Thursday, April 12, 2018


I Wasn't Born for an Age Like This

Poem by George Orwell, from his essay "Why I Write," The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, I: An Age Like This, 1920-1940 (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1968), pp. 1-7 (at 4-5, line numbers added):
A happy vicar I might have been
Two hundred years ago
To preach upon eternal doom
And watch my walnuts grow;

But born, alas, in an evil time,        5
I missed that pleasant haven,
For the hair has grown on my upper lip
And the clergy are all clean-shaven.

And later still the times were good,
We were so easy to please,        10
We rocked our troubled thoughts to sleep
On the bosoms of the trees.

All ignorant we dared to own
The joys we now dissemble;
The greenfinch on the apple bough        15
Could make my enemies tremble.

But girl's bellies and apricots,
Roach in a shaded stream,
Horses, ducks in flight at dawn,
All these are a dream.        20

It is forbidden to dream again;
We maim our joys or hide them:
Horses are made of chromium steel
And little fat men shall ride them.

I am the worm who never turned,        25
The eunuch without a harem;
Between the priest and the commissar
I walk like Eugene Aram;

And the commissar is telling my fortune
While the radio plays,        30
But the priest has promised an Austin Seven,
For Duggie always pays.

I dreamt I dwelt in marble halls,
And woke to find it true;
I wasn't born for an age like this;        35
Was Smith? Was Jones? Were you?
Some notes to aid my understanding:
18 Roach: type of fish
25 the worm who never turned: cf. the proverb "Even a worm will turn"
28 Eugene Aram: scholar and murderer (1704-1759)
31 Austin Seven: type of automobile
32 Duggie: bookie Douglas Stuart, whose motto was "Duggie never owes"
33 I dreamt I dwelt in marble halls: aria from opera The Bohemian Girl

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