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At the Theatre: To the Lady Behind Me -- A P Herbert

Guest poem sent in by Jeff Berndt
(Poem #732) At the Theatre: To the Lady Behind Me
 Dear Madam, you have seen this play;
 I never saw it till today.
 You know the details of the plot,
 But, let me tell you, I do not.
 The author seeks to keep from me
 The murderer's identity,
 And you are not a friend of his
 If you keep shouting who it is.
 The actors in their funny way
 Have several funny things to say,
 But they do not amuse me more
 If you have said them just before;
 The merit of the drama lies,
 I understand, in some surprise;
 But the surprise must now be small
 Since you have just foretold it all.
 The lady you have brought with you
 Is, I infer, a half-wit too,
 But I can understand the piece
 Without assistance from your niece.
 In short, foul woman, it would suit
 Me just as well if you were mute;
 In fact, to make my meaning plain,
 I trust you will not speak again.
 And---may I add one human touch?---
 Don't breathe upon my neck so much.
-- A P Herbert
Once upon a time you sent the Deep Sorriness Atonement Song ("They're all
sorry, very sorry, but I'm sorrier by far") and commented that poetry _can_
be useful.  I first read this poem in ninth grade.  We didn't study it.  I
was bored and was paging ahead in our literature book.  I had it
half-memorized once upon a time, mostly because it's funny.  Then, years
later, I became involved in community theater. This poem should be printed
on the inside cover of every program handed out to every person who ever
goes to a live theater production.  My only complaint is that it doesn't
mention pagers and cell phones, which did not exist in A P Herbert's time.

Info on A.P.Herbert:

From Simpson's Contemporary Quotations:
  A P Herbert, Member of British Parliament
  QUOTATION: I am sure that the party system is right
  and necessary. there must be some scum.
  Wrote a series for Punch! Magazine called 'Misleading
  Cases'  Here's a link:
  Also wrote a book called 'The Water Gypsies'

Here's his entry in
  Herbert, A. P. (Sir Alan Patrick Herbert), 1890-1971,
  English author and member of Parliament. He was a
  regular contributor to the comic magazine Punch from
  1910 until his death. Herbert served in Parliament
  from 1935 until 1950 as a representative for Oxford
  Univ. and was largely responsible for the bill (1937)
  liberalizing English divorce law. His numerous books
  include The House by the River (1921), The Water
  Gipsies (1930), and The Singing Swan (1968). He was
  knighted in 1945.


[Martin adds]

We've had, over the years, a number of letters from readers, expressing
their delight at rediscovering poems whose half-remembered fragments had
been haunting them. Well, the cosmic balance has been restored somewhat -
today's poem is one I read once, some ten years ago, and have been trying to
relocate ever since (helped not at all by the fact that I only remembered
the opening four lines). Many thanks to Jeff, with whose comments I agree


The aforementioned 'Deep Sorriness Atonement Song' can be found at poem #602


17 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Colleen Medcraft said...

I cannot believe I have found this poem. I gave the search engine the
first line and the first website that came up was this one. I, too, read
this poem when I was at school (some 30-few) years ago. I quoted part of
it once at a family outing to the Orchard Theatre in Dartford. I then felt
very sorry that I couldn't remember the rest of it. Oh how I shall enjoy
quoting it again in the future!

Colleen Medcraft, Sidcup

Mosgiel Enterprises said...

Dear sir,
My father is after a poem by A.P Herbert written on a ship's surgeon textbook on Gynaecology the first line went "The portions of a women that appeals to Man's depravity , are constructed with considerable care.. I was wondering if you have a copy of this poem you could send me. My father is in his eighties and knew Herbert and would dearly love a copy of this poem
Hoping you can help.
Penelope Holmes Perth Western Australia

Gill.Wheatley said...

I remember having to recite this poem at primary school in Brixton,
South London, and was reminded of the first few lines after sitting
through a wonderful rendition of Blythe Spirit starring Penelope Keith.
My poor partner obviously had a descendent of the original 'dear madam'
sitting next to him. I couldn't remember all of the poem and was
thrilled when Google found this site for me.

Gill Wheatley

rosali said...

Thank God for google! I read this verse as a lass and it always comes to mind when I'm at a movie and the audience decides to get in on the act. I have been searching for every book of verse without success. Today I decided to do a google search with the first line and Viola!

P A Neal said...

G'day , I am from New Zealand, originally from Norfolk ; England. As an apprentice many years ago we had one of the tradesmen recite the poem " The portions of a women that appeals to mans depravity" I only heard it that one time (50 years ago) but can still recall snatches of it . Can you redirect me to the full vrtion??
Regards Pete Neal

P A Neal said...

G'day, I've been trying for sometime to get hold of the poem "the doctors lament" can you point me in the right direction?
Rgards Pete Neal

Richard Coombs said...

Dear Reader,
I have a copy of the poem to which you refer, and would be happy to send it
to you on receipt of a reply. RMHC...

Martin Scott said...

The portions of the female
Which appeal to man's depravity
Are fashioned with considerable care.
And what appears at first to be just a simple cavity
Is really an elaborate affair.

There's the vulva, the vagina,
And the good old perineum,
And the hymen (that is sometimes found in brides)
The labia majora and the labia minora
The clitoris and god knows what besides.

So what a shame it is then,
That when common people utter
of these mysteries to which I have referred,
They always seem to sink into the language of the gutter
And use such a short- and nasty - little word!

steph said...

I am looking for a book by a p herbert with a collection of sillie ditties. My favourite begins with the following lines...
The farmer will never be happy again, he carries his heart in his boots, for either the rain is destroying his grain or the drought is destroying his roots. Can anybody help please??

Admin said...

Just an excellent poem, our sir taught it in a great way..

Anonymous said...

A colleague of mine some 45 years ago used to recite the 'gynaecology' poem, but he used to say 'to be a simple sort of cavity'. As this scans better, it may well be correct, but I've never seen it in print (until now - for which I'm grateful!).

Bruce R said...

I met A P Herbert. It was on board The Orient liner "Orsova" in 1954.
He wrote some verse in the menu - I've got it somewhere but can't presently find it.
I was twenty three, from Australia, and already knew "The portions of a woman"
APH was really nice to us younger passengers, and the night before he embarked in Melbourne I plucked up courage and asked him if he had indeed written it.
He said "yes, my boy, I wrote it in around 1929 on a P&O ship in the Red Sea, and the ship's doctor helped me with the third verse!"
The next morning in Melbourne, the Prime Ministers (Menzies) was waiting to take him to the Test match.

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