Tuesday Poem: Song of Allegiance

Song of Allegiance by R.A.K. Mason

Shakespeare Milton Keats are dead

Donne lies in a lowly bed


Shelley at last calm doth lie

knowing ‘whence we are and why’


Byron Wordsworth both are gone

Coleridge Beddoes Tennyson


Houseman neither knows nor cares

how ‘this heavy world’ now fares


Little clinging grains enfold

all the mighty minds of old …


They are gone and I am here

stoutly bringing up the rear


Where they went with limber ease

toil I on with bloody knees


Though my voice is cracked and harsh

stoutly in the rear I march


Though my song have none to hear

boldly bring I up the rear.


I was going to use this poem for the New Zealand Poetry Day, but then I found the Rex Fairburn one and realised I had to use that instead. But this R.A.K. Mason poem is also one I’ve known for years, and I was very pleased to receive permission for its use from the Hocken Librarian at Otago. I love the rhythms of its development, and the contrasts of humour and seriousness. And I suspect Ronald Allison Kells was a poets’ poet. Either way he was also, apparently, a ringer for my Dad.

8 Responses to “Tuesday Poem: Song of Allegiance”

  1. mary mccallum Says:

    Dear Belinda – I remember vividly putting this in a class project (can’t remember what it was about) and my teacher being thoroughly impressed. We had a lot of poetry lying around our house so i didn’t think anything of it, but it wasn’t the norm for kids back then to include poems, let alone poems by NZ poets, in their class work. It’s stuck with me ever since as a cool poem about being a NZ poet. I like the way RAK doesn’t stop the poem when you’d expect him to, but keeps marching on relentlessly – his voice getting stronger and more sure with each stanza. Great stuff.

  2. Belinda Says:

    I’m not surprised that your teacher was impressed – I used that technique (amazing teachers with poetry) in university history essays! And you’ve also just reminded me that my Std 4 teacher read the class R.A.K. Mason’s “On the Swag”, which experience inspired me about words and imagery, and stayed with me for years. (My Std 4 teacher was Kendrick Smithyman, which explains the situation rather well – he was hopeless at teaching maths but great in many other ways!)

    “Song of Allegiance” is so well constructed, isn’t it? I love the strength and tough-minded confidence that grows through it.

  3. Frances Thomas Says:

    A fine poem – and a poet I’d never heard of. Don’t think we get to hear of many NZ poets over here – and on the strength of this, we’re missing something. The voice is very effective – starting off humble – but working up to the right kind (I nearly wrote ‘the write kind’ – which is actually what I meant) of arrogance.
    But Beddoes? Other than ‘Dream-pedlar’?

  4. aj ponder Says:

    It’s got a beautiful feel and a lovely progression

    “Where they went with limber ease
    toil I on with bloody knees”

    I guess this poem demonstrates time and distance is everything – because it seems so effortless.

  5. Tim Jones Says:

    This poem came to mind during the recent “keeping on keeping on” discussion – I love the bloody-minded (and bloody-kneed) determination it embodies. Thanks for posting it!

  6. Belinda Says:

    When I read ‘Beddoes’ in this poem, Frances, I confess I thought, “who he?” (This is like that game called ‘Humiliation’, isn’t it – where you confess to things you’ve never read.) I even wondered if Mason had used it because it scans, which is an unworthy thought. But damnit, the very first Beddoes poem I found on the internet this time around is actually wonderful: it’s called ‘Resurrection Song’.

    “Thread the nerves through the right holes; 

    Get out of my bones, you wormy souls. 

    Shut up my stomach, the ribs are full; 

    Muscles be steady and ready to pull. 

    Heart and artery merrily shake, 

    And eyelid go up, for we’re going to wake.
    His eye must be brighter -one more rub! 

    And pull up the nostrils! his nose was a snub.”

    So I think I’d better have a closer look at more of his work.

    And thanks, AJ and Tim, for your additional comments. I too love the sheer endurance of the imagery, as well as the way it ends with such uplifting courage.

  7. christine hankinson Says:

    I think you are very perceptive in your reading of Beddoes Belinda. He is a supreme lyricist – and I love The Song of Allegience which I don’t know above – thankoyu.
    Beddoes always was a bit of a poet’s poet and suffered much from the Edwardian fashion of embellishing and exagerrating his life to the detriment of his work. He wrote in unestablished forms but if you read his letters (extraordianary stuff) you can’t help falling for the man. Here is The Crocodile that I love too (not too long!) Thanks again Christine
    A CROCODILE

    Hard by the lilied Nile I saw
    A duskish river-dragon stretched along,
    The brown habergeon of his limbs enamelled
    With sanguine almandines and rainy pearl:
    And on his back there lay a young one sleeping,
    No bigger than a mouse; with eyes like beads,
    And a small fragment of its speckled egg
    Remaining on its harmless, pulpy snout;
    A thing to laugh at, as it gaped to catch
    The baulking merry flies. In the iron jaws
    Of the great devil-beast, like a pale soul
    Fluttering in rocky hell, lightsomely flew
    A snowy troculus, with roseate beak
    Tearing the hairy leeches from his throat.

  8. admin Says:

    Christine, thank you very much for the present of ‘A CROCODILE’. What a great poem it is! I’m so delighted – all these years I knew nothing about Beddoes, and now he’s a whole new poetic world to me!
    Belinda

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