The Truth About Love

O Tell Me the Truth About Love

Some say love’s a little boy,

And some say it’s a bird,

Some say it makes the world go round,

Some say that’s absurd,

And when I asked the man next door,

Who looked as if he knew,

His wife got very cross indeed,

And said it wouldn’t do.


Does it look like a pair of pyjamas,

Or the ham in a temperance hotel?

Does its odour remind one of llamas,

Or has it a comforting smell?

Is it prickly to touch as a hedge is,

Or soft as eiderdown fluff?

Is it sharp or quite smooth at the edges?

O tell me the truth about love.


Our history books refer to it

In cryptic little notes,

It’s quite a common topic on

The Transatlantic boats;

I’ve found the subject mentioned in

Accounts of suicides,

And even seen it scribbled on

The backs of railway guides.


Does it howl like a hungry Alsatian,

Or boom like a military band?

Could one give a first-rate imitation

On a saw or a Steinway Grand?

Is its singing at parties a riot?

Does it only like Classical stuff?

Will it stop when one wants to be quiet?

O tell me the truth about love.


I looked inside the summer-house;

It wasn’t even there;

I tried the Thames at Maidenhead,

And Brighton’s bracing air.

I don’t know what the blackbird sang,

Or what the tulip said;

But it wasn’t in the chicken-run,

Or underneath the bed.


Can it pull extraordinary faces?

Is it usually sick on a swing?

Does it spend all its time at the races,

or fiddling with pieces of string?

Has it views of its own about money?

Does it think Patriotism enough?

Are its stories vulgar but funny?

O tell me the truth about love.


When it comes, will it come without warning

Just as I’m picking my nose?

Will it knock on my door in the morning,

Or tread in the bus on my toes?

Will it come like a change in the weather?

Will its greeting be courteous or rough?

Will it alter my life altogether?

O tell me the truth about love.


By WH Auden (!907-1973)

The Present Never Ends

Song of a Manhattan Suicide Addict 

By Yayoi  Kusama
Swallow antidepressants and it will be all gone
Tear down the gate of hallucination. 

Amidst the agony of flowers, the present never ends

At the stairs of heaven my heart expires in their tenderness. 

Calling from the sky, doubtless, transparent in its shade of blue

Embraced with the shadow of illusion

Cumulonimbi arise. 

Sounds of tears

Shed upon eating the colour of cotton rose

I become a stone 

Not in time eternal

But in the present that transpires. 

(A video installation at the Yayoi Kusama exhibition, National Gallery, Singapore.)

The Bathroom Mirror Makes You Look Tall

Who’s That Girl?

Relationships make fools of some all of us.

Turn us into liars and cheats.

Who would recognise the person you become

when you’re in his arms

or laughing at his jokes

or talking about feminism and racism

and all the things you never knew you believed in?

Who would want to know her?

Even your cat is embarrassed.

Read More »


The Guardian’s Poem of the Week is Malika Booker’s Sin Visits Me. I was struck by the line funny how the cracks don’t seem to show. Carol Rumens refers to Auden, but I thought of Tori Amos who uses the very same words in her song China.

The cracks in Booker’s china cup are a pattern like the intricate weavings of words that form a spell; Amos’s speak of pretence, of denial, the kind of elaborate dance of two people trying to avoid the elephant in the room.

I remember listening to the song in my cold room in Eastbourne and feeling sad that neither Joel nor I would admit that our relationship was over. Of course, we then did break up and get back together again, several times. How intensely we hurt one another for the next two years and for no reason except that we were a couple of selfish dicks.

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A Naughty Boy


By Joseph Severn

When I was a teenager, I was very much taken by the affection and care the poet John Keats showed his siblings. I don’t have an older brother and the idea of one is still alien to me, but Keats seemed like the ideal sort to have.

I was thinking about the poem A Song About Myself, which he included in a letter to his younger sister Fanny. It’s very silly and I love Keats all the more for having written it.

Dumfries, July 2nd [1818].

My dear Fanny—I intended to have written to you from Kirkcudbright, the town I shall be in to-morrow—but I will write now because my Knapsack has worn my coat in the Seams, my coat has gone to the Tailor’s and I have but one Coat to my back in these parts.[Pg 119] I must tell you how I went to Liverpool with George and our new Sister and the Gentleman my fellow traveller through the Summer and autumn—We had a tolerable journey to Liverpool—which I left the next morning before George was up for Lancaster—Then we set off from Lancaster on foot with our Knapsacks on, and have walked a Little zig-zag through the mountains and Lakes of Cumberland and Westmoreland—We came from Carlisle yesterday to this place—We are employed in going up Mountains, looking at strange towns, prying into old ruins and eating very hearty breakfasts. Here we are full in the Midst of broad Scotch “How is it a’ wi’ yoursel”—the Girls are walking about bare-footed and in the worst cottages the smoke finds its way out of the door. I shall come home full of news for you and for fear I should choak you by too great a dose at once I must make you used to it by a letter or two. We have been taken for travelling Jewellers, Razor sellers and Spectacle vendors because friend Brown wears a pair. The first place we stopped at with our Knapsacks contained one Richard Bradshaw, a notorious tippler. He stood in the shape of a ℥ and ballanced himself as well as he could saying with his nose right in Mr. Brown’s face “Do—yo—u sell spect—ta—cles?” Mr. Abbey says we are Don Quixotes—tell him we are more generally taken for Pedlars. All I hope is that we may not be taken for excisemen in this whisky country. We are generally up about 5 walking before breakfast and we complete our 20 miles before dinner.—Yesterday we visited Burns’s Tomb and this morning the fine Ruins of Lincluden.

