The Goose and the Commons

This is based on an 18th century lyric protesting against the Inclosure Acts, usually called ‘The Goose And The Common’ or ‘They hang the man and flog the woman’. I put a tune to a version of that lyric some time ago, and it’s on my ‘Cold Iron‘ album. While the privatization of common and/or waste land is more or less a done deal, the underlying topic of those who govern doing so for their own benefit rather than that of the people still has a very contemporary resonance. The lyric below makes that link more explicit: I don’t know that the world needs it, but somehow it demanded to be written… I don’t know that I’ll perform it as a song, though, as I’m already performing the older version.

The law demands that we atone
When we sell things we do not own
Yet lets MPs and Lords so fine
To sell off what is yours and mine

The poor and stateless don’t escape
When they conspire the law to break
This must be so, but we all endure
Those who conspire to make the law

You and I do not escape the web
Of laws that profit from us, the plebs
But MPs and their cronies too
Use or ignore them as it suits

The law forbids both man and woman
To protest corruption in the Commons
And so we all will Justice lack
Till we can vote to take it back…

David Harley

Hosanna In Extremis

Something a little different from me on the Poetry Archive YouTube channel. Yes, it’s a poetry video.  Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) YouTube has done its favourite trick of keeping the volume as low as it can get away with, and I think I rushed it a bit. However, I suspect it will be on the forthcoming poetry and music project in some form.

Fortunately, there are plenty of videos on that channel worth listening to and not requiring tweaking of the volume control.

Meanwhile, here’s the poem.

Born in freefall, oppressed by gravity;
Cutting the harness and falling free
In the last days of the human race,
The last few metres of the Fall from Grace.
The gods look down and cannot change a thing:
No miracles, no more psalms to sing.
The rich men take the seats that they reserved;
The rest fight for a place on Dead Man’s Curve.
Somehow the human race is hanging on,
But humanity’s already dead and gone.

There’ll be no singing in the lifeboats,
Unless it’s in the Captain’s praise.
The countdown started long ago,
The last days of the human race,
But the chaos we’re creating cannot wipe
The smirk from the rich man’s face.

This is your last call:
The countdown to freefall.
The coming gale will shake the earth’s foundations,
And most of us will perish in the flood,
The poor and unseaworthy lie abandoned,
Buried somewhere deep within the mud.
Survival of the fattest; trickle-up economics;
Fact and fiction, fear and faith, despair and desire;
Politics and science, bigotry, morality:
We’re choking on the smoking and you can’t see the fire
Cold turkey voting still for Christmas
Season of myths and moral fruitlessness –
Break those habits, not the habitat,
Or you’ll take the whole world with you when you choke on the excess.
This is the very last last chance:
Let’s face down the muzak and dance.

David Harley

Captains of Industry

I always had in mind a sort of Gilbert & Sullivan tune for this, but I’ll probably never get around to recording it, at any rate with two principals and full orchestra, so for now you’ll have to imagine it. There again, given the levels of cronyism and corruption that we now take for granted from our government, I might edit it to make a little more of the no doubt laudable links between our leaders and the billionaire classes. We’ll see.

[A = Lord Bibbenbrace; B=Sir Allen Key – if it matters!]

A & B:

We rise in the morning at nine
Glide into the office at ten
Just in time for morning and tea


Just an arrowroot biscuit and coffee for me


At eleven we both buckle down
To push the wheels of industry round
At half-past to the club for lunch we’re bound

It’s a busy old life for such as we
But the rich man’s burden we would not flee
We tireless captains of industry


Lord Bibbenbrace…


…and Sir Allen Key


When I return to the office at three
A mountain of work waits for me
My putting’s in need of such polish, you know
So it’s round and round on the carpet I go


There’s no such diversion for me
But tea at the Ministry
And tomorrow to lunch in the City I’ll go
And there I’ll confer with an MP I know
About on whose expenses the drinks will go

It’s a busy old life for such as we
But the rich man’s burden we would not flee
We tireless captains of industry


Lord Bibbenbrace…


…and Sir Allen Key


Through many a long sleepless night
I’ve pondered the economy’s plight
The financial climate is such a disgrace
It’s a wonder the Cabinet dares show its face


Oh, I have my sleepless nights too
As I’m sure I don’t have to tell you
Trying so hard that my poor head aches
To recall what it is my company makes
Except huge tax-free profits
And accounting mistakes


It’s a taxing existence for such as we
But the rich man’s burden we would not flee
We tireless exploiters of bureaucracy


Lord Bibbenbrace…


…and Sir Allen Key


Such labour we have to endure…




I do beg your pardon!
Such travail we have to endure
To meet all the workers’ demands…

By the way, have you actually seen a worker recently?


Of course: only last year I had to take a shortcut through the works on the way to my Rolls


We treat them as part of the family
We shake hands with shop stewards and offer them tea
And all in the name of (sigh…) democracy…


Lord Bibbenbrace…


…and Sir Allen Key

Twm Siôn Cati 

A man of resource and a thief well-famed
Tregaron my home, Twm Siôn Cati my name
Your horses and cattle are all of my game
But rich and respected I’ll die, just the same

In an ironmonger’s shop in Llandovery fair
A fancy I took to a porridge pot there
Said the man “Oh, I have three of the best”
And one I admired above all of the rest

But before I ventured to lay money down
I examined the pot above and around
“Oh no, my good man, this won’t do for me:
There’s a hole in this pot as you plainly may see.”

