Guest poem sent in by Reed C Bowman
(Poem #1268) Twenty Tons of TNT
I have seen it estimated: Somewhere between death and birth There are now three thousand million People living on this earth And the stock-piled mass destruction Of the Nuclear Powers-That-Be Equals--for each man or woman-- Twenty tons of TNT. Every man of every nation (Twenty tons of TNT) Shall receive this allocation Twenty tons of TNT. Texan, Bantu, Slav or Maori, Argentine or Singhalee, Every maiden brings this dowry Twenty tons of TNT. Not for thirty silver shilling Twenty tons of TNT Twenty thousand pounds a killing-- Twenty tons of TNT. Twenty hundred years of teaching, Give to each his legacy, Plato, Buddha, Christ or Lenin, Twenty tons of TNT Father, Mother, Son and Daughter, Twenty tons of TNT Give us land and seed and water, Twenty tons of TNT. Children have no need of sharing; At each new nativity Come the ghostly Magi bearing Twenty tons of TNT Ends the tale that has no sequel Twenty tons of TNT. Now in death are all men equal Twenty tons of TNT. Teach me how to love my neighbour, Do to him as he to me; Share the fruits of all our labour Twenty tons of TNT.
(of Flanders & Swann) I ran across this a few weeks ago and wanted to send it in. "Contribution to Statistics" (Poem #1267) reminded me of it again. Somewhat more stark than the Szymborska poem, and from a rather different angle, but with a similar message in the end. For Flanders & Swann, it's an unusually political and astonishingly bleak song. From the population statistic (and presumably from the destructive tonnage statistic as well) it is clear this is quite old, from the height of the Cold War arms race. Now we have twice as many people, I wonder if each has a greater or a lesser allocation of explosive potential? Anyway, like many pieces - poetic, dramatic, cinematic - which succeed in being affectingly dire or tragic or bleak, this poem achieves its effect by humourous touches and a humourous tone throughout, which better sets off the message in its very real horror. The rhythm is bouncy, the alliteration of the refrain makes it sound cute, and the constant repetition of that refrain fits into F&S's usual comic style, though in this case, it also serves to drive home that awful, absurd, insane statistic. It's been way too long since I heard the recording, but I assume the performance both reinforced the jaunty silliness to draw you in, and came down hard enough on the refrain to make the point (One textual note: this transcription is a corrected version of the main text I've seen on the web, but I haven't been able to compare it to the original, or find a printed copy, so problems may remain. I'm especially leery of the "Twenty thousand pounds of killing" line, since - obviously - it should be forty thousand, but all texts I've seen so far seem to keep the "twenty" repetition even in the face of proper conversions.) Reed [addendum] [Bob J subsequently submits a corrected, "official" version of the poem, which has been used to replace the earlier copy. Here are his notes.] I offer this as a copy from "The Songs of Michael Flanders and Donald Swann" Only minor differences e.g. "Twenty thousand pounds a killing" International Music Publications Ltd First published in 1977 (This edition 1996) ISBN 1-85909-439-2 Bob J