In Other Words...


In Other Words... is an ongoing project which sprang from a series of poetry displays I created for the school library where I work.

Behind the site on which the school is built, is a little knot of about twenty streets which are all named after poets, so I wanted to create some displays which would explain who these people were, including an example of their poetry. The list of names, however, included poets like Chaucer, Milton and Spenser and I realised that I needed to find a way to enable the children access some of the more difficult language. The solution I came up with was to create 'translations' of these classic poems, not as a replacement but as a road map. My hope is that in reading my versions as 'primers', the originals might be rendered more accessible. Unfortunately, I left the job before finishing all the streets, but I continue to enjoy adding new entries to the In Other Words… series.

Incidentally, I have found in writing them that I have gained a greater understanding of these poems and how the great poets used poetic techniques, and I highly recommend creating your own 'In Other Words...' poems if you are a student of poetry.

ANONYMOUS - Pangur ban

This is kind of a cheat, and wasn't originally written as part of the In Other Words... series. It is an old Irish poem which was written by an Irish monk while he was living at an abbey in Germany. I first discovered it after watching the excellent The Secret of Kells and have loved it ever since. I made this translation by comparing six other modern English versions (you'll notice I flagrantly stole Robin Flower's excellent last line). Hope you find it interesting.

Pangur Ban

Messe ocus Pangur bán,
Cechtar nathar fria saindán;
Bíth a menma-sam fri seilgg,
Mu menma céin im saincheirdd.

Caraim-se fós, ferr cach clú,
Oc mu lebrán léir ingnu;
Ní foirmtech frimm Pangur bán,
Caraid cesin a maccdán.

Ó ru-biam ­ scél cén scis ­
Innar tegdias ar n-oéndis,
Táithiunn ­ dichríchide clius ­ 
Ní fris 'tarddam ar n-áthius.

Gnáth-huaraib ar greassaib gal
Glenaid luch ina lín-sam;
Os me, du-fuit im lín chéin
Dliged ndoraid cu n-dronchéill.

Fúachaid-sem fri freaga fál
A rosc a nglése comlán;
Fúachimm chéin fri fégi fis
Mu rosc réil, cesu imdis.

Fáelid-sem cu n-déne dul,
Hi nglen luch ina gérchrub;
Hi-tucu cheist n-doraid n-dil,
Os mé chene am fáelid.

Cia beimini amin nach ré
Ní derban cách a chéle;
Mait le cechtar nár a dán
Subaigthiud a óenurán.

Hé fesin as choimsid dáu
In muid du-n-gní cach óenláu;
Do thabairt doraid du glé
For mumud céin am messe.

Anon., c. 8th-9th Century

In other words...

Pangur Ban, my cat, and I -
Each one has his trade to ply.
My work deals in books and words,
His in hunting mice and birds.

More than wealth or fame I love
All the quiet labour of
My study, while for his part
Pangur loves his simple art.

Story without boredom, the
Skilful work which I and he
Practise in our home each day:
Endless sport which we each play.

Fearless Pangur on the floor
Traps a mouse beneath his paw;
There may fall into my hand
Something hard to understand.

Pangur looks towards the wall,
Keen of eye and standing tall.
On the wall of wisdom I
Focus my more feeble eye.

His joy is the chase and thrill
Of the pounce and speedy kill.
Mine is when the problem dear
Turns to treasured answer clear.

Though each day is just the same
Neither spoils the other’s game
Each rejoices on his own
Happy with the skill he’s shown.

Day is done and Pangur sleeps;
Mastery of his work he keeps.
I strive on into the night
Turning darkness into light.

DJW, 2013

anonymous - sumer is icumen in

This very famous poem, which is the oldest English song which we still have the original music for, will for me always be inextricably linked to the final scene of The Wicker Man. I think there's probably an interesting arrangement of this song to be done mashing up the original lyrics and the modern ones - it's the kind of thing a good primary music teacher could do. You'd also get bonus hilarity for the rude bits!

Sumer Is Icumen In

Sumer is icumen in
Lhude sing cuccu
Groweþ sed
And bloweþ med
And springþ þe wde nu
Sing cuccu

Awe bleteþ after lomb
lhouþ after calue cu
Bulluc sterteþ
Bucke uerteþ

Murie sing cuccu
Cuccu cuccu
Wel singes þu cuccu
Ne swik þu nauer nu

Sing cuccu nu. Sing cuccu.
Sing cuccu. Sing cuccu nu

Anon., 13th Century

In Other Words...

