of gutter;
I love the flavour for my lunch —
The hint of swill and clutter.

I like to think my loaf is mauled
By paws that handle money,
And then is dropped where dogs have sprawled.
In ways like that I'm funny.

page 168

I love the smatch of quadruped,
Of grubby nails and fingers.
I like to think that on my bread
Their gentle fragrance lingers.

It pleases me to think that when
My loaf is mauled or muddied
Production costs are lower then,
And profits are being studied.

A little dirt will never hurt —
Before I'm safely dead
I'll eat a peck of it, they say —
So Please don't wrap my bread.

Matchless Beauty

'Bus, Otahuhu, 6 p.m., Wednesday, Young Lady in single seat, black dress, asked for match. If interested, write —.' — Advertisement in 'Personal' Column.

You travelled on the six o'clock, and rolled yourself a fag,
You licked the gum and stuck it down, then looked inside your bag
(Your eyes were crossed, your yellow hair hung downward like a thatch),
And then you lurched across the bus and asked me for a match.

I noted well your powdered chops, the hair upon your face,
The sag of sordid underwear, the fringe of grubby lace;
I saw the torn umbrella, and the bag that wouldn't latch;
I held my stomach, shut my eyes, and handed you a match.

I shudder still to think of you … I can't forget that face …
But will you take a job with us — just helping round the place?
Please tell me if you're interested — I ask it on my knees.
Oh, will you come and cook for us? Do answer quickly, Please!

page 169

Song of the Open Road

I wish to sing the joys of hiking;
It is superior to biking.
I know it is not quite so fast —
That only makes the pleasure last.
Heigh-ho! when springtime is in bud
How jolly then to plod through mud,
To clump along like happy vagrants
And sniff the petrol fumes' sweet fragrance,
As motor-cars go splashing past
With honk of horn and klaxon-blast.
In winter-time there's nothing like
A good old-fashioned ten-mile hike;
We love to march through rain and sleet
With leaky boots upon our feet,
Our clothes each moment growing wetter,
And if there's hail, that's even better.
And then, when summer comes, how gay
Our trek along the broad highway,
With songs upon our dusty lips
And cheery words and merry quips.
When gazing down sweet pastoral vistas
We cannot even think of blisters.
In any weather, dry or damp,
There's nothing like a day-long tramp
To make us feel that life is sweet
In spite of corns and aching…

Hey, Mister, Give Us a Lift!

A Phoenix in the Fowl-Run

The Art Gallery Committee of the Christchurch City Council rejected 'The Pleasure Garden', by Frances Hodgkins, on the advice of three experts. (It was later bought by public subscription and now hangs, without much civic honour, in the MacDougall Gallery.)

A phoenix in the fowl-run!
Oh, this will never do!
Call Nicoll, Kelly, Wallwork,
page 170 And sound a view-halloo!
The phoenix is a fire-bird —
Oh, this is bad for trade!
A phoenix in the fowl-run!
Go call the Fire Brigade!

The hens are sitting pretty
Upon their tussock nests,
They dream like Walter Mitty
Of squatters' rich bequests;
While through the dusty city
Poor Fanny Hodgkins begs
The hens are sitting pretty
Upon their china eggs.

Bring Kelly, Wallwork, Nicoll
To put the phoenix out!
Their hose will only trickle?
They'll find some way, no doubt —
For public taste is fickle,
And nothing's too absurd.
Bring Kelly, Wallwork, Nicoll
To choke the fiery bird!

Call Nicoll, Wallwork, Kelly,
Three gentlemen of parts,
They'll make a dust, I tell 'ee —
Nor-westers of the arts,
More dry-as-dust than Shelley
(As full of wind? Well, just) —
Call Nicoll, Wallwork, Kelly,
And let them raise the dust!

Alas, the dust will quickly
Subside when they have done
And settle just as thickly
Upon the poultry-run;
And far away the phoenix
Will shine in clearer skies
While N. and K. and Wallwork
Rub dust into their eyes.

page 171

Bredon Hill

With a wink at Mr Housman

Consumer Time on Bredon,
The prices sound so dear,
From all YAs they call them
To people far and near;
A happy noise? No fear!

Here of a Wednesday evening
(My love, they wouldn't lie)
We heard the stable prices
Go soaring up so high
About us in the sky.

The bills were mounting daily,
But still the voice would cry:
'Go to the shops, good people,
Good people, go and buy.'
And then my love would sigh.

And I would turn and answer
With voice and visage glum;
'You talk of ceiling prices?
O, noisy lad, come, come,
You must think we are dumb.'

Consumer Time, Dunedin?
Oh, turn to the shortwave.
I wish I were with Housman
Where none has need to save —
Lying pretty in the grave.

page 172

The Most Unkindest Cut

On reading that protests have been made against the dissection of cats at a School of Biology.

Always be kind to pussy,
Never throw stones at her, boys;
Just give her some milk in a saucer;
Remember the rats she destroys.

