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The Ballad Of William Bloat -- Raymond Calvert

Interesting theme proposed by Frank O'Shea - in Frank's

How about a series on poems featured in movies.

You already have "Code Poem for the French Resistance" [Poem #197]from the
film "Carve Her Name With Pride". And "O Captain, My Captain!"[Poem #157]
from "Dead Poets Society". And I seem to recall a film in which
"Invictus"[Poem #221] was central - a teacher trying to get a student to
tease out the meaning; what was the film?

Here is another one, the first verse of which is read aloud from the old book
of verse in the cave in one of the meetings of the Dead Poets Society. Whenever
I recite it, I have to warn listeners not to make up their politically correct
and sensitive minds until I have finished.
(Poem #1165) The Ballad Of William Bloat
 In a mean abode on the Shankill Road
 Lived a man named William Bloat;
 And he had a wife, the curse of his life,
 Who always got his goat.
 'Til one day at dawn, with her nightdress on
 He slit her pretty throat.

 With a razor gash he settled her hash
 Oh never was crime so quick
 But the steady drip on the pillowslip
 Of her lifeblood made him sick.
 And the pool of gore on the bedroom floor
 Grew clotted and cold and thick.

 Now he was right glad he had done as he had
 As his wife lay there so still
 But a sudden awe of the mighty law
 Filled his heart with an icy chill.
 So to finish the fun so well begun
 He resolved himself to kill.

 He took the sheet from his wife's cold feet
 And twisted it into a rope
 And he hanged himself from the pantry shelf,
 'Twas an easy end, let's hope.
 In the face of death with his latest breath
 He said "to hell with the Pope."

 Now the strangest turn in this whole concern
 Is only just beginning.
 He went to Hell, but his wife got well
 And is still alive and sinning.
 For the razor blade was Dublin made
 But the sheet was Belfast linen.
-- Raymond Calvert
The poem is variously attributed to that prolific creator of such verses,
Anon.  But I have also seen the name Raymond Calvert as author. I would be
happy to know something about him. [I found several attributions to Calvert,
so I've gone ahead and followed suit - martin]

The Shankill Road is the centre of militant Protestantism (more accurately,
anti-papistry) in Belfast and is rarely out of the news when it comes to
"loyalist" paramilitary activity.

I have also seen the last two lines written as

   For the razor blade was German made
   But the sheet was English linen.

Presumably a leftover from one of the World Wars and possibly when it first

Frank O'Shea

[Martin adds]
Curiously enough, apart from "Funeral Blues"[Poem #256], I can't think of
any memorable poetry featured in a movie (Jackson's first "Lord of the
Rings" movie disappointed me in that respect - I expected at least one poem
as a voiceover.) Maybe I just don't watch enough of the right sort of movie.
I'm looking forward to seeing what people come up with.

(Afterthought: no, I lied - there was the very memorable, and heartily
recommended, "Il Postino")

44 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Sitaram. P said...

`Back to School' has the poem `Do not go gentle into that dark night'.


Ian Baillieu said...

If so, they misquoted it. It's 'good night', not 'dark

Tim Forbes said...

In the film "Out of Africa" Meryl Streep's character reads AE Houseman's
poem, "The day you won your town the race" over the grave of the Robert
Redford character.


Alan Kornheiser said...

Dear Martin,

I believe my daily dose of poetry...some serious, some not; some admirable,
some less so; all poetry...delivered here in the context of no to my spam and my business mail and my checking up on Dilbert
and changing me in interesting ways. It is one thing to sit down
as on an evening in the chair with the light set just so to read this or
that. It is another to be constantly ambushed by poetry. One starts finding
it everywhere.

In today's New York Times, there is another review of WG Sebald's
meditations on the Allied bombings of German cities. It sits adjacent to a
discussion of the increased amount of trivial sex on network TV. The
overcivilized Germans becoming "the rat people" shares space with Joe
Millionaire. What do these things have in common? They are ink on paper and
paper is grass and all flesh is grass and in the midst of daily coffee we
are somewhere else. I think you bear some responsibility for this.

And by the can probably do much better with quoted poetry in
theatre than in movies. However, bear in mind Kornheiser's first law of
dramatics: "Never quote Shaw or Shakespeare in your stageplay unless you can
write as well as Shaw or Shakespeare. Since you can't, don't." You'd be
amazed the number of playwrights who have not learned this.