Summer time has come again
Loudly sing, Cuckoo!
Seeds are growing
Corn-fields blowing
And trees have bloomed anew –
Sing Cuckoo!

Sheep are bleating for their lambs
For calves, the cows all moo.
Bulls are darting,
Deer are farting

Merrily sing, cuckoo
Cuckoo, cuckoo,
You sing so well, cuckoo,
I hope you always do.

Sing cuckoo, do. Sing cuckoo,
Sing cuckoo, sing cuckoo, do.

DJW - 2017


Robert Browning was a difficult poet to select for, as most of his greatest poems are long and narrative driven. I had originally thought to do an excerpt from his The Pied Piper of Hamelyn but it proved difficult to isolate a part which could stand alone as a representative of the whole, and the meter in that poem is, frankly, all over the place. The exercise in pure rhythm which is How They Brought The Good News From Ghent To Aix seemed simpler and also has the benefit of being both more famous and less explicitly driven by narrative.

Although the story of the poem is very clear, it is almost entirely irrelevant to the poem's true purpose which is to suggest in the rhythm of the words the hoofbeats of a galloping horse. While attempting to replicate this rhythm, I took the opportunity to update the names of the places in Browning's poem to their modern forms, even though this usually just meant I had fewer syllables to play with in each line! It does, however, have the benefit of making it easier to map the journey if you wished to replicate it - looks like it would probably be a very pleasant weekend's bicycle ride. Do let me know if you do or have tried it! 

Of all the poems I've done so far in the In Other Words... series, this is one of the ones I am most pleased with.

How They Brought The Good News From Ghent To Aix

I sprang to the stirrup, and Joris, and he;
I galloped, Dirck galloped, we galloped all three;
'Good speed!' cried the watch, as the gate-bolts undrew;
'Speed!' echoed the wall to us galloping through;
Behind shut the postern, the lights sank to rest,
And into the midnight we galloped abreast.

Not a word to each other; we kept the great pace
Neck by neck, stride by stride, never changing our place;
I turned in my saddle and made its girths tight,
Then shortened each stirrup, and set the pique right,
Rebuckled the cheek-strap, chained slacker the bit,
Nor galloped less steadily Roland a whit.

'Twas moonset at starting; but while we drew near
Lokeren, the cocks crew and twilight dawned clear;
At Boom, a great yellow star came out to see;
At Duffeld,'twas morning as plain as could be;
And from Mecheln church-steeple we heard the half-chime,
So, Joris broke silence with, 'Yet there is time!'

At Aershot, up leaped of a sudden the sun,
And against him the cattle stood black every one,
To stare thro' the mist at us galloping past,
And I saw my stout galloper Roland at last,
With resolute shoulders, each hutting away
The haze, as some bluff river headland its spray:

And his low head and crest, just one sharp ear bent back
For my voice, and the other pricked out on his track;
And one eye's black intelligence,---ever that glance
O'er its white edge at me, his own master, askance!
And the thick heavy spume-flakes which aye and anon
His fierce lips shook upwards in galloping on.

By Hasselt, Dirck groaned; and cried Joris, 'Stay spur!
'Your Roos galloped bravely, the fault's not in her,
'We'll remember at Aix'---for one heard the quick wheeze
Of her chest, saw the stretched neck and staggering knees,
And sunk tail, and horrible heave of the flank,
As down on her haunches she shuddered and sank.

So, we were left galloping, Joris and I,
Past Looz and past Tongres, no cloud in the sky;
The broad sun above laughed a pitiless laugh,
'Neath our feet broke the brittle bright stubble like chaff;
Till over by Dalhem a dome-spire sprang white,
And 'Gallop,' gasped Joris, 'for Aix is in sight!'

'How they'll greet us!'---and all in a moment his roan
Rolled neck and croup over, lay dead as a stone;
And there was my Roland to bear the whole weight
Of the news which alone could save Aix from her fate,
With his nostrils like pits full of blood to the brim,
And with circles of red for his eye-sockets' rim.

Then I cast loose my buffcoat, each holster let fall,
Shook off both my jack-boots, let go belt and all,
Stood up in the stirrup, leaned, patted his ear,
Called my Roland his pet-name, my horse without peer;
Clapped my hands, laughed and sang, any noise, bad or good,
Till at length into Aix Roland galloped and stood.

