Poem ‘The Country’ (for England)

“Smile at us, pay us, pass us; but do not quite forget;
For we are the people of England, that never have spoken yet.”

from ‘The Secret People’ by G. K. Chesterton

The Country

It’s all around them, though they never see it,
like Jesus said about the Kingdom of Heaven.

Some, even a poet, say it cannot be defined,
even though they are immersed in it,
like fishes swimming blind to the sea.

They take it for granted, spurn it,
but they are born in it and nurtured by it,
educated and employed by it,
and then nursed to the very end.

They say the language is not ours,
that it belongs to the world,
or to the oppressed,
to anyone with a cause
except our own.

Countless cocks have crowed,
but each time its existence is denied,
its very future put up for discussion
by people who owe it everything –
yet who would rather die than accept it
for what it is.

poem and image Β© copyright df barker 2012

*** For Saint George’s Day on April 23, patron Saint of England (and other places) for around 700 years, at least. William Shakespeare (1564-1616), a candidate surely for ‘Greatest Ever Englishman’, was born, and apparently died, on this day. This is not meant to be overtly nationalistic, but to simply, starkly, re-iterate that the feeling that poets and people in the past saw as a reality, is still clearly evident today.

* First published, without the quotation, in poetry collection ‘Anonymous Lines’, available at amazon.

**The image is reproduced from a painting based on a scene at Southwold, Suffolk, a quintessentially English seaside town.

42 thoughts on “Poem ‘The Country’ (for England)

  1. Ahhh, inspired by Chesterton! πŸ™‚ Someone gave me St. Francis of Assisi a few months back I haven’t started reading it yet…

    In our humanity we tend to color experiences and people in our own minds and hearts, in our own way, instead of seeing things for exactly what they are. And accepting that. We have a tendency to over complicate it seems. πŸ™‚

    The words and tone and construction of this is just too perfect. Not a word or punctuation mark out of place. NICE ONE.

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  2. A fabulous poem David – gave me quite a few goosebumps!!

    Your brilliant picture reminds me of our family holidays to Bridlington every year but we had 10 deck chairs in a semi-circle!! Wonderful memoriesπŸ™‚
    Christine

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  3. Hi David
    first I love the painting, the scene on the beach, the way you paint, is like the air is trembling in Summer heat.
    And I also love the poem, 23 April is also my husband bd lol. He should have been called George perhaps πŸ™‚

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  4. “They say the language is not ours, that it belongs to the world.”
    I like this line. My ancestors are Anglos so I feel a deep connection to the English language even though I live in the US.

    Most English I hear is ‘television English.’ People learn it from watching tv and it shows. The English language has a rich beauty of its own that can move way past the merely functional. Hearing people who know it from reading from the deep well of English literature can do this. What a treat that is!

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  5. Thank you very much! Yes, this is the problem when a language become essentially the ‘world’ language. English obviously began in England (with Germanic settlers) but although it is ‘our’ language, it is also rightly yours, Australia’s, Canada’s (partly)…. This wasn’t the case in Shakespeare’s day when his home language was very much a minority language in europe.

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  6. nice…i like the picture you paint here…the people and poets of a land make the land what it is i think…and shakespeare of cause is one of the shooting stars

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  7. I love this poem on many levels. Even though I do not live in England, my ancestors came from there. Also, I imagine that accepting one’s native land for the ways it shapes one’s identity and personal welfare is important for people in countries all over the globe.

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  8. Thank you Victoria, once again. Yes, your country too. Over here, things have become complex with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland getting more ‘home rule’ but England hasn’t! It’s a strange fact, but English people don’t ask for much, just recognition – we’re not overtly nationalistic. Perhaps you feel the same.

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  9. Thank you Claudia, once again. You know, being English is a difficult thing in the UK! I was talking to a German guy last year and he couldn’t believe that Scotland might become independent. I explained the problems England has, its lack of democracy, recognition etc… he couldn’t believe that either.

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  10. Even if it was menat to be overtly nationalistic, I like it! I’m very fond of English history and people, maybe that’s why i like your style that much, very English and always giving me the sense of beong content and happy to read and explore events and feelings through your words!

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  11. Well, I may be American, but I’m a true Anglophile…I loved the poem and the accompanying art, but I think perhaps I’m a bit of an “outsider” to some of the meaning. I admit I really don’t understand “England” being left behind. I do know that the United States I knew as a younger person doesn’t really exist…so perhaps that’s a part of it. Poetry can be challenging…you have me questioning, and I think that’s a good thing. Debra

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  12. I love the added quotation, and the painting is wonderful!