Be gentle and kind to poor pussy;
Remember her tally of mice;
And let her sleep snug by the fire;
Don't hack her about — it's not nice.

And never take Puss to Biology,
She doesn't like lessons, you see:
If you do, I can't possibly tell you
How dreadfully cut up she'll be.

Talking of Talking

'Verbosity in Parliament' — Newspaper headline.

I seldom read the local news,
I rarely scan the sporting,
the times I've looked at film reviews
are scarcely worth reporting.

I sometimes read the cable page
to see what mischief's cooking,
perhaps consult the racing sage
when nobody is looking.

But best of all I like to read
the editorial lectures,
they save me thought, remove the need
to make my own conjectures.

Sometimes I think that I'm unique
and not like other readers,
page 173 I'm almost sure that I'm a freak —
I Always read the leaders.

I love to hear these downy birds
pronounce their solemn warnings,
they pile up words on words on words
and occupy my mornings.

I must confess I'm staggered, though,
and just a little dampened,
to read this charge that Down Below
verbosity is rampant.

What blackened pot that serves the sinks
condemns the kitchen kettle?
What polecat thinks the onion stinks?
What scorpion blames the nettle?

Reverie in Rat Week

I want to talk about the Rat.

You've heard me talk of this and that.
Just for a change I'd like to speak
Some words about the Rat this week.

The Rat is different from the Cat,
He dare not sit upon the mat;
He sees with anxious eyes the feline,
And for his hole he makes a bee-line.

And yet he differs from the Bee,
He does not give us honey, see?

And then, again, he's fond of cheese,
A food that is not liked by bees.

The Rat's a rodent beast — his habits
In this respect are like the Rabbit's.

However, in a stew, I feel,
The Rabbit makes a nicer meal.

page 174

The Rat is different from the Rhino.
You ask me why? I'm damned if I know.

He differs from the Hippo, too,
I find that very odd, don't you?

The Rat is different from the Cat…
I think I may have mentioned that.

I do not like this quadruped,
I feel that he is better dead.

It would not be a serious loss for us
If all his family dined on phosphorus.

News from the World

'A new and happy day has dawned!'
cried the loudspeakers. God just yawned.

Any Book-of-the-Month Club

The virgin marks her calendar,
and still goes undefiled;
she menstruates most regular,
and never has a child.

A Note on the Depressing Effect of Abdominal Disturbances

People who have the colic
Don't frolic.

page 175

Down on my Luck

Wandering above a sea of glass
in the soft April weather,
wandering through the yellow grass
where the sheep stand and blether;
roaming the cliffs in the morning light,
hearing the gulls that cry there,
not knowing where I'll sleep tonight,
not much caring either.

              I haven't got a stiver
              the tractor's pinched my job,
              I owe the bar a fiver
              and the barman fifteen bob;
              the good times are over,
              the monkey-man has foreclosed,
              the woman has gone with the drover,
              not being what I supposed.

              I used to get things spinning,
              I used to dress like a lord,
              mostly I came out winning,
              but all that's gone by the board;
              my pants have lost their creases,
              I've fallen down on my luck,
              the world has dropped to pieces
              everything's come unstuck.

Roaming the cliffs in the morning light,
hearing the gulls that cry there,
not knowing where I'll sleep tonight,
not much caring either,
wandering above a sea of glass
in the soft April weather,
wandering through the yellow grass
close to the end of my tether.

page 176

Horse Pansies

A Garland of Beautiful Thoughts Some in the Manner of Mr Ogden Nash, and others with no Manners at All by A. R. D. Fairburn who, for the purposes of this outing, wishes to be known as Horace Papjoy.

It's my Laugh or Yours

What sort of a laugh do you laugh?
Do you make a noise like a horse blowing into a bag of chaff?
Do you give vent to great mirthful gusts
Of the kind one associates perhaps with the poet Gray's animated busts?
Or do you titter
Like an Eskimo girl eating a banana fritter?
Does your laugh in any way suggest that something around 30 is your I.Q.?
If so I am afraid that I am not going to like you.

There are all sorts of laughs
And some of them sound like the whinnying of horse-mosquitoes and
others like the bellowing of bull-calfs.
Of all the distressing outward and visible
Signs that a man's feelings are risible,
Nothing so amply justifies the pulling of the trigger
As the snigger;
There are also the chuckle and the hoot;
Which of them is the more nauseating is a point that is moot.
Girls giggle and titter.
If you hear one doing it, walk up to her and hit her.

I like to be solemn
Whether I am writing a book or a newspaper column.
Almost any sort of laughter makes me writhe.
Life is real and life is earnest and it's very bad taste for anybody to
pretend that it is blithe.

