My mother’s generation, and those that came before, Were poor, but served their families in pestilence and war; And though I’m not ungrateful, they lived, it seems to me, Confusing what was decent with ‘respectability’. A woman’s reputation could be neither begged nor bought, A gentleman remained one, unless the fool was caught, Whatever rank or station — in vast conspiracy, They murdered what was decent for ‘respectability’. They donkey-stoned their doorsteps and fed you fish for Lent, They bid you wear fresh underwear in case of accident, They did it without thinking to preserve their dignity, Confusing what was decent with ‘respectability’. The rich man in his motor car, the poor man at his gate, Their women in the kitchen, and round their hearts the weight That idle sons with idle dreams might ape the bourgeoisie, And question what was decent in ‘respectability’. They martyred aspiration in doily mats and lace, They smothered hope in duty and sought to know their place, They hid their lamps in bushels, for fear of mockery, Confusing what was decent with ‘respectability’. I do not seek to judge them, the times were different then, But if you’re young and reading this, then don’t be fooled again, For I fear their betters tricked them and abused their modesty, By confusing what was decent with ‘respectability’.
My grandparents, aunts and uncles strove furiously to be ‘respectable’ in their neighbours’ eyes. For some, loss of ‘respectability’ was a fate worse than death. For me, the great sadness for those generations was the sacrifice of talent and dreams upon the altar of ‘respectability’. I am not forgetting the deep sense of duty in the upbringing of children that governed their lives, but even this, on occasion, proved to be mere camouflage in the worship of ‘respectability’. I do not sneer at the notion of ‘respectability’; I despise it with all my heart for the blight it brought upon my forebears’ lives. That I may live to dance upon its grave alongside that of its vicious offspring, political correctness, is doubtful — but the thought keeps me young!
Poem Published in the following books: Lone Wolf