John Whitworth: Three Poems

Twelve Don’ts for the Aged

For Alan Bennett


Don’t neglect your daily bath.

Don’t become a psychopath.

Don’t say all the best has gone.

Don’t go on and on and on.

Don’t decide to grow a beard

Don’t do anything too weird.

Don’t rub pigfat on yer bonce.

Don’t make scenes in restaurants.

Don’t be stingy: tip the waiter.

Don’t become a couch potater.

Don’t spend every evening plastered.

Don’t be such a dismal bastard.

 John Whitworth



Planchette … wrote down very rapidly an immensely and indeed incredibly long word which was at first quite illegible … It wrote it … four or five times … and towards the end it was apparent that it began with the three letters O.R.R. I said, “This is all nonsense; there is no word in the English language beginning O.R.R., let alone a word as long as that. It tried again and wrote the word out quite clearly; and it ran: “Orriblerevelationsinighlife”.

 —G.K. Chesterton, Autobiography

The duchess is shagging the chauffeur;

How they grind and they grunt in the shrubbery.

Though she sparkles like diamonds of Ophir

In the damps of the snailage and grubbery,

He was always a bit of a loafer,

His physique is pathetically rubbery.

Her daughter is off with the gofer,

But his flesh is revolting and blubbery,

Putting strains on the springs of the sofa

As they couple unhandy and lubbery.

Oh pity the pallid teendaughter

Up the duff when she just didn’t oughter.

For this is a tale of the ighlife,

A ballad of pishery-poshery,

A martinis-are-terribly-dry life,

A song of the nibs and the noshery.


I learned of it all at a séance.

On a planchette we used for the Ouija,

A heart-shaped, three-wheelie conveyance

Well-designed for a psychic procedure.

If you keep unbelief in abeyance

I have brought round a message ter read yer.

It speaks through the spirit of Fleance,

As white as the bloom aquilegia,

Of true meejumistic purveyance—

I work as a meejum ter feed yer—

Oh pity this meejum before yer,

As broke as a barrack-room lawyer.

Yes this is a tale of the ighlife,

A lay of the lewd and the lecher,

And I’m glad that the bad isn’t my life,

Cos such wickedness, where does it get yer?


In a happenstance hidjus, yew betcher.

John Whitworth

Variation on a Forgotten Theme of James Fenton

I heard a bird sing sweetly.

I heard a bird sing long.

This, word for word, is what I heard

Of her sweet song:

   Wrong today.

   And wronger tomorrow,

   And wrongest the day after that.

   Broke and broker.

   You take out the the joker

   And put in the aristocrat.

   Nine Hail Marys

   Away with the fairies.

   Remember to put out the cat.

   Dead as a door

   Nail, a coffin or floor

   Nail, dead as a warfarin’d rat.

   This is the sum of it.

   Nothing will come of it.

   Tell him to shit in his hat.

It was a bird of clockwork,

With interlocking plates,

And was the private property

Of William Butler Yeats.

John Whitworth

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