And all I remember is---friends flocking round
As I sat with his head 'twixt my knees on the ground;
And no voice but was praising this Roland of mine,
As I poured down his throat our last measure of wine,
Which (the burgesses voted by common consent)
Was no more than his due who brought good news from Ghent

RB - 1845

In Other Words...

We sprang to our horses and galloped away,
All three of us knew there could be no delay;
“Go quickly,” the guards who unlocked the gate cried,
The walls echoed “Quick!” as they passed on each side;
The gate closed behind us and blocked out the light,
And three of us galloped away in the night.

As we rode through the darkness we said not a word,
There was only the pounding of hooves to be heard,
With George on my left side and Derrick my right,
I made sure the straps on my saddle were tight,
And checked that each buckle had just the right fit
But Roland, my horse, never slowed down a bit.

The moon had just set as we took to the road,
But passing Lokeren the cockerel crowed;
We galloped past Boom as the sky became light;
By Duffel it clearly was morning alright;
When the Mechelen bells rang the six o’clock chime
“Keep going,” said George. “We can make it in time.”

Near Aarschott, some cows watched us pass at a run,
Each one a dark shape in the bright morning sun.
They gazed through the mist which hung cold in the air,
And which clung to our clothes and our beards and our hair.
As Roland ran through it, not changing his stride,
It swirled like a river away on each side.

With his head keeping low, one ear pointed ahead,
And the other pricked up for each word that I said,
His intelligent eyes fixed ahead on his track,
But he often glanced over at me on his back,
And about his fierce lips, I saw clearly that they,
Were speckled with spittle which flicked off away.

By Hasselt, poor Derrick’s horse gave up the chase,
“Don’t worry,” called George, “She she has been no disgrace,
“We will tell them at Aachen how bravely she ran.”
By the side of the road both the horse and the man,
From trembling knees crumpled down on the ground,
Their gasping for air made a terrible sound.

But George and myself galloped on at a sprint,
Past Borgloon and Tongeren where not a hint,
Of cloud could be seen in the bright morning sky,
And the merciless sun beat down hot from on high.
Until the church steeple of Dalhem we saw,
“We’re close!” cried out George, “We will make it for sure!”

“I can almost imagine them cheering,” he said,
But in the next instant his horse dropped down dead,
And now only Roland could carry the weight,
Of the news which could save Aachen town from her fate.
In the flare of his nostrils and red of his eyes,
I was fearful he’d fall before gaining the prize.

So I took off my jacket to lighten his load,
Threw my swords and my boots and my belt on the road,
I stood and leaned over to speak in his ear,
And I whispered his name, gave a clap and a cheer,
All for Roland, a horse without any compare,
Till we rode into Aachen and stood in the square.

And all I remember from then is the sound,
Of the cheering from friends who had gathered around,
Every voice sung the praise of this Roland of mine,
As I gave him a drink of the last cup of wine,
A most fitting reward for the horse who’d been sent,
And who’d brought the good news down to Aachen from Ghent.

DJW - 2015


Arguably my favourite poet - certainly in my top three - Robert Burns nevertheless wrote some of the most famous English (or Scots) verses most in need of the In Other Words... treatment. If in reading these poems my less-than-wonderful English reconstructions of the Ayreshire Bard's effortless perfection brings you sadness, know that it does to me too! In both poems, I apologise where my southern English pronunciation means that the rhythm or rhyme doesn't work in a Scottish accent.

The first of these poems is his famous Address To A Haggis - a fun, mock-epic poem about a sausage. Long a part of Burns' Suppers, I hope I have conveyed the irreverant, jocular tone of the original while maintaining the nationalistic pride. For any Scottish readers, you should know that I got so into the role of praising the Haggis and the nation who eat it that I almost ended up adding some extra England-bashing which doesn't appear in the original!

The second, Thou Gloomy December, is one of my favourite Burns poems - and by extension one of my favourite of all time. All I shall say is that the purpose of In Other Words... is always to give access to the original. If my faulty shadow of the original can point to the genius of Burns, then it will have done its job.

In Other Words...

Oh, come and take your throne again
Ye king of all the sausage men!
We stuffed your tum, your face was then
Fat, glad and strong:
A worthy subject of my pen,
And lengthy song.

And oh! That mighty dish you fill,
Your bum is like a mighty hill,
Your daring deeds give us a thrill
Come save us now,
Like amber dew your sweat stands still
Upon your brow.

