Category Archives: Manly Poems

Manly Poems – the death of Gil Scott-Heron/The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

Gil Scott-Heron died today. The poet/musician/author was one of the loudest African-American voices of post-Luther King America. His spoken word performances were famously powerful and his lyrics are captivating to read, even better to listen to. To my generation, he’s probably most easily recognised through his recitation of the poem ‘Who Will Survive In America?’ being used in Kanye West’s recent song ‘Lost In The World‘ (which is worth a listen anyway, beautiful music).

Nonetheless, Scott-Heron’s most famous piece of work was the poem ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’, recorded in 1970. I’ve selected it as part of my list of Manly Poems because Scott-Heron’s rousing rhetoric is a tremendous portrayal of a time of social change, some would say revolution, the likes of which my generation knows nothing. Any man can tell a story, a great man makes you imagine, feel, wish you were there.

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

You will not be able to stay home, brother.
You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out.
You will not be able to lose yourself on skag and skip,
Skip out for beer during commercials,
Because the revolution will not be televised.

The revolution will not be televised.
The revolution will not be brought to you by Xerox
In 4 parts without commercial interruptions.
The revolution will not show you pictures of Nixon
blowing a bugle and leading a charge by John
Mitchell, General Abrams and Spiro Agnew to eat
hog maws confiscated from a Harlem sanctuary.
The revolution will not be televised.

The revolution will not be brought to you by the
Schaefer Award Theatre and will not star Natalie
Woods and Steve McQueen or Bullwinkle and Julia.
The revolution will not give your mouth sex appeal.
The revolution will not get rid of the nubs.
The revolution will not make you look five pounds
thinner, because the revolution will not be televised, Brother.

There will be no pictures of you and Willie May
pushing that shopping cart down the block on the dead run,
or trying to slide that color television into a stolen ambulance.
NBC will not be able predict the winner at 8:32
or report from 29 districts.
The revolution will not be televised.

There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down
brothers in the instant replay.
There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down
brothers in the instant replay.
There will be no pictures of Whitney Young being
run out of Harlem on a rail with a brand new process.
There will be no slow motion or still life of Roy
Wilkens strolling through Watts in a Red, Black and
Green liberation jumpsuit that he had been saving
For just the proper occasion.

Green Acres, The Beverly Hillbillies, and Hooterville
Junction will no longer be so damned relevant, and
women will not care if Dick finally gets down with
Jane on Search for Tomorrow because Black people
will be in the street looking for a brighter day.
The revolution will not be televised.

There will be no highlights on the eleven o’clock
news and no pictures of hairy armed women
liberationists and Jackie Onassis blowing her nose.
The theme song will not be written by Jim Webb,
Francis Scott Key, nor sung by Glen Campbell, Tom
Jones, Johnny Cash, Englebert Humperdink, or the Rare Earth.
The revolution will not be televised.

The revolution will not be right back after a message
about a white tornado, white lightning, or white people.
You will not have to worry about a dove in your
bedroom, a tiger in your tank, or the giant in your toilet bowl.
The revolution will not go better with Coke.
The revolution will not fight the germs that may cause bad breath.
The revolution will put you in the driver’s seat.

The revolution will not be televised, will not be televised,
will not be televised, will not be televised.
The revolution will be no re-run brothers;
The revolution will be live.

Gil Scott-Heron

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Manly Poems: Timothy Winters

Lawyers, I suppose, were children once.

And the same is true for every man, which is why I’m adding this to my catalogue of manly poems.

The Munro Report on child services in Britain, published yesterday, scorned the amount of bureaucracy in the system which often leads to children’s needs being ignored. Professor Eileen Munro of LSE said: “Too often questions are asked if rules have been met but not whether this has helped children. Everyone in the profession can think of meetings and forms that don’t actually make a child safer. While some regulation is needed, we need to reduce it to a small, manageable size.”

The story reminded me of Timothy Winters, a poem by Charles Causley (the greatest poet laureate Britain never hard) which we read in school.

Timothy Winters

Timothy Winters comes to school
With eyes as wide as a football pool,
Ears like bombs and teeth like splinters:
A blitz of a boy is Timothy Winters.
His belly is white, his neck is dark,
And his hair is an exclamation mark.
His clothes are enough to scare a crow
And through his britches the blue winds blow.
When a teacher talks he won’t hear a word
And he shoots down dead the arithmetic bird,
He licks the patterns off his plate
And he’s not even heard of the Welfare State.
Timothy Winters has bloody feet
And he lives in a house on Suez Street,
He sleeps in a sack on the kitchen floor
And they say there aren’t boys like him any more.
Old man Winters likes his beer
And his missus ran off with a bombardier,
Grandma sits in the grate with a gin
And Timothy’s dosed with an aspirin.
The Welfare Worker lies awake
But the law’s as tricky as a ten-foot snake,
So Timothy Winters drinks his cup
And slowly goes on growing up.
At Morning Prayers the Master helves
For the children less fortunate than ourselves,
And the loudest response in the room is when
Timothy Winters roars “Amen!”
So come one angel, come on ten:
Timothy Winters says “Amen
Amen amen amen amen.”
Timothy Winters, Lord. Amen.

