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by Zettel 

Posted: 06 September 2006
Word Count: 432
Summary: A re-jig. Some additions. And structure.

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The British are not ethnic
We’re the mongrels of the world
An antidote to racism harbingers of hope
We give the living lie
to the hateful myth of blood
What we are is mingled, muddled, mixed
Conquered by the Romans
Yet inspired by the Greeks
We are passionate moderation
hating all extremes
of race of politics and faith

We long to be well led
but hate all government
We have conquered
And yes exploited worlds
but returned them with a will
We have enslaved peoples
Yet somehow set them free
We are weary warriors
grown tired of death and hate
but still subjects no one shall
ever subjugate

We were Saxon Angle Pict and Scot
with the spice of Celtic salt
and a dash of Viking yeast
to ferment our ethnic brew
now African, Asian, Caribbean peoples too
Jew and Christian Muslim and Hindu
Bhuddist Zoroastrian a Jedi knight or two
Our engineers helped build the world
Our scientists its thought
Our language is a melting pot you see
Of Shakespeare Dickens and Eliots George and T

We are complicated simple folk
who like to fight and drink
we even sometimes love to sing
though dancing you will think
is not yet quite our thing.
Through conquest empire
arrogance and shame
through every heresy
of every faith
we've learnt they are impostors all
and treat them just the same

So come all and join us
come share what we can see
we'll make you laugh
we'll make you cry
at our genteel hypocrisy
We'll mock your faith
to keep it safe
from deluded certainty
We're black and white
and every shade between
absurdity our only creed

We see through hats and suits and ties
through crowns and burkhas
epaulettes and gowns
to the naked foolishness
of human frailty
We are fool and king
genius and ass
but in our diversity
we hold one true thing dear
In thought and deed and faith
a passion to stay free

All you need to join us
Is a bloody-minded streak
To stand up for the underdog
outgunned but still not weak
Our only hates are show-offs
and demagoguery
we demand the right to argue
to question challenge disagree
But leave your Gods in heaven
where they must ever be
your only sacredness is your humanity.

British Muslim, British Jew
Christian English Welsh and Scot
with a transcendental Irishness
we hate the nation state
privilege and patronage
and self aggrandisement
through a history of suffering and hate
we are many mongrel peoples
united in dissent
holding hands for comfort
as we face a common fate

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Comments by other Members

James Graham at 20:33 on 09 September 2006  Report this post
'So come all and join us...' seems to be the key. We're 'mingled and muddled' and all are welcome because they will make the mixture even more interesting. It's been proposed (maybe it's actually going to happen) that immigrants will have to take courses in what it means to be British; your poem is a lesson in that - maybe the only one needed.

I fancy the poem would read better if you were to space it here and there - divide it into sections. There are a few lines I'd leave out, but my reasons may be to do with my own prejudices. For example, 'We have conquered worlds/ and returned them with a will/ We have enslaved peoples/ and then we've set them free' - this is one thought in the poem that (unlike most of the thoughts you express) makes me think, it's just not as simple as that. We returned the conquered lands to their peoples after first bleeding them dry. (You might well say, it's not as simple as that)

The lines that strike me as most convincing are 'We are complicated simple folk' and what follows, and the lines beginning 'We'll mock your faith'. There's an edge to that because many immigrants don't take kindly to having their faith mocked; yet it's true that (for the most part) our society has a moderating effect on extremism and fundamentalism of every sort.

So apart from a couple of things here and there, I like this as a benign 'rough guide' to Britishness for strangers. Needs a bit of tightening up, though? A bit more structure?


Zettel at 21:21 on 09 September 2006  Report this post
Thanks James

Essentially I agree on the need for more work. And of course I have left out reference to the Saxons. I still don't really take myself very seriously with poetry so when I get the message that something at least has some resonance, that encourages more work. So thanks for that. I of coruse agree with your qualms about over-simplification of our colonial past. But I guess the relativist contrast is between us and other nations. Maybe then we don't come out quite so badly. The chilling thought is that it is not something ethnic, related to this or that culture, but a deeep atavistic, maybe genetic something about human beings of any colour creed or belief, that needs to be transcended. Racism is about difference and fear, certainly not about something so contingent or trivial as colour. I guess my point is that the British aren't special ethnically or genetically - rather that we have by the sheer randomness of history seen, suffered and rejected many of the blandishments of certainty - religious or political. When idealistic young men kill themselves and others for what they consider moral reasons, something is wrong, deeply, profoundly wrong, and not just in their heads. I don't know much but I am sure that we must seek to understand this phenomenon - not simply demonise it.

Work to do. Thanks for the encouragement.



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