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Sometimes -- Sheenagh Pugh

An antidote of sorts to last week's poems on depression:
(Poem #874) Sometimes
 Sometimes things don't go, after all,
 from bad to worse. Some years, muscadel
 faces down frost; green thrives; the crops don't fail.
 Sometimes a man aims high, and all goes well.

 A people sometimes will step back from war,
 elect an honest man, decide they care
 enough, that they can't leave some stranger poor.
 Some men become what they were born for.

 Sometimes our best intentions do not go
 amiss; sometimes we do as we meant to.
 The sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow
 that seemed hard frozen; may it happen for you.
-- Sheenagh Pugh
[Commentary from the Poet]

I wasn't ever going to put this on my site, because I'm sick of it. But I
still get a lot of email asking for information about it so perhaps this
will save time! Besides, it appears on a lot of people's web sites,
generally misquoted - at least this will be as it's meant to read. I wrote
it back in the eighties and it appeared in my Selected Poems, which has
recently been reprinted by Seren, whom you can contact at.

It was then included in Poems on the Underground and has since appeared on
the trams of Helsinki and the Metro in St Petersburg (there's a good Russian
translation on Vitali Ashkinazi's web site. Actually I prefer Vitali's
version to the original and one day I might translate it back).

It featured in a BBC Radio 4 programme called The Secret Life of Poems. It
has been used by several charities and political organisations, including
Charter 88 (for refugees); it has been read during the Irish peace
negotiations and in the South African parliament, has been set to music by
several people and quoted in other books (most lately appearing in the
autobiography of the man in the white suit, Martin Bell).

Despite all this, it wasn't political, nor is it about depression, though a
lot of clinically depressed people think it is. It isn't even basically very
optimistic. It was originally written about a sportsman who had a drug
problem and it expressed the hope that he might eventually get over it -
because things do go right sometimes, but not very often... But it isn't
anywhere near skilful or subtle enough and I would cheerfully disown it, if
people didn't now and then write to me saying it had helped them. By the
way, you might also care to know that I originally wrote "the sun will
sometimes melt a field of snow" (the sportsman's drug of choice was
cocaine). But I mistyped "sorrow" for "snow" and then decided I liked that
better. I believe in letting the keyboard join in the creative process now
and then. Anyway, here's the text, and if you like it, I'm pleased for you,
but I'd be more pleased if you liked something else better!

        -- Sheenagh Pugh,
[broken link] http://www.geocities.com/sheenaghpugh/sometimes.html

[Commentary from Me]

This is the sort of poem that puts a gleam into the eyes of manufacturers of
greeting-cards everywhere <grin>.

No, I take that back. The fact that commercialization often cheapens true
emotion should not be used to denigrate the emotion itself. And the poem
_is_ a good one: sincere, honest, and more than a little bit touching. Not
overly subtle (the poet herself deprecates it for this reason), but it
doesn't have to be; it says what it wants to say beautifully and well. Who
could ask for more?

thomas.

[Links]

Sheenagh Pugh has a website, [broken link] http://www.geocities.com/sheenaghpugh/
We've run one poem of hers before, "The Beautiful Lie". It's archived at
poem #792

71 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Keith Jones said...

Dear Sheenagh, my only comment is that it is, to me, the most lovely
short poem that I have ever read. All your comments apart, it has
encouraged me and helped me in a way that few other words (written or
spoken) have. Please never remove it. You may tire of it, but
countless thousands out here still enjoy it, and in an attempt to help
others, often (mis)quote it!! Thank you for helping me. Yours Keith

syd said...

sometimes we fall short and fail, other times we will find deep inside the courage that hids, its allways sometimes , its what we are
thankyou for this poem it explains a lot
syd

Cheryl.Cartlidge said...

Sometimes ... the world needs the soothing ministrations of a simple,
uncomplicated poem; like an unsubtle, rough cat's tongue can help to heal
its wounds.

This poem first came to my attention on the London Underground. I liked it
for its directness, its non-cryptic, tentative and kind offer of comfort.

Sheenagh, despite your being 'over it', please don't ever disown it; be
glad I/we like it for what it is.

Cheryl Cartlidge

Anonymous said...

Sheenagh,

You do youself a real dis-service in denegrating this lovely peice of work. Not everything needs to be be super-subtle, deep and aesthetic. I chosse this to be read at my wedding 15 years ago becuase the melting of the fieild of sorrow was precisely what my wife had done for me. 15 years on, and she still does it day by day, and your peom still articlates this better than anything else I've read.

Anonymous said...

What is this thing with poets that get all artistic hissy fit about poems that get popular. If you don't want Sometimes to be judged as a measure of your poetry then either (1) write someting better, that will overtake it. In the end it's your audience that judge which is your best work, and they choose Sometimes. or
(2) Stop publishing your work. If you want to be your own private judge of which poem is best, don't share it. I bet you still take the buckets of royalties that Sometimes brings in!
Get over youself, and be thankful for the great response so many people have to a lovely poem.

Anonymous said...

Hi ! We have just studied this poem.
I am from St David's in South Africa. Sheenagh, you must please try to like it because it has helped people, who have been going through alot and have been depressed. The world is a difficult place and lots of sin happens but if everyone could read this poem their life would be better. This poem will inspire people and will go places.

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I don't know... for me, a good poem is the one that makes images in your head, which is Formalistic perspective of the Prague Circle... this poem lack of it!

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ease never remove it. You may tire of it, but
countless thousands out here still enjoy it, and in an attempt to help
others, often (mis)quote it!! Thank you for helping me.

