Guest poem sent in by Frank O'Shea The troubles in the Anglican (Episcopalian) church in America about the consecration of a gay bishop brings the following poem to mind.
(Poem #1412) The Colour of His Hair
Oh who is that young sinner with the handcuffs on his wrists? And what has he been after, that they groan and shake their fists? And wherefore is he wearing such a conscience-stricken air? Oh theyre taking him to prison for the colour of his hair. 'Tis a shame to human nature, such a head of hair as his; In the good old time 'twas hanging for the colour that it is; Though hanging isn't bad enough and flaying would be fair For the nameless and abominable colour of his hair. Oh a deal of pains he's taken and a pretty price he's paid To hide his poll or dye it of a mentionable shade; But they've pulled the beggar's hat off for the world to see and stare, And theyre taking him to justice for the colour of his hair. Now 'tis oakum for his fingers and the treadmill for his feet, And the quarry-gang on portland in the cold and in the heat, And between his spells of labour in the time he has to spare He can curse the god that made him for the colour of his hair.
Written by Houseman in 1894-5 at the time of trial of Oscar Wilde, but (wisely) not published until after his death. Himself a homosexual, but much more discreet than the flamboyant Irishman and not burdened by a petulant young lover, he was affected by the troubles visited on Wilde and sent him a copy of A Shropshire Lad after he was released from prison. He was said to be touched by the fact that Robbie Ross used to memorise some of his verses and recite them to Wilde in prison. I love the metre - is there another poem without exactly the correct number of feet in each line? What is the metre called, by the way? [Don't think it's anything more specific than 'iambic heptameter' (with considerable tension towards a trochaic reading in places, and several three-syllable feet; as Frank says, it's a delightfully irregular metre) -martin] Frank O'Shea [Martin adds] Another brilliant poem about Wilde's persecution by the authorities is Betjeman's "The Arrest of Oscar Wilde at The Cadogan Hotel", with its savagely ironic Mr Woilde, we'ave come for tew take yew Where felons and criminals dwell. We must ask yew tew leave with us quoietly For this is The Cadogan Hotel. Full poem here: http://www.kategreen.org.uk/Oscar.htm