Now see the honest workman clean
His knife: the blade is sharp and keen
And cuts you straight from heart to spleen
Just like a ditch;
And all your lovely guts are seen,
Both warm and rich!

Then with their forks they all dive in,
And let the last be weak and thin,
But at this feast each one will win,
“Thank God,” they say;
Each belly filled to stretch the skin
Like drums this day.

Does any Frenchman eat this well?
Their slops and stews are close to hell,
And even pigs would hate the smell
And soon would chunder.
But this would make their hearts all swell
In hungry wonder.

Poors souls! Their food is worthless trash
And so their skin is pale like ash,
Their limbs: limp like a satin sash
Their voice: a squeak.
They could not into battle dash
They’re just too weak!

But see this haggis-eating lad
If in his mighty hand he had
A sword, his skill would make you glad
He’d make it whistle;
He’d cut down all who wish you bad
Like heads of thistle.

And gods, who have good grace to share,
When Scotland sits in dining chair
Give us no stinking, watery fare
Like soup or lettuce:
But, if you want our grateful prayer,
Just give us haggis!

DJW - 2016

Address To A Haggis

Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face, 
Great chieftain o the puddin'-race!
Aboon them a' ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye worthy o' a grace
As lang's my arm.

The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o need,
While thro your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.

His knife see rustic Labour dight,
An cut you up wi ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like onie ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin, rich!

Then, horn for horn, they stretch an strive:
Deil tak the hindmost, on they drive,
Till a' their weel-swall'd kytes belyve
Are bent like drums;
The auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
'Bethankit' hums.

Is there that owre his French ragout,
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad mak her spew
Wi perfect scunner,
Looks down wi sneering, scornfu view
On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! see him owre his trash,
As feckless as a wither'd rash,
His spindle shank a guid whip-lash,
His nieve a nit;
Thro bloody flood or field to dash,
O how unfit!

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread,
Clap in his walie nieve a blade,
He'll make it whissle;
An legs an arms, an heads will sned,
Like taps o thrissle.

Ye Pow'rs, wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies:
But, if ye wish her gratefu prayer,
Gie her a Haggis!

RB - 1786

In Other Words...

Once more I greet you, oh gloomy December!
Once more I greet you with feelings still raw;
Sad was the parting you make me remember -
Parting with Nancy, to see her no more!

Sweet is the anguish when lovers must sever,
Hope shines upon them that they’ll meet again;
But the black feeling of goodbye forever
Nothing but anguish: the purest of pain.

Wild as the winter which storms through the forest,
Till the last leaf from last tree is torn;
Just like the storm which is tearing my heart out,
Till my last hope and last comfort is gone.

Still shall I greet you, oh gloomy December!
Still shall I greet you with feelings still raw;
For sad was the parting you make me remember -
Parting with Nancy, to see her no more!

DJW - 2015

Thou Gloomy December

Ance mair I hail thee, thou gloomy December!
Ance mair I hail thee wi' sorrow and care;
Sad was the parting thou makes me remember--
Parting wi' Nancy, oh, ne'er to meet mair!

Fond lovers' parting is sweet, painful pleasure,
Hope beaming mild on the soft parting hour;
But the dire feeling, O farewell for ever!
Is anguish unmingled, and agony pure!

Wild as the winter now tearing the forest,
Till the last leaf o' the summer is flown;
Such is the tempest has shaken my bosom,
Till my last hope and last comfort is gone.

Still as I hail thee, thou gloomy December,
Still shall I hail thee wi' sorrow and care;
For sad was the parting thou makes me remember,
Parting wi' Nancy, oh, ne'er to meet mair.

RB - 1791

Lord Byron

One of the most seemingly effortless poems in English, She Walks in Beauty was written in honour of Byron's cousin by marriage Anne Beatrix Wilmot. One can only imagine what her husband, Robert Wilmot, thought about having one of Britain's greatest poets and most noted Lotharios writing a poem about how cute his wife was.

Whatever the controversies of its composition, however, Byron's version is perfect and mine is ... well, different from it. In all seriousness, the iambic tetrameter which Byron employs here highlights one of the difficulties with the In Other Words... approach - namely that simplification in English often entails expansion. Often, I found I was forced into using more, shorter words than Byron and therefore had to let some of the nuances of the original slide.

In Other Words...

