Two Versions

In Homer’s Iliad, which is about the war between the Greeks and their allies and the Trojans and their allies that took place in about 750bc, there are about 275 deaths. This might sound a lot but there are far more in the Old Testament- 270,000 in the Book of Judges alone, and that is only 21 chapters long. However: the first death in the Iliad comes when Antilokhos, a Greek, kills Echepolus, a Trojan.

His name is not Antilokhos

He never thrust his sword into a Trojan throat

With such force that it cut through the root of his tongue

And went up through teeth, bone, eyes until it pierced his brain

And blood flowed from the Trojan’s head, and darkness closed his eyes

No; his name is unknown; but I shall call him Danny-

He deserves some sort of name.

We see him first from behind, walking in the middle of the road.

It’s all right; it’s not a busy road; it’s the road in which I live

And back up which I walk this Sunday morning with the paper and a pint of milk

I watch him- not quite staggering, but swaying as he walks

And I watch him stop, lean to one side, and place

An empty beer-bottle upright on the ground, and walk on.

I call to him Hey, don’t leave your rubbish in the street.

Without turning to look, he raises an arm, his middle finger thrust up from his fist

Maddened, I shout again – but, before I tell you this

I must explain that I am not, though I feel like his natural enemy,

A fighting man; and, even if I had gods to protect me,

I could ask them only to spirit me away –

I shout again: That doesn’t seem much like an apology

And then, because he is – no; not swaggering, but swaying

Whereas I am upright, purposeful, I overtake him and

As I pass he turns his head, and I see a burned, unshaven face,

Drink-blurred eyes, and drink-twisted lips

Through which he snarls the words Muslim Fucking Cunt

I hurry on , and past my door- I do not want him to know where I live.

I walk on to the high road, to the bus stop where

I pretend to read the timetable;my heart thumping.

He – the man who is not Antilokhos and whom I have decided to call Danny

Approaches, his hands empty, the words HATE and LOVE tattoed on his knuckles

And while I pretend to be interested in the timetable

And while I pretend that I have not noticed him there

He speaks, and in a low, respectful growl, says this:

I’m sorry”, which surprises me so much I abandon all pretence

And I turn my head and look him in the eyes

He looks away, down at the ground, down at, I suppose, his shame

I don’t know what I’m saying at the moment

I don’t know where I am or what I’m doing

” I’ve just come back”

And I can’t remember if he said so or if it was obvious

That he had just come back from fighting the war in Iraq

And whatever he has seen or whatever he has done

Or whatever has been done to him

Is in his nightmares, and not just in the night

But in the day time too

As if a prophecy, invited in jest, had come all too true:

How changed he is; unless he is not changed at all-

Perhaps he is the same as he has always been:

I imagine a worse-than-mischievous schoolboy, a not-quite-criminal teenager

A good-for-nothing-but-cannon-fodder young man

And now this shell-shocked victim of the war. And who was I to know

What guilt, what fear, what horrors have made him this?

I’m sorry”, he says again, “that I spoke to you like that.

I don’t even know what I said. They’re just words

They don’t mean anything”. We shake hands

And I must have wished him well. I remember

Him just as often as I remember old friends

And I wonder what became of him; I wonder what became of him that day

After I had left him and gone home with my newspaper and milk

And breakfasted and wondered what I should have done to help

This is the same story told on a different way; in imitation of Rudyard Kipling.

O gallant are our soldiers; they are heroes every one

From brigadier to private underneath the eastern sun

And when they bring the bodies back we dip our heads and pray

We’ll even shake our pockets out to help them on their way

And if the limbless veterans can turn their lives around

We’ll read their heartbreak stories in the newspapers, spellbound

Of how they beat the drink and drugs and coped with the divorce

And when they’re asked for reasons- well; it’s for the kids, of course

But when the bugle’s lowered and the colours have been struck

And the men are back in civvies and adjusting to their luck

There’s some whose nightmares stalk them through the cities’ crowded streets

And they are not dreams of brav’ry or humanitarian feats

I’m thinking of a chap I saw one Sunday years ago

He was rolling down the street half-cut; at breakfast-time y’know

Not my concern, of course, if fellers choose to get pie-eyed

But dropping rubbish on the street’s a thing I can’t abide

So when I watched him bend and place his bottle on the ground

I saw red and I shouted out Oi! You there, turn around

An’ pick your rubbish up and leave the street a tidy place.

He didn’t turn around; he didn’t even change his pace

But he answered me by sticking up two fingers in the air.

That really got my dander up and made my temper flare

That’s no kind of apology I shouted loud and clear

I was so much in the right I thought the street would give a cheer

But no; it was just me and him; and though I’d been so bold

As I drew alongside of him I felt my blood run cold

For he turned to me a face so black, half-dead, half-‘live he seemed

And from his cracked and blistered lips some foul abuse he screamed

You Muslim this, you Muslim that; it made no sense to me

For I’m a white-skinned atheist, and as liberal as can be

But, sense or not, it frightened me and I hurried past my door

I didn’t want him coming round and cursing me the more

So I went up to the high road, thought there’d be more people there

For I don’t mind admitting it; he’d given me a scare

Thought I’ll wait here at the bus stop until he’s gone away

But I’d only been there seconds when I saw him come my way

I saw his eyes- Lord, what a sight! for I saw horrors there

I saw his burned, unshaven face; I saw his matted hair

I smelled his clothes- from sleeping rough, he stank to heaven above

I saw his tattoed knuckles with the message HATE and LOVE

He came up close and muttered, while his eyes looked at the ground

“I’m sorry” were the words he spoke, ‘n I choked up at the sound

“I don’t know what I’m saying, and I don’t know what I mean

“I don’t know what I’m doing, and I don’t know where I’ve been

“I’ve only just come back, you see, and everything seems wrong

“I can’t go home and let them see this man they thought so strong

“Start crying like a baby when the lights go out at night

“I’m only good for fighting; now I don’t know who to fight.”

