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page at last update 12th June 2012


John Whitworth (1945 - 2019)



Little               Audenesque

         Elegy for Philosophers          Palinode




My daughters' work at 'Footprints', a respite home for disabled children, supplied the material for this poem.


When Archie died the Year was dying too.

Late loitering leaves were drifting to the ground,

A time when dying has a lot to do,

And does it with a dry, susurrant sound.


Some say when Archie died it was not much –

A boy who did not walk or talk. But he

Did love to smile and laugh and look and touch.

He did do that. He did it constantly.


So small, so weak, so fragile, yet when Death,

That most ingenious and practised thief,

Unlocked the house and stooped and stopped the breath,

He left a strong sufficiency of grief.


Now is a winter and a summer since,

And now the days of dying come again –

A year since Archie died, our Little Prince,

A year of rain and sun, and sun and rain. 


John Whitworth

in collection Girlie Gangs, 2012,

Enitharmon Press, ISBN 978-1-9075870-5-4;

first published in TLS, 2011




I entered this sonnet for a competition for an Auden parody and won. It wasn’t written as a parody, but  does sound like Auden, don’t you think? The Bentley was originally a Volvo, a very un-Audenish car.


A bloody butler cycling by a lake,

A pallid lake surrounded by green willow,

A Balkan princess murdered by mistake,

Three Staunton chessmen left upon her pillow,

The puzzle of her single sapphire earring,

The bungled hold-up at the discotheque,

The abandoned Bentley burning in a clearing,

The Hognose viper coiled about her neck:  

Each problem posits a unique solution,

Each boil requires a dedicated lancer,  

Deft fingers must tease out each convolution,

Unlike real life there has to be an answer,

A special key to fit each special door;

Spool up the string and find your Minotaur.


John Whitworth

in collection Being The Bad Guy, 2007,





Elegy for Philosophers

For Katie studying philosophy.


Socrates, tried for corrupting young people, was

             sentenced to death by the state.

Giordano Bruno was burned by the Catholic

             Church—a most horrible fate!                           

Seneca stoically opened a vein when he

             finally quarrelled with Nero.

Bonhoeffer said he was timid by nature, but

             faced up to death like a hero.

Viennese Schlick was shot dead by a mad Nazi

             student whose thesis he ploughed.

Pagan Hypatia, so learned and witty, got

             stoned by a Christian crowd.  

                          Yet, by and large, and it’s proven statistically,


                                                      proven statistically

                                         life does philosophers proud.     


Poor Gödel was fearful of poison and starved, having

             lived all his life rather prissily.

Empedocles, much more intrepid, jumped into a

             smoking volcano in Sicily.

Gentle Pythagoras died in a fire, or a battle,

             according to source.

Whewell, the polymath Master of Trinity,

             died when he fell off his horse.

Rational Condorcet, imprisoned by Robespierre, was

             probably killed in his cell.

Atheist Lucretius (say Christians) took sex pills, went

             mad and lies burning in Hell.

                          But in the main you would have to admit,

                                                      when you’re faced with the evidence,

                                                      bound to admit,

                                         most philosophers do very well.


Shpet, the idealist phenomenologist,

             perished through Stalinist thuggery.

Montague died at the hands of a boy he

             procured for the purpose of buggery

Bacon caught cold stuffing snow in a chicken and

             ended with scarcely a sniff.

Jevons was drowned, and Protagoras shipwrecked..  

             Herbrand fell off a cliff.

More and Boethius took the king’s shilling and

             paid in the end with their heads.

Giovanni Gentile who praised Mussolini was

             slaughtered by partisan Reds.

                          Still, for the most part, as might be expected,

                                                      in all probability

                                                      should be expected,

                                         philosophers die in their beds.


John Whitworth

in collections Girlie Gangs, 2012, Enitharmon Press,

published in Quadrant, Australian Monthly, 2010




I thought a palinode was an ode about something that happened way back, but actually it is an ode where you retract something you said previously, which, by a happy coincidence, still fits.


I used to like the Rolling Stones.  I think

I liked the way they used to shake and shout.

I used to like to dope but now I drink

To cope without the dope I do without.


I used to like to hate the middlebrow;

Middle-class-England, middle-of-the-road.

I’d make the very devil of a row;

I was an intellectual little toad.


I think I thought I didn’t give a damn.

I think a lot of what I thought was crap.

I think the real me, the me I am,

No sweat (you bet)’s a better sort of chap.


I used to think I liked what now I never.

I used to like what drives me up the wall.

I used to think I was so bloody clever

And now I never think a-bloody-tall.


John Whitworth
in collection Being the Bad Guy, 2007, Peterloo


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