    The last stanza is my favourite, “its very future put up for discussion
    by people who owe it everything” really speaks to me, too.πŸ˜€

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  13. Hi, thank you very much! And thanks for your interest. Yes, I don’t know whether you are aware but for the past fifteen years or so, there has been devolution in the UK, that is, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have been given their own assemblies/parliaments to look after most of their affairs. Now, the UK parliament is based in London, at Westminster, but there has been no creation of an English parliament. Now, OK, the UK parliament is the ‘de facto’ English parliament, but Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs elected to UK parliament can still vote on purely English issues, something which outrages an increasing number of English people. England’s population represents around 85% of the total UK population but we don’t have proper representation! As you can see, it is complicated, possibly becoming less so if Scotland goes independent soon. Hope this makes sense!

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  14. Thank you very much once again! We English are generally so apologetic about our nationality due to our (or our government’s) perceived aggressive attitudes of the past. The thing is, the English people themselves have been remarkably quiet for centuries.

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  15. Mr.Barker after reading your lovely and insightful poetry and prose.I must admit that I find myself at a loss for words that adequately express or do justice to your writings.Thank You for being patient with this “Yankee”! The “Bard”,Keats just to name a few would be proud and perhaps envious of you.

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  16. Hi, you are so very kind to me and I am grateful. If I can, in any way, bring a certain amount of enjoyment in to your life with words, then my efforts are all worth it. Thank you so much!πŸ™‚

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  17. The painting is very wonderful and the poem tells the truth about what we take for granted the blessings which are nearest at hand! We do seem to bite at the hand that feeds us, do we not? I was glad to be reminded that Shakespeare was born, and died, on St. George’s Day! The State of Alabama here has a state holiday that day, for Confederate Memorial Day, or some such! Very odd concidences, if you ask me (being a native Mississippian! ha!)

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  18. David, your poem and comments are very educational. I had no idea the politics of the UK had changed in such a way and can see why a person would yearn for the “old” U.K. – the old England. It always has seemed confusing to me (the relationship between England, Scotland, and Wales) and now I see it’s growing even more so with the changes you write about. Thank you for this new perspective.

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  19. Thank you so much Betty!
    Yes, the relationship between the so called ‘home nations’ is odd and increasingly complicated, now that empire is well gone and Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own assemblies.
    There has been no such concession for England! We (that is, over 50 million people out of 60 million in the UK) have the United Kingdom parliament to represent us, which means Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs can (although some don’t) vote on matters affecting purely England, but because Scotland, Wales and NI have their own parliaments, we, that is the English, have no say in their affairs.
    There has/is a proposal to create regional assemblies in England, about 7 of them. London already has one, representing about 8 million people, which is more that the populations of Scotland and Wales put together!
    The regional assembly idea is, at the very least, a controversial idea, in that many English people, like myself, feel that it would be a) a complete waste of even more money and b) downright dangerous, creating the possibility of ‘balkanising’ England, a state which has been unified for over 1000 years, into separate, arbitrary states! England, clearly, needs a parliament of its own.
    As you can see, this does get me animated. Betty, can you imagine the furore in your country if some similar situation existed? Thank you for reading and commenting once more.

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  20. This has echoes of one of Robert Browning’s masterpieces, “Home Thoughts, From Abroad,” David. I hear the political overtones too, but I have enough trouble accepting the politics that rage in the United States, so I am not knowledgeable at all about English politics. I like Chesterton’s work, but do not hear the strength this poem has in most of his words. Browning, on the other hand, is one of my favorite all-time poets, primarily because of his dramatic monologues.
    This is a passionate defense of England and what England means. I once took a graduate course in, believe it or not, patriotic poetry from around the world, or something like that. I went to graduate school a long, long time ago. This poem would certainly be good enough to have been studied in that long-ago course. I enjoyed reading this poem.

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  21. Thank you so much once again! I mean to praise, not the England of empire, of subjection, of conquest, but the quiet, understated, tolerant, yet determined England which is hardly ever seen, which is taken so much for granted as to almost disappear… but it is there.

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  22. ‘It’s all around them, though they never see it,
    like Jesus said about the Kingdom of Heaven.’

    From the opening, this is powerful, David! And I loved what you wrote in reply to Thomas Davis: ‘the quiet, understated, tolerant, yet determined England which is hardly ever seen’–exactly the England I loved so much that I stayed for sixteen years after only supposed to for three months.

    I think much of this masterful poem could apply to the US too…to the world…

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  23. Thank you so much! Yes, some other countries shout and scream, don’t they? We (in England, and yes, perhaps US as well) can’t do that very well. I suppose what I’m saying is that ‘ignore us at your peril!’πŸ™‚ We haven’t said anything yet…

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