Her beauty is like starry skies,
With not a cloud to spoil the view;
And in her face and in her eyes
A moonlit loveliness shines through:
She has that light which God denies
To day, which seems too harsh and blue.

Another light or shadow there
Would harm that thing I cannot name,
The thing which waves in each dark hair,
Or lights her face like candle flame;
How precious is each thought and prayer,
And where they live is just the same.

And in her cheeks, which seem to glow,
There is a story sweetly spun:
Her winning smile and eyes all show
So clearly all the good she’s done:
That heart and mind are pure as snow
With love and peace for everyone.

DJW - 2017

She Walks In Beauty

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that's best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o'er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express,
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

And on that cheek, and o'er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!

GGB, 1813


This has been one of my favourite poems since I discovered it in the pages of Douglas Adams' classic Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency - a book I must have read ten times as a teenager. Coleridge wrote the poem after waking up from a laudanum-induced dream, but what we have is only a fragment: he forgot the rest after he was interrupted from his work by a man who called on business from Porlock. This was incredibly difficult to 'translate' due to the complex imagery and irregular syllabic structure, but I'm pretty pleased with the final result.

In Other Words...

The Mongol king of China chose
To build a palace of delight:
Down where the sacred river flows,
Through caves where only darkness goes
     Into a sea of night.
So walls and towers were built around
A space of ten-square-miles of ground;
They planted gardens there with watering streams,
Where many trees with a scented blossom stood;
And there were grassy glades where sunlight gleamed,
And standing round them grew an ancient wood.

But oh! the deep and natural valley which slanted,
Down the green hill beside that cedar tree-line!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As any other where the night is haunted
By witches wailing in the crescent moon-shine.
And from the valley, there came an endless fountain,
As forceful as the fire inside a mountain:
It spurted up and then it fell away,
Then spurted once again, and in the spray
It flung the valley rocks into the sky,
Which crashed back down like hail from up on high.
And in the dancing water and stony storm
Up sprang the sacred river as if reborn.
The sacred river flowed with twisting motion
For five long miles, then dropped beneath a stone
And rushed towards the sea through caves unknown,
To fountain up again with great commotion.
The sound was like the call of coming war:
A warning from the kings who came before!
     The shadow of the palace shifted
     Where it fell upon the waves;
     Where the dancing din had drifted
     From the fountain and the caves.
It was a miracle of grace and might
The valley and the palace of delight!

     I had a half remembered dream
     Of a lady with a harp:
     It was an ancient-African maid
     And on her harp she sang and played
     Songs about a mountain stream.
     If I could reach inside me,
     And find that song again,
     I’d let that ancient music guide me
To take up my poet’s pen
And rebuild that palace here:
To recreate it line by line!
And all who see that place appear
Will see my face and quake in fear
And all will say, “Do not go near!
Shield yourself with holy signs,
And turn your eyes away. For he
Ate fruit of the forbidden tree
And drank his fill of heaven’s wine.

DJW, 2014

Kubla Khan

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
     Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round;
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.

But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover!
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced:
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher’s flail:
And mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean;
And ’mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war!
     The shadow of the dome of pleasure
     Floated midway on the waves;
     Where was heard the mingled measure
     From the fountain and the caves.
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!

     A damsel with a dulcimer
     In a vision once I saw:
     It was an Abyssinian maid
     And on her dulcimer she played,
     Singing of Mount Abora.
     Could I revive within me
     Her symphony and song,
     To such a deep delight ’twould win me,
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.

STC, 1816

William Drummond

This is not a poem which would traditionally be considered part of the 'canon' of English poetry. The 17th Century Scottish poet William Drummond wrote a volume called Poems in 1616 - the year Shakespeare died - about his mistress in both life and death. One of them was this, which I came across while I was working on the Fourteen³ project, and was rather taken by it. It's not the sort of thing which would normally be given the In Other Words... treatment, but I liked it and it's my project, so there!

In Other Words...

Guitar, return to grow as you once grew,
With your green mother in some wooded glade,
Where in the tuneless winds your branches swayed,
Where mother birds made nests and sang and flew.
For since the one who sweetly sang and made
You sing so she could harmonise with you,
Is showing angels how her music's played,
Now songs of sadness are all you can do.

Your joyful notes are joyful notes no more,
But infant cries of hopelessness and pain,
And every note and strum brings grief again;
Be silent, then, as in the woods before.
And if your strings are ever strummed upon
Play only dirges, for my love who’s gone.