I love fish.
Their heads are under water and they can't laugh even if they wish.

page 177

An Old Tale Re-Told

I once knew a girl with a heart like an icicle
Who used to go riding around on a bicycle;
She never would stop when I called out or whistled:
If her eye caught mine she just pouted or bristled.
I loved her red hair and her bright blue socklets,
I wooed her with flowers and I wooed her with chocolates,
I sent her an apple, I sent her a book,
But she never would give me so much as a look.
I fell to despairing, but just at that juncture
I found her one day trying to fix up a puncture;
She had wrestled for hours and had given up trying,
She was just sitting there by the roadside and crying.
I patted her hand, said, 'There's no need to bellow,'
And mended her tyre like a chivalrous fellow.
Then just like a woman, perverse and mercurial,
She smiled a sweet smile and said, 'Please call me Muriel.'
She flung her arms round me and gave me a kiss,
And said she'd been waiting a long time for this.
She said, 'I'm all yours, you can take what you like.'
So I thought for a while — then, of course, took the bike.

Roll Out the Knightcart
A Ballad for the Times

To the tune of 'Waltzing Matilda'

Once a jolly fishmonger, sitting on a heap of guts,
Said to his wife, 'Oh, my dear wife,' said he,
'We've made lots of money, now it's time to make the Honours List —
Who'll come a-hunting a knighthood with me?'

Roll out the knightcart! Roll out the knightcart!
Who'll come a-hunting a knighthood with me?
For it's high time the Government handed me a bloody gong —
Who'll come a-hunting a knighthood with me?

Up jumped an editor, glad to help at chivalry,
For he had some thoughts of a knighthood, too;
He said, 'Mr Fishmonger, what a lot of guts you've got —
I'll come a-hunting a knighthood with you!'

page 178

refrain: Roll out…etc.

Then said the fishmonger,'What'll take my smell away?
The pong of my guts is too strong, you'll agree —
What'll make me smell a little less like a lavatory
When you come a-hunting a knighthood with me?'

refrain: Roll out…etc.

'Don't be afraid,' said the lofty-minded editor,
'We'll spray you from head to foot with stale printer's ink,
You won't smell of guts when I've finished with my eulogy,
With bright purple prose I shall cover up your stink.'

refrain: Roll out…etc.

'Thanks,' said the fishmonger, taking out his handkerchief,
'Thanks from the heart of my bottom,' quavered he,
And he wiped from his eyes and nose tears of gratitude,
'Thanks for the knighthood you'll jack up for me.'


Jack up! Jack up! Jack up the knightcart!
Who'll come a-hunting a knighthood with me?
For I've always backed the Party up, it's time I had a bloody gong—
Who'll come a-hunting a knighthood with me?

(Slowly and sadly)

Jack got his knighthood, but O, what a tragedy —
The high-minded editor's ink was spilled in vain;
For in spite of the knighthood, in spite of all the purple prose,
Jack on the knightcart still smelt like a drain!

Refrain (with gutso)
Roll out the knightcart! Roll out the knightcart!
Who'll come a-hunting a knighthood with me?
For we'll get our bloody gongs now they've changed the bloody Government —
Who'll Come a-Hunting a Knighthood with me?

page 179

Sociological Jotting

Life in the slums is quite dreadful.
Unless there are 7 or 8 sleeping in a bed together they don't reckon they have a bedful.

As for the people who are just lousy with money,
They each have a bed but sometimes they don't
sleep in them, which when you come to think
about it is distinctly funny.

It's been Keeping me Awake in the Afternoons

If wharfage
Is what you pay for using a wharf,
And haulage
Is the cost of getting things hauled,
And railage
Is the charge for using the railway.
Why isn't cabbage
What you give to the taxi-driver,
And garbage
The money you eventually hand over to your tailor?

We've Got the 'Herald' in the Morning and the 'Star' at Night

Try this over on your piano

introduction and Verse
Taking stock of all the things they publish,
What do I find?
They say such things, their souls must be imperilled.
Taking stock of all their useless rubbish,
What do I find?
A useful purpose for the 'Star' and 'Herald'.

page 180

They've got horses, they've got cars,
They've got baches with cocktail bars —
They sell the 'Herald' in the morning and the 'Star' at night.
They've bought mansions, bought a yacht,
All by selling us priceless rot
In the 'Herald' each morning and the 'Star' each night.

Dailies are not meant to read;
We've got everything we need.
On town supply or septic tanks,
We'd all like to express our thanks —
We've got the 'Herald' in the morning and the 'Star' at night!

With the 'Herald' in the morning and the 'Star' at night
We're All Right!

An Open Invitation to all Decent, Tea-drinking New ZealandersTake Glover Apart!

[Inscribed on a heavily visceral anatomy chart]

Then Come, Lads, tear him limb from limb
And tripe by tripe unravel him,
Let's catch him Bending, fix the Date
When he shall meet his well-earned Fate.
Your vegetable Hate should grow
Vaster than Empires, and more slow.
An hundred years should go to prise
His Eyelids from his bloodshot Eyes,
Two hundred to unlock his Chest,
But thirty thousand to the rest.
An Age at least to Light and Lung,
And the last Age should show his Bung.
For Glover he deserves this State—
Up-end him, Lads, and fix his Date!

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