The Age of Expansion
Those were the days.
When Empires sought new ports for trade
with back-up from their big brigades.
When soldiers with their rifle butts
forced entry into native huts.
who cared how many wars were fought
in countries of the lesser sort?
The system still works admirably.
It’s called ‘Enforced Democracy’.
To the Editorial and Typographic Tribes
Someone meddled with my work –
and if I ever catch the twerp
who left that semi-colon out
and turned one sentence round-about,
I’ll deal his coracles a kick so great
that if, in later years, he should relate
the story to his children (vile!)
he’ll dribble when he tries to smile.
Note: I dislike interferers of every shape and size. Really. From the rulers of the world’s earliest empires to the person who – yes, I remember you! – about nine years ago and without my permission, assuming that my vision was being jeopardized, picked up my glasses and removed the tiny little sticker which gave the magnification (I have several pairs of glasses of different magnifications which are used for different things, and the little labels tell me which to use for what).
Anyway, the first poem, The Age of Expansion, is concerned with interferers of the global variety, from the power-seeking encroachers of the Bronze Age right up to the instigators of the petroleum wars of this century and the tail-end of the last, with its emphasis on the latter phase of good ol’ colonialism from the 18th century on. And Lord knows how many unspeakable atrocities have been committed in the name of Empire and all that word entails over the thousands of years which have intervened. It goes on still.
The second poem is of a personal nature, and refers to a particular instance, viz., to a good many years ago when my good friend John Edwards, Llanelli’s historian, asked me to contribute a chapter to Tinopolis, his forthcoming history of the steel and tinplate industries in the area. He gave me only ten days to complete it, but ‘The Unsung Dynasty’ was ready and despatched (by snail-mail back then) from Hsin-Chu to Sosban on time. John liked it, and told me that not a single word would be changed – but not so; for when I looked at the book, I noticed two small changes, one involving a semi-colon and the other a missing word which had the effect of changing the original meaning of a sentence. I asked John about this, and he was surprised. What had happened was that he had sent the whole bundle of contributions, the whole lot, for editing, to Harry Davies (good old Harry Davies, in his mid-eighties I think at that time, childhood friend and classmate of my mother at Old Road School, which three Hughes generations including myself had attended; he lived just around the corner from us; he must have thought it his duty to find something to edit in my copy). Harry was a journalist for several local newspapers, and for twenty years, between 1958 and 1978 wrote a series of highly interesting and informative articles for the South Wales Evening Post under the title ‘Looking Around Llanelli’; these were published in book form in 1987 as Looking around Llanelli with Harry Davies. It’s a book I’ve just fished off my shelves, as I’ve often done over the years. It’s illustrated with the fine line drawings of Vernon Hurford, and these drawings have captured old Llanelli as we will never see it again after the alien ‘developers’ tore the guts out of the old town, ‘accidentally’, in the process, bulldozing historic buildings which should have been allowed to stand. I remember visiting Vernon at his art shop just off the Capel Zion end of Stepney Street, and still have a couple of his prints, and precious they are. The poem is not directed specifically at Harry, of course, as its title implies – and Harry was swiftly forgiven. Anyway, all this brought to mind what Dunsany had to say about the sometimes intentional, sometimes thoughtless and accidental infringements of editors and printers in his 1934 If I were Dictator:
‘’Misprints … will be permitted to the extent of one in every five thousand words, provided they make nonsense, but misprints that make sense are to be punished by death. Judges will not however inflict this penalty unless the printer has been thinking, instead of doing his work, or unless an intention aforethought is proved against him of deliberately attempting to improve the original. Commas, once written … are to be considered treasures of State, and a printer who shall remove any of them shall be punished as for burglary, and as though he had stolen from the Treasury. Any printers adding a comma … shall be regarded as taking part unlawfully in affairs of State, which when proved shall constitute treason … Should he print a greater stop, such as a semi-colon, this also shall be held to be treason; while, should he print a lesser stop [where there was originally a greater one], he shall be proceeded against as though he had stolen a diamond of State and substituted a smaller diamond. The bodies of persons executed… ‘
Well, we get the picture, and no need to go on!
(From ‘Musings on the Merry-go-Round : A Medley of Verse for us Riders of the Earth’)