DJW - 2016

To His Lute

My lute, be as thou wert when thou didst grow
With thy green mother in some shady grove,
When immelodious winds but made thee move,
And birds their ramage did on the bestow.
Since that dear Voice which did thy sounds approve,
Which wont in such harmonious strains to flow,
Is reft from Earth to tune those spheres above,
What art thou but a harbinger of woe?

Thy pleasing notes be pleasing notes no more,
But orphans' wailings to the fainting ear;
Each stroke a sigh, each sound draws forth a tear;
For which be silent as in woods before;
Or if that any hand to touch thee deign,
Like widow'd turtle still her loss complain.

WD, 1616


Although, Fielding is not really a poet - being more famous for his plays in his lifetime and his novels posthumously - he still inexplicably managed to get a street named after him in the company of such canonical luminaries as Milton, Burns and Wordsworth. This poem is a ballad from one of his plays, which went unproduced in his lifetime, but the song became popular in and of itself. It even inspired a painting by William Hogarth.

I can't say I really like this poem much - it has a eurosceptical, 'wasn't everything better in the old days'-type jingoismto it which is pretty distasteful, but the process of 'translating' it was interesting as I felt that the allusions to the Age of Elizabeth and the Spanish Armada would be best served by replacing them with more up-to-date references to the Spirit of the Blitz. In doing so I may have inadvertantly written an anthem for UKIP, which they are welcome to pay me royalties to use: royalties which I will be proud to donate to left-wing political organisations and European immigrant groups!

The Roast Beef of England

When mighty Roast Beef was the Englishman's food,
It ennobled our brains and enriched our blood,
Our soldiers were brave and our courtiers were good,
     Oh! the Roast Beef of old England,
     And old English Roast Beef!

But since we have learnt from all-vapouring France,
To eat their ragouts as well as to dance,
We're fed up with nothing but vain complaisance,
     Oh! the Roast Beef of Old England,
     And old English Roast Beef!

Our fathers of old were robust, stout, and strong,
And kept open house, with good cheer all day long,
Which made their plump tenants rejoice in this song:
     Oh! the Roast Beef of Old England,
     And old English Roast Beef!

But now we are dwindled to, what shall I name?
A sneaking poor race, half-begotten and tame,
Who sully the honours that once shone in fame,
     Oh! the Roast Beef of Old England,
     And old English Roast Beef!

When good Queen Elizabeth sat on the throne,
Ere coffee, or tea, or such slip-slops were known,
The world was in terror if e'er she did frown,
     Oh! the Roast Beef of Old England,
     And old English Roast Beef!

In those days, if Fleets did presume on the Main,
They seldom, or never, return'd back again,
As witness, the Vaunting Armada of Spain,
     Oh! the Roast Beef of Old England,
     And old English Roast Beef!

Oh then we had stomachs to eat and to fight
And when wrongs were cooking to do ourselves right.
But now we're a . . . I could, but goodnight!
     Oh! the Roast Beef of Old England,
     And old English Roast Beef!

HF, 1731

In Other Words...

When Roast Beef was all that the Englishman ate,
Our brains and our bodies were noble and great,
Our soldiers were brave and we all pulled our weight,
     Oh! the Roast Beef of old England,
     And old English Roast Beef!

But now that we copy all that the French do,
We dance the French dances and eat the French stew,
And weakness and meekness is all that we chew,
     Oh! the Roast Beef of old England,
     And old English Roast Beef!

In days past our fathers were muscly and strong,
They drank in the pub and sang songs all day long,
And everyone hearing would soon sing along:
     Oh! the Roast Beef of old England,
     And old English Roast Beef!

But now we have turned into I-Don’t-Know-What!
A shameful and sheepish and babyish lot,
The greatness of history is long forgot,
     Oh! the Roast Beef of old England,
     And old English Roast Beef!

When Churchill was living in old Number Ten,
All Englishmen ate, drank and acted like men,
The whole world would shake at the sound of Big Ben,
     Oh! the Roast Beef of old England,
     And old English Roast Beef!

In those days, when Germany took on the Brits,
And launched upon London the terrible blitz,
We took to the skies and beat every last Fritz,
     Oh! the Roast Beef of old England,
     And old English Roast Beef!

Back then we had stomachs to eat and to fight,
When badness was brewing we stood for what’s right,
But now we're a . . . I could, but goodnight!
     Oh! the Roast Beef of old England,
     And old English Roast Beef!

