Joining the Imperial Bourgeoisie by Selwyn Pritchard

Bright as their regimental cap badges,
morning sun shines on crop-headed conscripts,
officer-cadets, temporary gents,
oiling their rifle bolts and easing springs.

It is all good chappery: some brown-nose
instructors making up teams… ‘Flower of
the fucking country!’ the RSM screams
back on the square. Oh it is just ‘not on’
not to be keen on shooting, hitting the bull.

The wind cracks red flags down the range;
snatches officerly cant; details march:
under the cloudy mystery of Wales,
beyond the buckling company marquee,
estuarial lawns run emerald down,
ravined and mollusced, to the Irish Sea.

Smartly we slip away, employ the fieldcraft
we have been taught, below the rims of streams
build dams, play like kids all day: Max, destined
soon in Penang to charge into his own
covering fire, a farmer’s only son;
myself, poet, gagging for thirty years
on thoughts ‘not on’ before Australia;
both eighteen, enjoying the higher talk
of God and Englit while the brine wind blew and bullets flew
then sliding back like spies from
the estuary of the Dee, scruffy as
the keenest shot amongst the rank and file.

by Selwyn Pritchard

Additional information: Selwyn Pritchard (4 August 1933 – 30 June 2005) was the third son of a Welsh carpenter. He left school at 16, was conscripted and served five years as a subaltern in The Royal Welch Fusiliers in Jamaica, Guyana, Dortmund and Berlin. He subsequently became a teacher before getting into Oxford to read Philosophy, Politics and Economics and graduating at the age of 35. He then taught philosophy for some years before moving to the Orkney Islands with his wife and three children. In 1980 they emigrated to New Zealand, then Australia. He began to write poetry on leaving the United Kingdom. His last post was as professor in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures at Jinan University in Guanghou, People’s Republic of China. Selwyn suffered a cardiac arrest at home on the evening of June 26. He was pronounced dead on June 30 2005.

Here is his website, a brief biography and an interview with him. There are even e-books available in PDF form for free on his website of some of his works and his last collection titled ‘Autumn Tiger‘.

‘Blue Heaven, But The High…’ by Anna Akhmatova

Blue heaven, but the high

Catholic domes are more blue.

Forgive me, happy boy,

The death I brought you.


For the roses from the stall,

For the foolish letters you sent,

That your dark and impudent

Face grew pale.


I thought, a cadet’s pride

At becoming adult.

I thought, objects of the cult

Aren’t loved like brides.


But it happens to be real.

Into the freezing days,

Already listless, you follow me

Everywhere and always.


As though you wanted to see


I didn’t love you. Forgive me!

Vowed yourself to martyrdom.


And death held out his hand to you…

But why? Why did ou take it?

I didn’t know how frail the naked

Throat under the high blue


Collar. Happy boy… tortured

Owlet… Forgive me.

I find it hard today

To leave the church.


– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1913, November)

– from Четки (Rosary, 1914), translation by D. M. Thomas