Vidur said...

ee cumming's 'somewhere i have never traveled' from 'hannah and her
sisters' comes to mind - one of the finest love poems ever written (in
my opinion, anyway).

and more recently, a snatch from rilke's 'fear of the inexplicable'
from the delightful 'kissing jessica stein'.


Frank O'Shea said...

There is also Dutch Lullaby (Wynken, Blynken and Nod) by Eugene Field (no
967 in your list) which is featured in the 1990 film Denis the Menace


George Van O'Brien said...

In a film biography of FDR the poem Invictus was read.


Gay Firth said...

Raymond Calvert, a lifelong friend and colleague of my father's in Northern Ireland, wrote The Ballad of William Bloat in 1926, while a student at Queen's University in Belfast. The text given here is nearly correct - but not quite. The last two lines should read: "For the razor blade was foreign made,/But the sheet was Irish linen."

Mrs Gay Firth, London, UK

Annalee Fannan said...

A favorite of mine is Robert Frost's "Nothing Gold Can Stay" read in the movie (though the book is better) The Outsiders.

G. S. Ramasubramanian said...

While on the subject of poems in the movies.

* A poem by W. H. Auden (I think it is One evening) features in Richard
Linklater's Before Sunrise. I think Ethan Hawke recites it to Julie
Delpy. I remember the lines And Time will have its fancy/Tomorrow or
today - could someone post the whole poem here?


PhilipMateer said...

Should be "who continually got his goat"
In the face of death with his latest breath he solemnly cursed the Pope

and ending "the razor blade was foreign made
but the sheet was Irish linen!

It can never have been English linen - irish linen was the whole point of
the story - the pride Unster had in the perfection of its product -against the
foreign steel of the razor blade!!!

Darlene Calwell said...

I am writing about the "poem", The Ballad of Wiliam Bloat. written
about 1930 by Raymond Calvert.

Raymond Calvert was my Uncle. He wrote it , in fun, when he was a
student at the Queen's University of Belfast. I think it was written
for an evening of the drama club or something like that.

I have an edition given to me by his widow Irene Calvert, now dead.

The well known singers, the Clancy Brothers and Tommy makem recorded
the it as a song, attributed to ANON. But they were worong

John Calwell

Gerard Lynch said...

Coming from Belfast, I've heard this poem as a sort of folk-recited thing on
innumerable occasions and I was amazed to find it on Minstrels when I
googled for it. I wasn't aware it was known outside Belfast.

My understanding of the last two lines is that they were 'originally' "For
the razor blade was German made, but the shirt was Irish linen.", certainly
that was the form alleged to have been used at the time of the First World
War. After partition and particularly during the troubles, as Ulster
Protestants became less comfortable with Irishness, Irish drifted to Belfast
in the last line although not universally so. Dublin in the penultimate
line was a new one on me I have to say, but obviously the change comes from
the same political pressures.

Gerry Lynch

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Anonymous said...

My father used to recite the poem thus
"...For the razor blade was Carlow made
But the sheet was Belfast linen..."

Anonymous said...

Anonymous (Sept 20) - That version (Carlow) was the one my father used to recite too! Are you my brother? ;-)

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Anonymous said...

In the early '60's I worked in stockbroking in Belfast.
The then Belfast Stock Exchange was in 12 Lombard St,(opposite to White's Tavern (The Monaco?), The lady supervisor in the S/E had previously worked for Taylor, Calvert & Co stockbrokers since stopped trading and claimed that it was she who typed "Wm Bloat" for a young Robert Calvert for inclusion to the QUB rag magazine "PTQ"
-Pro Tanto Quid, this would date it into the late '40s. Cannot verify. PS my vesion "with HIS night shirt on", "Razor blade, Dublin made"

Max said...

Coming from Belfast, I've never heard the version about the razor blade being Dublin made - German, foreign and, more recently, American seem to be the dominant penultimate lines. The Linen is always either Irish or Belfast, and his wife continually got his goat.

Mal said...

Raymond Calvert was My Uncle (My Mother's Brother) I grew up very Proud that he had Written that Poem..'The Ballad of William Bloat'
The Correct Version is Definitely...'The Razor Blade was German Made..But the Sheet was Irish Linen'...You see the sheet did the trick and finished her off...Malcolm Calvert McCoull....

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