DJW, 2015

A. E. Housman

This was composed as a response to an online translation workshop on the Modern Poetry In Translation Magazine website. The brief was to create a translation of Housman’s On Wenlock Edge - either by updating the language or by reimagining it in any language or dialect spoken in the UK. My version cleaves quite close to Housman’s original while trying to unpack the imagery a bit and, with the subtle reference to ‘remain’ and ‘leave’ in the penultimate verse, suggest that the themes he dealt with are still relevant today.

On Wenlock Edge

On Wenlock Edge the wood's in trouble;
His forest fleece the Wrekin heaves;
The gale, it plies the saplings double,
And thick on Severn snow the leaves.

'Twould blow like this through holt and hanger
When Uricon the city stood:
'Tis the old wind in the old anger,
But then it threshed another wood.

Then, 'twas before my time, the Roman
At yonder heaving hill would stare:
The blood that warms an English yeoman,
The thoughts that hurt him, they were there.

There, like the wind through woods in riot,
Through him the gale of life blew high;
The tree of man was never quiet:
Then 'twas the Roman, now 'tis I.

The gale, it plies the saplings double,
It blows so hard, 'twill soon be gone:
To-day the Roman and his trouble
Are ashes under Uricon.

AEH - 1896

In Other Words…

The woods are weak when faced with power,
Each oak and ash in disarray:
Before the angry wind they cower,
Their robes of leaves all borne away.

These ancient winds have blown forever:
When Britain bowed to Roman might,
The forests faced the same endeavour,
To stand against the gales and fight.

Like me, a Roman stared, unblinking,
Dismayed by savage English storms.
The tumult fires both our thinking
And every human life informs.

These fateful winds assault ambition,
And those which shook the peace of Rome
Remain the curse of our condition,
To leave a ruin of our home.

Before indifferent winds we cower,
Soon ash and oak shall fall to void;
Now all the Romans’ mighty power,
Is dust of cities long destroyed.

DJW - 2019

John Keats

John Keats is one of the main competitors with Robert Burns for my all time favourite poet. His short, brilliant life gave rise to any number of wonderful poems but this, which tells of his feelings on discovering George Chapman's translation of Homer's poetry - a classic of English translation - holds a special place in my heart.

There was never any doubt that this would become part of the In Other Words... series, for the experience it describes - finding a translation of classic poetry which makes you feel like you understand it for the first time - is exactly what the project is trying to achieve.

In Other Words...

Often I've travelled through the golden land,
Seen many kingdoms great beyond compare;
Round islands, filled with music and with prayer,
Where song-built temples to Apollo stand.
I often heard of landscapes, wide and grand,
And of the wise, blind Homer who ruled there.
But I could never breathe its peaceful air
‘Til Chapman showed me - led me by the hand:

Then I felt how astronomers must feel,
Discovering a star not known before;
Or like explorer Cortez, strong as steel,
Who gazed upon the newly discovered shore:
His crew, around him, stand in shock or kneel
Upon that foreign peak, in silent awe.

DJW - 2017

On First Looking Into Chapman's Homer

Much have I travell'd in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne;
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:

Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star'd at the Pacific — and all his men
Look'd at each other with a wild surmise —
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

JK - 1816


This was the poem which started the In Other Words... project in the first place, since 'Milton' is the first street you come to when walking from my school into town. By 1654 - several years before he began work on Paradise Lost - Milton had gone totally blind. In Sonnet 16 he expresses his distress about this and questions what use God could possibly have for him in his infirmity. I love the hopefulness of the last line ('They also serve who only stand and wait') which is also a secret code in the fantasy-espionage novel Declare.

Sonnet 16 (On His Blindness)

When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodg'd with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide,
"Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?"
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent

That murmur, soon replies: "God doth not need
Either man's work or his own gifts: who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed
And post o'er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait."

JM, 1655

In Other Words...

I sometimes think about the fact that I,
Although still young, now find I cannot see.
And how the talent which my God gave me
Seems locked inside me even though I try
My best to use it faithfully, thereby
To show how good a servant I can be.
But now I’m blind it’s hard, I fear that He
Would say it’s not enough, but that’s a lie -

For there are thousands more that God can ask
To do his work on Earth and He can choose
A job for each which matches to their skill.
I know, therefore, He has for me a task
And that he’ll give me gifts that I can use:
So I shall wait to learn what is His will.

DJW, 2014