He peeked in the pot, said “Your pardon I crave,
But no hole can I find, as I hope to be saved.”
“If you put in your head, you’ll see it quite plain…”
So he put in his head and tried once again.

But the man had such brains, his head hardly would fit
So I rammed the pot down, meaning but to assist:
The while that he struggled to free himself there
I tiptoed away with the other pair.

But as I departed, my pots in my hand,
Some advice I gave, as I left him to stand:
“Indeed, there’s a hole, for if there were not,
However could you put your head in the pot?

A story from George Borrow’s ‘Wild Wales’ about “the Welsh Robin Hood”, though Borrow didn’t seem to like him very much. Samuel Rush Meyrick tells a rather different version of the same story in ‘The History of Cardiganshire’ (1907). I wrote this at some point in the 70s, but haven’t put a tune to it so far.

(c) David Harley


  1. After The Ball

After the celebrations
We found your bed and
Tipsily but enthusiastically
Redefined our bodies
And extended our personal space

We restructured our histories
Formulating new interpretations
Of riddles older than Nostradamus
Or the Rosetta Stone

Older, perhaps
Than love


  1. Afterwards

Darkness descends upon us
A warm cloak
Of soft-woven slumber

Ghostly spinners
In Disneyland turrets
Watch the joyless minuet
Of the bobbins

To the grating polyphony
Of the wheels

Dust settles
On stone flags


  1. Valkyrié

Far into New Year’s Day
The burnt-in end of the morning
Is force-fed into my vision

I hear you bustle listlessly in the kitchen
As I huddle beneath suddenly-thin blankets
Tracing another footprint on the infinitely slippery slope
From oblivion to obliteration

From shawl to shawl to shroud

One year further from Christ
And closer to Armageddon

Later I walk back alone
To my bedsit Valhalla

O but the winds bite fiercer this year
Gnawing through muscle ever closer to the bone

O but the thermometer is falsely cheerful

The calendar quotes with cruel precision
52 weeks progress from snowfall to snowfall

I have no time to accommodate the encroachment of middle age
I need time to decide what to be when I grow up

For now, I fill the kettle
And hope against hope for your phone-call

(c) 1986 David Harley

Paradigms Lost

Since today is the Feast of Stephen, here’s a slightly different take on that walk in the snow.

Paradigms Lost

Moderately Good King Wenceslas
being a Free-Thinker
and not altogether sober
was stirred, but not shaken
at finding himself tripping
over the tangled feet of the Drunk
at his castle gates:

nor was he deaf
to the cry for pity
hanging in the frosty luminance
of a Bohemian night.

He was too humble
too weighed down
by his own sins and sensibilities
to offer his own meagre competence

So he called the Samaritans
(but the line was engaged)
so he called the police
(but they were out at a crime)
so he called the Council
and when he went out the next morning
the pavement was vacant.

Much later
with becoming humility
he breached the Gates of Eden
but was pronounced

Dead on Arrival.


Copyright David Harley 1980

Two Election Poems

In all my years – and there are a lot of them – I can’t remember an election where the lines between Us and Them were drawn so clearly. But the fault lines were always there, in my mind at least…

General Election 1992

Wearily, warily
picking paths across the polluted airwaves
our aspirant masters resquare the circle
making very clear
what they have already made perfectly clear

a last desperate loudspeaker
grates up from the street
calling the faithful to vote

Katie, aged 2 and 1/3
cuts through the evening’s recycled waffle
with the tersest political commentary of the day

“People shoutin’….”

[My daughter showed an early knack for turning exactly the right phrase. I remember her coming home from nursery, having been told there that there was a dinosaur exhibition at Alexandra Palace, and telling us “There are dinosaurs at Buckingham Palace.” Out of the mouths of babes…]

First published in Vertical Images Volume 10, 1995
Copyright David Harley 1992

Sleight of Hand

When I walk the high-wire,wobbling and wavering
as only the iron-nerved and stone-hearted can,
you giggle at my meticulous ineptitude
and gasp to my orchestration
as I threaten to fall:
but my safety-net is constructed
to rigorous specifications
and the highest standards
your money can buy.

Behind the motley
you fail to recognize
my other public faces: why should you recall the face
of the ticket-seller who allocated your seats?

If I cared,
I could place you
anywhere that suited my whim,
but seldom do such facile conjurations
distract me from my larger schemes.

Not for me, now, the commissionaire-crimson
of the Master-of-Ceremonies:
at present I prefer the red nose
and custard-pie-proof guise of the buffoon
while you gangle-dangle to any tune
I care to have you play.

Your names are of no significance:
your numbers are arbitrarily assigned
for my convenience.
Your individualities
are no concern of mine
and I deny your right to an opinion
that doesn’t conform to my programme
(which I passed among you to offer for sale
as though you had some option of non-acceptance).

I give you your reward:
I set my foot gingerly.

The wire trembles, and the breath clogs in your throats.

I stick out my tongue. You laugh,
confirming my contempt.

I scream ‘Fire!’
and you smother the flames with your bodies
while I rattle the matches in my pocket,
unheard above the martial music.

I allow you crumbs and spectacle.
You give me gold and obedience.


First published in ‘Poems for Hastings’, published 1986 by New Hope International. Copyright David Harley 1983.