[Auchencairn, same day, July 2.]

I had done thus far when my coat came back fortified at all points—so as we lose no time we set forth again through Galloway—all very pleasant and pretty with no fatigue when one is used to it—We are in the midst of Meg Merrilies’s country of whom I suppose you have heard.

[Pg 120]Old Meg she was a Gipsy,
And liv’d upon the Moors:
Her bed it was the brown heath turf,
And her house was out of doors.

Her apples were swart blackberries,
Her currants pods o’ broom;
Her wine was dew of the wild white rose,
Her book a churchyard tomb.

Her Brothers were the craggy hills,
Her Sisters larchen trees—
Alone with her great family
She liv’d as she did please.

No breakfast had she many a morn,
No dinner many a noon,
And ’stead of supper she would stare
Full hard against the Moon.

But every morn of woodbine fresh
She made her garlanding,
And every night the dark glen Yew
She wove, and she would sing.

And with her fingers old and brown
She plaited Mats o’ Rushes,
And gave them to the Cottagers
She met among the Bushes.

Old Meg was brave as Margaret Queen
And tall as Amazon:
An old red blanket cloak she wore;
A chip hat had she on.
God rest her aged bones somewhere—
She died full long agone!

If you like these sort of Ballads I will now and then scribble one for you—if I send any to Tom I’ll tell him to send them to you.

[Kirkcudbright, evening of same day, July 2.]

I have so many interruptions that I cannot manage to fill a Letter in one day—since I scribbled the song we have walked through a beautiful Country to Kirkcudbright—at which place I will write you a song about myself—

[Pg 121]There was a naughty Boy,
A naughty boy was he,
He would not stop at home,
He could not quiet be—
He took
In his Knapsack
A Book
Full of vowels
And a shirt
With some towels—
A slight cap
For night cap—
A hair brush,
Comb ditto,
New Stockings
For old ones
Would split O!
This Knapsack
Tight at’s back
He rivetted close
And followéd his Nose
To the North,
To the North,
And follow’d his nose
To the North.

There was a naughty boy
And a naughty boy was he,
For nothing would he do
But scribble poetry—
He took
An inkstand
In his hand
And a Pen
Big as ten
In the other,
And away
In a Pother
He ran
To the mountains
And fountains
And ghostes
And Postes
And witches
And ditches
And wrote
In his coat
When the weather
Was cool,
Fear of gout,
And without
When the weather
Was warm—
Och the charm
When we choose
To follow one’s nose
To the north,
To the north,
To follow one’s nose
To the north!

There was a naughty boy
And a naughty boy was he,
He kept little fishes
In washing tubs three
In spite
Of the might
Of the Maid
Nor afraid
Of his Granny-good—
He often would
Hurly burly
Get up early
And go
By hook or crook
To the brook
And bring home
Miller’s thumb,
Not over fat,
Minnows small
As the stall
Of a glove,
Not above
The size
Of a nice
Little Baby’s
Little fingers—
O he made
’Twas his trade
Of Fish a pretty Kettle
A Kettle—
A Kettle
Of Fish a pretty Kettle
A Kettle!
[Pg 122]
There was a naughty Boy,
And a naughty Boy was he,
He ran away to Scotland
The people for to see—
Then he found
That the ground
Was as hard,
That a yard
Was as long,
That a song
Was as merry,
That a cherry
Was as red—
That lead
Was as weighty,
That fourscore
Was as eighty,
That a door
Was as wooden
As in England—
So he stood in his shoes
And he wonder’d
He wonder’d,
He stood in his shoes
And he wonder’d.

[Newton Stewart, July 4.]

My dear Fanny, I am ashamed of writing you such stuff, nor would I if it were not for being tired after my day’s walking, and ready to tumble into bed so fatigued that when I am asleep you might sew my nose to my great toe and trundle me round the town, like a Hoop, without waking me. Then I get so hungry a Ham goes but a very little way and fowls are like Larks to me—A Batch of Bread I make no more ado with than a sheet of parliament; and I can eat a Bull’s head as easily as I used to do Bull’s eyes. I take a whole string of Pork Sausages down as easily as a Pen’orth of Lady’s fingers. Ah dear I must soon be contented with an acre or two of oaten cake a hogshead of Milk and a Clothes-basket of Eggs morning noon and night when I get among the Highlanders. Before we see them we shall pass into Ireland and have a chat with the Paddies, and look at the Giant’s Causeway which you must have heard of—I have not time to tell you particularly for I have to send a Journal to Tom of whom you shall hear all particulars or from me when I return. Since I began this we have walked sixty miles to Newton Stewart at which place I put in this Letter—to-night we sleep at Glenluce—to-morrow at Portpatrick and the next day we shall cross in the passage boat to Ireland. I hope Miss Abbey has[Pg 123] quite recovered. Present my Respects to her and to Mr. and Mrs. Abbey. God bless you.

Your affectionate Brother,

Do write me a Letter directed to Inverness, Scotland.