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Tag Archives: Percy Bysshe Shelley

The Mask of Sanity by John Freeman

The Mask of Sanity by John Freeman

The Mask of Sanity

As I Stayed Safe in lockdown Wales
While drought and sun gave way to gales,
The unprecedented times
Begged an echo in my rhymes.

I met Privilege en route
To his weekly photoshoot,
Disguised as a Prime Minister –
And then things got more sinister.

His adviser, Laughing Boy,
Who treated strict rules like a toy,
Kept his job, though everyone
Said he should go for what he’d done.

Pictures from across the sea
Showed a neck under a knee.
George Floyd said I can’t breathe and died.
Protests erupted nationwide.

In Britain, France, and Germany
They marched in solidarity,
People black and brown and white
Gave their governments a fright.

You mustn’t gather, said the Clown
Who had told us that lockdown
Still applied to everyone
But Laughing Boy – now let’s move on!

Home Secretary Priti Patel
Thought she had the right to tell
Other BAMES to hold their tongue –
She’d been abused when she was young,

She said, and still had a career
In P R, lobbying for beer
And the tobacco industry –
Why can’t you all succeed like me?

But folk ignored the government,
Fed up with seeing the rules bent,
And living with a public statue
Black people felt was sneering at you.

They hauled the image of the slaver
Down and threw it in the river.
They started to consider Nelson,
An imperialist with bells on,

And Churchill, who was yet another.
Every slave is like my brother
Or sister, so they said, arise
We must, there is no prize

For putting up a moment longer
With the Powers That may Be stronger
At the moment, but will not
Remain so, now they’ve lost the plot.

Out came the English Nationalists
Some of them leading with their fists,
Getting into scraps till one
Got hurt, and had nowhere to run,

But Patrick Hutchinson carried him
Over his shoulder, looking grim,
To safety where riot police
Made sure he stayed still in one piece.

The photograph of this event –
Black man rescues right-wing gent –
Went viral, and began to offer
Hope at last, to those who suffer,

That reconciliation
Might heal the wounds of every nation.
Yet still the government was awful
And made starving children lawful,

Ignoring a broad-based campaign
Requesting that they think again,
Till a footballer told the story
Of his unlikely path to glory.

His mum had done all that she could,
But without that free school food
Marcus Rashford never would
Have been a star, or half so good.

The government did another U-turn
Which caused Laughing Boy to gurn –
But as that was his usual face
The fact escaped the human race.

Then Greta Thunberg said, we’ve seen,
Reacting to Covid 19,
The world act when it knows it must,
And feeling that their cause is just

People are discovering
Their mass movements can do something.
Now let’s rise up for action,
Not for any group or faction

But world-wide justice, and the planet.
A spark is lit, it’s time to fan it!
There’s no time to hesitate.
It’s nearly – but not quite – too late.

Then she quoted lines she’d learned
By heart in the days she yearned
For a sense of urgency
In the likes of you and me
Faced with this emergency:

And these words shall then become
Like oppression’s thundered doom
Ringing through each heart and brain
Heard again – again – again –

Rise like lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number –
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you –
Ye are many, they are few
.”

John Freeman 30th June 2020

Fair by Martin Thom (Infernal Methods)

Fair by Martin Thom (Infernal Methods)

The poem that Shelley wrote on the occasion of the 1819 massacre in Manchester was titled ‘The Mask of Anarchy’ and that very word conjures up a world of deceit as though politicians, like Prufrock, prepare a face to meet the faces that they meet. In Shelley’s poem the poet meets “Murder on the way –” and he had a “mask like Castlereagh”:

“Very smooth he looked, yet grim;
Seven blood-hounds flowed him”

Sidmouth, Home Secretary at the time of the Peterloo Massacre, appears

“Clothed with the Bible, as with light,
And the shadows of the night,
Like Sidmouth, next, Hypocrisy
On a crocodile rode by.”

In this recently published chapbook poem we meet Sir Michael Fallon, Liam Fox and Amber Rudd.
Martin Thom’s long-term interest in Shelley is evident when we look at the front page of the fourth issue of the magazine he edited, Turpin:

“We want the creative faculty to imagine that which we know; we want the generous impulse to act that which we imagine; we want the poetry of life; our calculations have outrun conception; we have eaten more than we can digest. The cultivation of those sciences which have enlarged the limits of the empire of men over the external world, has, for want of the poetical faculty, proportionally circumscribed those of the internal world… (‘A Defence of Poetry’)

And that evidence is there now in this recent publication from the Press whose name is taken from the poetry of William Blake. In this whirling explosion of outrage where the “Strict licensing of ordinance” is swiftly followed by the “margin of collateral” and “Harm to school or hospital” is delivered “In a hell-sent British shell” Thom’s eloquence of anger is revitalising.

“Eldon, Sidmouth, Castlereagh
Are in the stocks that Shelley made
And in the cuts that Cruikshank drew
Rotten fruit that outrage threw
Turn to emblems on the page.”

In the political world of Martin Thom’s poem the “devil dust” of modern warfare brings “mayhem to the mortal screen” and “infant hope, pale despair / In a second are not there”. The poem itself was drafted in the late summer of 2017 as preparations for the DSEI Arms Fair were under way at ExCel London, in London Docklands. Perhaps the nearest we have had recently to this bitter outburst of indignation about war was Tony Harrison’s A Cold Coming, Gulf War Poems published by Bloodaxe in 1991 and then, of course J.H. Prynne’s 2004 Refuse Collection where in the “curving / mirror of enlarged depravity daily and abhorrent a / comfort of disgust adjusted to market slippage”.

Ian Brinton, 6th August 2018

Infernal Methods: 1a Lupton Street, London NW5 2JA

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