Of the poem, Causley later said: “People always ask me whether this was a real boy. My God, he certainly was. Poor old boy I don’t know where he is now. I was thunderstruck when people though I’d made it up! – he was a real bloke. Poor little devil.”

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Manly Poems – Gethsemane by Rudyard Kipling

I’ve recently been reading up on my war poetry, especially after viewing the Scottish National Theatre’s Black Watch this week. I stumbled across a beautiful and tragic poem by Kipling, dealing with the subject of war as was his wont in later life.

The Garden of Gethsemane sits at the foot of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem and is famed for being the place where Jesus prayed with his disciples the day before his crucifixion.  In the Book of Matthew, Jesus prays: “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” Kipling likened the predicament of Jesus to that of all soldiers. Their destiny, their duty, is not theirs to will. After the First World War, the image of the conflict as the slaughter of masses of soldiers as Christ-like figures became widespread. The idea of a soldier’s submission to his commander’s will became tarnished beyond repair.

This piece exemplifies a great turning point in English literature and indeed, in Western literature generally. After this first global conflict, war poetry became anti-war poetry and remained so. Gone were the days of glorifying the honour of death in war.

Gethsemane

(1914 – 1918)

The Garden called Gethsemane

In Picardy it was,

And there the people came to see

The English soldiers pass.

We used to pass – we used to pass

Or halt, as it may be,

And ship our masks in case of gas

Beyond Gethsemane.

The Garden called Gethsemane,

It held a pretty lass,

But all the time she talked to me

I prayed my cup might pass.

The officer sat on the chair,

The men lay on the grass,

And all the time we halted there

I prayed my cup might pass.

It didn’t pass – it didn’t pass –

It didn’t pass from me.

I drank it when we met the gas

Beyond Gethsemane!

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Manly Poems – ‘Tommy’ by Rudyard Kipling

Tommy Atkins is a term used to describe a common British soldier which was already in regular use in the 19th century, but which is particularly associated with the First World War.

This poem was one in a series by Kipling called “Barrack-Room Ballads” which was dedicated “To T.A.”. The poem is a protest piece written from the perspective of the common soldier, Tommy Atkins. In it, Kipling compares the behaviour of civilians towards soldiers during peacetime to how they treat the ‘redcoats’ when war begins. The soldier notes that when there is no immediate need for him and his comrades in the minds of the people, they treat him as a pariah. However, when the political situation heats up, the soldiers are suddenly hailed as heroes and treated as such. The work ends with the solemn reminder to the reader that while he may be common and uneducated, that does not make him ignorant of their behaviour. As is common with Kipling, the last line resounds in the reader’s mind.

Tommy

I went into a public-’ouse to get a pint o’ beer,
The publican ‘e up an’ sez, “We serve no red-coats here.”
The girls be’ind the bar they laughed an’ giggled fit to die,
I outs into the street again an’ to myself sez I:
O it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, go away”;
But it’s “Thank you, Mister Atkins”, when the band begins to play,
The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
O it’s “Thank you, Mister Atkins”, when the band begins to play.

I went into a theatre as sober as could be,
They gave a drunk civilian room, but ‘adn’t none for me;
They sent me to the gallery or round the music-’alls,
But when it comes to fightin’, Lord! they’ll shove me in the stalls!
For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, wait outside”;
But it’s “Special train for Atkins” when the trooper’s on the tide,
The troopship’s on the tide, my boys, the troopship’s on the tide,
O it’s “Special train for Atkins” when the trooper’s on the tide.

Yes, makin’ mock o’ uniforms that guard you while you sleep
Is cheaper than them uniforms, an’ they’re starvation cheap;
An’ hustlin’ drunken soldiers when they’re goin’ large a bit
Is five times better business than paradin’ in full kit.
Then it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, ‘ow’s yer soul?”
But it’s “Thin red line of ‘eroes” when the drums begin to roll,
The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
O it’s “Thin red line of ‘eroes” when the drums begin to roll.