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Anonymous said...

I don't know when exactly this poem was published. I didn't even know what it was about till I read this. I thought it was a poem of hope and positive thinking, I guess I thought wrong with the majority of the people that read it. If we didn't get told it was about a sportsman we could have never guessed. When I first read it, I was practising past papers for my English exam. Lady the only thing you got to hate yourselves for is not the fact that you did not make your poem clear enough for your audience but the fact that you sold it to a English GCSE exam board, now poor teenagers around the world like me have to wtite two or three pages analysis on your poem only to find out later that we are all wrong. Even when we are wrong zbout the content, ideas and atmosphere the poem is creating;we still get As and A*s. Oh life ...
We all know you secretly love your poem. One great mistake :)

Anonymous said...

It just shows everything we have to tirelessly over analyse is all a joke. Some of the over-analytical pretencious sods in my class would marvel at the fact that a poem that has helped so many people was infact partly derived from the poets smugness of a typo. Snow...sarrow, it's all bollocks. Thus proven. Thanks Sheenagh for your diservice to teenagers studying your poems and people with depression. I also read that the comptemporary of poems doesn't make her tick. Well I guess you don't make me tick!

Anonymous said...

this poor layman's writings are in competition with your professional poem...
angie

Anonymous said...

Dear Ms Pugh - Just think about how much we all need a bit of cheer. If we didn't, your poem would not have permeated our lives. For you it may be somehing you feel you could have done better.... But for us it is a thought and a feeling that we desperately need. Thank you for it. Anon.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps this was a guardian angel speaking through you to the rest of us. Please don't resent that - feel honoured to have been so used.

Anonymous said...

Heard your poem read on BBC Radio 4 on Sunday last. The commentatory told your reason for writing it. Really liked this explanation and like your honesty. Work in a charitable counselling service and see many people struggling with their lives, particularly during these difficult times. I am going to read out your poem in class tomorrow and will tell your honest account of why you wrote it. Also going to look at some of your other poetry. Thanks a million.

Anonymous said...

My sister-in-law sent this to me after our house burned down and it gave us a lift. I love the tentative hope, Patience Strong it is NOT. According to my husband the Swedes have a word 'hopas' that means'its unlikely but I hope it might be'! That seems to be the spirit - something that is more akin to our taste for irony and no sentimentality.
Judetheconfused

Anonymous said...

Dear Sheena, I am almost 60 and have loved poetry all my life. I came across 'Sometimes' in a book 'Poem for the Day 2'a few months before my mother died. She had been through a lot, both physically and mentally. We had both been on peace and justice marches together and this poem echoed through our lives like no other. It is one of my all time favourites, so I can only say thank you for writing it - whatever it was originally about it applies to so many situations as all great art does.

Anonymous said...

This whole thing is hilarious, but the Anon October 7, 2010 6:11 post is right on the money!

Anonymous said...

Dear Sheenagh,
I first encountered your poem in a book written by the actress Sheila Hancock and the poem was attributed to Sylvia Plath.I failed to find the poem in her published works,but was delighted to stumble across this site and get your take on the poem particularly the providential slip sorrow for snow.It is helpful to understand the poetic impulse that the poet feels the need to express at the time of the poetical creation

Robyn said...

I came across this poem as a I was doing research in the library late the night before I was to fly home to Chicago to cast my vote in the election of 2008. I read it that night and burst into tears. Then I printed it and brought it with me, in my wallet, to Grant Park, Chicago, where Obama gave his victory speech that night. When I found it--when the outcome of the election was still uncertain--it seemed like a good luck talisman, one badly needed after 8 relentless years of Bush, at the beginning of which our imaginations had failed us as to how bad things could really get.

And maybe I don't feel about Obama as I did that night, but this poem still feels the same--frank and sincere in the face of the terrible odds for progress.

So that's one path this poem has travelled. I can see why you feel as you do about it, but I think it's really just the kind of poem that finds people when they need it. That definitely happened for me. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I understand that it might not be your most skilful work, but it's obviously helped a lot of people. Sometimes it doesn't matter what a poem was "originally about" - especially since it's not like this poem mentions athletes, or any other specifically tailored group. Let people take comfort from it and enjoy it for what it is.

Anonymous said...

Great poem Sheenagh. You have some nice writing skills.

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Paul said...

I don't get the "anywhere skilful enough" remark -- I find the imperfect rhymes interesting and evocative, a kind of subterranean momentum that impels the piece forward without distracting the reader from the content.

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Anonymous said...

Thanks Ms Pugh. Your poem startled me into realising that yes, life can be tough, but sometimes, just sometimes, it is not. Preparing to move home soon and can't wait to have this poem beautifully framed and displayed in my living room. Sometimes...

Anonymous said...

First saw this on a wall in a convalescent's home where I was visiting in a professional capacity and wasted no time in making it 'mine'! This is the new 'Footprints', the new serendipity prayer, and the new home sweet home sampler. Such comfort, hope and optimism! Thank you Sheenagh Pugh.

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Sheenagh Pugh said...

Jeez, the hollow laughter..." I bet you still take the buckets of royalties that Sometimes brings in!" "the fact that you sold it to a GCSE board"

For the information of all you know-alls, GCSE boards are exempt from copyright, they can and do use anyone's work without asking pr paying. As for "royalties", most others who reprint poems don't bother asking or paying either. If they do pay, it'll be about £20 if you're lucky, and it happens maybe once or twice a year. Yeah, rolling in it, that's me... Maybe check your facts next time?

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