View through Trees, Oil, Patrick Swift (1927-83), 1950s
Portrait by Patrick Swift
Welfare X = Y
I am a digit soon to be cancelled out.
What does it matter, an integer, more or less?
For allowance is made in the rules that the world is a mess,
Plus or minus a few perhaps, but it’s right—just about.
A knife in my guts is the line of a pen through my mark
And all my biography told in the numbers to ten
The cock of my eye to the sun and the laugh of my soul to the dark,
For I am one of the faceless signs, one of the Welfare Men.
The decimals stutter and this is the lie they repeat.
“The years that he lived are accountable for in the main
Add him up on the left and the right and it balances neat
A few blank months—but we soon got him working again”.
Yes, ordinate and abscissa, they chose for the graph
The amount of Time spent related to What is Produced
And a line through incorellate points is my strange epitaph
“With the usual allowance for error X equals Y is educed.”
Dedicatory Poem to Patrick Swift
Two boys were playing on a lonely beach
The sea broke on the coast, they did not care,
They had left school together for a dare
And left the dusty things that schoolmen teach.
Were they too gay, too daring on the rocks,
Surely such boyish laughter was not forced?
Playboys too young to know what youth must cost
Too free to notice other peoples clocks.
And so they rollicked on the western strand
The sacred isles glowed lovely in the morning;
They did not hear the sullen God’s command
Or the black priest throw down his monstrous warning.
They had cast out all law, their game was touch
Not tit for tat, the double-take of fools,
They knew the score but did not keep it much
And only curbed their zest with witty rules.
Lost in that morning I have proved with tears
Remembering how those boys were you and I
And found through study, toil and broken years
That truant morning and that perfect sky.