We aren’t no thin red ‘eroes, nor we aren’t no blackguards too,
But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;
An’ if sometimes our conduck isn’t all your fancy paints,
Why, single men in barricks don’t grow into plaster saints;
While it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, fall be’ind”,
But it’s “Please to walk in front, sir”, when there’s trouble in the wind,
There’s trouble in the wind, my boys, there’s trouble in the wind,
O it’s “Please to walk in front, sir”, when there’s trouble in the wind.

You talk o’ better food for us, an’ schools, an’ fires, an’ all:
We’ll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
Don’t mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
The Widow’s Uniform is not the soldier-man’s disgrace.
For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Chuck him out, the brute!”
But it’s “Saviour of ‘is country” when the guns begin to shoot;

An’ it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ anything you please;
An’ Tommy ain’t a bloomin’ fool — you bet that Tommy sees!

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Manly Poems – ‘Epic’ by Patrick Kavanagh

Mr Carr was one of my many English teachers. He taught me all through the Junior Certificate syllabus, including some of the most famous and iconic pieces of Irish poetry. This is the poem I am most grateful to have been taught.

Kavanagh was born in Iniskeen, Co Monaghan in the early 20th century. He was best known for works such as Raglan Road and the critically acclaimed The Great Hunger. During his youth and middle-age, Kavanagh was an avid pessimist as well as something of a heavy drinker. In 1954, he was diagnosed with lung cancer and had the lung removed. Whilst recovering in hospital, his general outlook on life changed dramatically and he became far more philosophical and generally, it would seem, happier. He spent much of his time relaxing on the nearby Grand Canal, which is where he his now commemorated with a statue.

‘O commemorate me where there is water, Canal water preferably, so stilly Greeny at the heart of summer…’

Epic was published with Come Dance with Kitty Stobling and Other Poems in 1960. The poem’s title is used half-ironically, and half self-justifyingly. Set in Kavanagh’s native Monaghan, it describes a rather nasty altercation between two families in a dispute over land which has turned violent. On the general scale of historical events, fray would seem very minor, but Kavanagh later realises that such things are ‘all relative’. The ‘Munich bother’ which he refers to is the sequence of events that led to the Munich Agreement, which Prime Minister Chamberlain famously proclaimed guaranteed ‘peace for our time’, only for World War Two to start within a year. The final five words are, I believe, some of the most powerful in all of Irish literature.

Epic

I have lived in important places, times
When great events were decided: who owned
That half a rood of rock, a no-man’s land
Surrounded by our pitchfork-armed claims.
I heard the Duffys shouting ‘Damn your soul’
And old McCabe, stripped to the waist, seen
Step the plot defying blue cast-steel –
‘Here is the march along these iron stones’.
That was the year of the Munich bother. Which
Was most important? I inclined
To lose my faith in Ballyrush and Gortin
Till Homer’s ghost came whispering to my mind.
He said: I made the Iliad from such
A local row. Gods make their own importance

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Manly Poems: If-

I love rhyme. Poems with rhyming schemes will, for me, always win over those which have none. For this reason, Rudyard Kipling is one of my favourites poets.

Born in Bombay, India in 1865, Kipling was a child of the Raj. His father was an academic and he spent most of his youth being brought up in England by a British family before going to boarding school and eventually returning to British India. He eventually became a writer, producing such famous novels as the Jungle Book and Kim. In the early 20th century, Kipling’s popularity as a writer reaches its zenith, with the author becoming the first Briton to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907. It was around this time that Kipling wrote what was to become his most famous poem: If-.

In the final line, it is apparent that the poem is being addressed to the author’s son (who would later be killed in the First World War). Rather like Newbolt’s Vitai Lampada, If- is a memorable conjuration of Victorian stoicism, and the ‘stiff upper-lip’ which popular culture has now made into a traditional British characteristic. It offers the reader wise, commonsensical advice about how to take on and deal with life’s challenges. In my opinion, every teenager should be required to study it. If any poem were to be manly, this poem would be.

If-

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with wornout tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run –
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man my son!

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Manly Poems – The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner

This is a five-line poem by the poet Randall Jarrell, a poet and author who flew fighter planes for the United States Air Force during the Second World War. The poem describes, as the title suggest, the death of a ball turret gunner. A Sperry ball turret was a gun which hung from the bottom of a bomber plane, from which a gunner would fire shells at enemy aircraft. This is what they looked like:

The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner

From my mother’s sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.

Jarrell also provided the following explanatory note to go along with the poem: “A ball turret was a plexiglass sphere set into the belly of a B-17 or B-24, and inhabited by two .50 caliber machine guns and one man, a short small man. When this gunner tracked with his machine guns a fighter attacking his bomber from below, he revolved with the turret; hunched upsidedown in his little sphere. The fighters which attacked him were armed with cannon firing explosive shells. The hose was a steam hose.”

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