Poem: ‘Homage From British Expats’

Thou noble, purest British race!
Thy children we,
Inheriting thy every trace;
From thy straight back, unmoving face,
We learn the truest social grace,
Pomposity.

To thee the new is never good,
’Tis duty shirked.
Thou’dst never think, and much less brood;
Thou duty-bound eatst wooden food;
Thou ever ramrod-straight hast stood,
And never worked.

Britain! Served on a silver tray
Thine Empire’s tea –
Respectfully we beg to say
We praise thee, but we cannot stay,
We have our duty far away,
Escaping thee.

*****

This is the third of the poems recently published by Pulsebeat Poetry Journal, and I’m pleased at how different the three of them are. ‘Ultimate Control’ is a Science Fiction sonnet, ‘Ticking Away’ is a meditation on time, life and death, and this one was written almost 50 years ago in reaction against (some aspects of) being sent to boarding school in England.

A little personal context: I was raised as an expat in the Bahamas by my Danish father and English mother. After five years of Church of England primary boarding school in Jamaica (when at least I came home three times a year) I went to England for five more years of boarding school, and came home rarely. The countryside setting of Stowe was delightful, and I got a good education with a lot of poetry, and I learned sarcasm. It all uprooted me from being fully Bahamian, but failed to make me fully English. In the 1970s the Bahamas didn’t want me and I didn’t want England. So… Denmark, then Canada, then the US, and finally the Bahamas again as a foreign resident. I have been an expat all my life – and frequently sarcastic about it.

The poem is a nonce form – I used to produce them easily in my 20s, I wish I still did. It’s in iambics rhyming ABAAAB, with four feet to the A lines and only two to the B lines – the last line of each verse being a punch line and the shortness of the line helping strengthen that effect.

Image” by spock-ola is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

2 thoughts on “Poem: ‘Homage From British Expats’

  1. Alan

    It sounds like you have traveled around a lot. What did you think of your time in the US? I am interested in your poetry studies in England. Which poets did you study? Were you required to write many poems? Did you read or translate any poems in other languages? About a year ago, I found an old book published in about 1890 called “The Victorian Anthology.” It has some interesting poems, including one about the British Empire by Oscar Wilde.

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  2. Robin Helweg-Larsen Post author

    Lots of travels, Alan – 50 or 60 countries, worked or studied in 8 of them. Poetry was part of my childhood; my last two years of high school in England were focused on only three subjects for ‘A’ Levels: English, French and Spanish language and literature – so Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Racine, Corneille, Lope de Vega, Calderon (playwrights used to use verse for ease of memorization), Arnold, Verlaine, Eliot, Cummings, Lorca, Frost, Prevert, Dylan Thomas and many more.

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