Well, God knows what he’d seen or done or what’s been done to him

But I shook his hand and wished him well and felt my eyelids brim

“I’m sorry” he said one last time and turned and walked away

And I went home with my newspaper and that’s all I can say

And this is Kipling: ‘Danny Deever’.

‘What are the bugles blowin’ for?’ said Files-on-Parade.
‘To turn you out, to turn you out,’ the Colour-Sergeant said.
‘What makes you look so white, so white?’ said Files-on-Parade.
‘I’m dreadin’ what I’ve got to watch,’ the Colour-Sergeant said.
      For they’re hangin’ Danny Deever, you can hear the Dead March play,
      The Regiment’s in ’ollow square—they’re hangin’ him to-day;
      They’ve taken of his buttons off an’ cut his stripes away,
      An’ they’re hangin’ Danny Deever in the mornin’.
‘What makes the rear-rank breathe so ’ard?’ said Files-on-Parade.
‘It’s bitter cold, it’s bitter cold,’ the Colour-Sergeant said.
‘What makes that front-rank man fall down?’ said Files-on-Parade.
‘A touch o’ sun, a touch o’ sun,’ the Colour-Sergeant said.
      They are hangin’ Danny Deever, they are marchin’ of ’im round,
      They ’ave ’alted Danny Deever by ’is coffin on the ground;
      An’ ’e’ll swing in ’arf a minute for a sneakin’ shootin’ hound—
      O they’re hangin’ Danny Deever in the mornin!’
‘’Is cot was right-’and cot to mine,’ said Files-on-Parade.
‘’E’s sleepin’ out an’ far to-night,’ the Colour-Sergeant said.
‘I’ve drunk ’is beer a score o’ times,’ said Files-on-Parade.
‘’E’s drinkin’ bitter beer alone,’ the Colour-Sergeant said.
      They are hangin’ Danny Deever, you must mark ’im to ’is place,
      For ’e shot a comrade sleepin’—you must look ’im in the face;
      Nine ’undred of ’is county an’ the Regiment’s disgrace,
      While they’re hangin’ Danny Deever in the mornin’.
‘What’s that so black agin the sun?’ said Files-on-Parade.
‘It’s Danny fightin’ ’ard for life,’ the Colour-Sergeant said.
‘What’s that that whimpers over’ead?’ said Files-on-Parade.
‘It’s Danny’s soul that’s passin’ now,’ the Colour-Sergeant said.
      For they’re done with Danny Deever, you can ’ear the quickstep play,
      The Regiment’s in column, an’ they’re marchin’ us away;
      Ho! the young recruits are shakin’, an’ they’ll want their beer to-day,
      After hangin’ Danny Deever in the mornin’!
Danny Deever  was greeted with acclaim when first published in 1890. A professor of literature at the University of Edinburgh is reported (perhaps apocryphally) to have waved the magazine in which it appeared at his students, crying “Here’s literature! Here’s literature at last!”. William Henley, the editor of the Scots Observer, is even said to have danced on his wooden leg when he first received the text.


T S Eliot Arcana

In 1934 T S Eliot had a bet of half-a-crown with Virginia Woolf as to which of them was descended from more parsons. “She has been rather boastful on the point”, he wrote to his father. Eliot – Christian names Thomas Stearns – tried to claim Lawrence Sterne (Anglican clergyman and author of The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy) as ‘collateral’, but later accepted that there was no relation between Stearns and Sterne. Does anyone know who won the bet? and if Eliot and Woolf often bet against each other? Did the Bloomsbury Set have a sweep on the Grand National every year? (“Go on my son”, I hear Eliot cry, as his horse lands a length in front over the last.)

One of the many honours granted to Eliot during his life was that he was made an Honorary Deputy Marshal of Dallas, Texas. The award was given him not for his poetry, but because he was The Man Who Shot Jesse James. There is a buried hint of this in his Choruses  from The Rock (also 1934):

Remembering the words of Nehemiah the Prophet: ʺThe trowel  in hand, and the gun rather loose in the holster.ʺ  


In 1957, at the age of 68, Eliot married Valerie Fletcher. He had reached a point in his life when he was a wreck: he suffered from emphysema and was preoccupied with death. Friends used to take him out in a wheelchair. It seemed hardly possible that this remote, fastidious and tortured intellectual might be returned to humanity. Yet Valerie made him happy, got him out of the wheelchair, rejuvenated him. Amongst other things, he learned to tap-dance.



Let’s go then, Tom; you and I

Must practise this rumba, or else we’ll die

In front of the panel and the TV audience.

I know – you’re no Hamlet, not even Claudius,

But we must give this our best shot;

After all, you’re T S Eliot.

          Bruno is the cruellest judge.

          You dance like a dalek in drag!

          I heard him screech

          After you’d danced the Waste Land Rag.

          It was worse than hearing Uncle Ezra preach.

Apeneck Eliot spreads his knees

Sticks his little booty out

Gets carried away to Please

Please Me and Twist and Shout.

T S Eliot’s falling down falling down falling down

Dammit Doubledammit Damnthemall


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