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Collected Poems

Yes Please Gentlemen

Yes Please Gentlemen

Anyway, the old man said, and winked at the barmaid,
it's no use running around
with your guts hanging out. But the young man knew
that it wasn't a question of what ought or ought not to be
or of what was useful and what was not useful
but of walking barefoot over red-hot fact
with a load of life that mustn't be dropped
and the young man looked at his watch
not because he wanted to know the time
he was only in a hurry to get nowhere quickly
and the watch wouldn't help him
and he began to speak
softly and persuasively as if
he were trying to sell himself a correspondence course
in the art of self-defence:

There are people who say they can
take it and maybe they can,
I knew such a man
and the rind on his mind was so thick
there was nothing at all inside,
his mind was all hide.
When people say they can take it
generally it doesn't matter
like food spilt on a very old dress
or the death of a distant poor relation.
And there are people whose minds are so tortuous and dishonest
that they can take anything
page 65 take it and like it and come back for more
like a half-witted negro boxer.
The man with a smashed leg who calls for a cigarette
has been using some hero of cheap fiction
as a bathroom mirror, and men who lose
their wives or their money and put up
a good show are doing private theatricals.
Philosophers, sportsmen, and men who are very busy
about their own or other people's business
are three kinds of escapologists
and there are 3,000 more and they can all
take it more or less and all this perhaps may
be very admirable in its way
but more often it is merely folly or knavery
or just a lot of bravery
or stupidity, some leather-faced fool
of a ship's captain going down with his ship
with a stiff upper lip
his mind a motto from the wall of a preparatory school.

There was a young girl who killed herself
and a little later, a month or a hell of a time,
her lover shot himself and people said
he couldn't take it
but he could take it and he did,
he took it in the side of the head.
When people do
in any way the words mean sense
take it
they take it because they have to
as the slave takes the lash across his face
or young animals the bitter weather they die in
and although there is nothing whatever to be done about it
let's get it straight, let's shout it,

Nobody who really gets it
can ever take it
and if you think you can take it
it only means you haven't really looked at it

and all this (he said, breaking off) is only
the bitter vapour of my self-consciousness,
the hangman getting sentimental in his cups,
and the young man winked at the barmaid,
said he wouldn't have another drink, he couldn't take it.