Gavin Ewart




EWART, Gavin (Buchanan) (1916-95), British poet, born in London, educated at Christ's College, Cambridge. After active service in the Second World War, he worked in publishing and with the British Council before becoming an advertising copywriter in 1952. From the age of 17, when his poetry was first printed in Geoffrey Grigson's *New Verse, he acquired a reputation for wit and accomplishment through such works as 'Phallus in Wonderland' and his skilful pastiches of*Auden, his principal influence, *Eliot, and *Pound. His first collection, "Poems and Songs", appeared in 1939. The war disrupted his development as a poet, however, and he published no further volumes until "Londoners" of 1964. From then he produced many collections, which included "The Gavin Ewart Show" (1971), "No Fool like an Old Fool" (1976), "All My Little Ones" (1978), "The Ewart Quarto" (1984), and  "Penultimate Poems" (1989). "The Collected Ewart: 1933-1980" (1980) was supplemented in 1991 by "Collected Poems: 1980-1990". The intelligence and casually flamboyant virtuosity with which he framed his often humorous commentaries on human behaviour made his work invariably entertaining and interesting. The irreverent eroticism for which his poetry is noted resulted in W. H. Smith's banning of his "The Pleasures of the Flesh" (1966) from their shops. As an editor he produced numerous anthologies, including the "Penguin Book of Light Verse" (1980).


Jenny Stringer (ed.), *The Oxford Companion to Twentieth-Century Literature in English* (Oxford and New York : Oxford University Press 1996) [ISBN 0-19-212271-1], page 203.






Miss Twye

Miss Twye was soaping her breasts in her bath
When she heard behind her a meaning laugh
And to her amazement she discovered
A wicked man in the bathroom cupboard.



Office Friendships


Eve is madly in love with Hugh

And Hugh is keen on Jim.

Charles is in love with very few

And few are in love with him.


Myra sits typing notes of love

With romantic pianist's fingers.

Dick turns his eyes to the heavens above

Where Fran's divine perfume lingers.


Nicky is rolling eyes and tits

And flaunting her wiggly walk.

Everybody is thrilled to bits

By Clive's suggestive talk.


Sex suppressed will go berserk,

But it keeps us all alive.

It's a wonderful change from wives and work

And it ends at half past five.






Estava Miss Twye ensaboando as mamas na barrela

Quando atrás de mim um acintoso riso ouviu,

E para seu grande espanto olhando descobriu

Um homem mau no armário à espreita dela.






A Eva está doida pelo Quim

Mas o Quim gosta do João.

O Carlos não tem paixões

E poucos por ele têm paixão.


Com dedos de pianista romântico

A São bate cartas de amor.

O Zé põe os olhos no céu

Onde paira o perfume da Leonor.


A Carla revira olhos e tetas

E rebola-se toda a andar.

E todos se excitam de gozo

Com as piadas do Valdemar.


Sexo reprimido dá em tarado,

Mas é o que nos aguenta.

É tão bom mudar do patrão e da mulher

E acabar às cinco e cinquenta.



Traduções de João Ferreira Duarte, em "LEITURAS

poemas do inglês", Relógio de Água, 1993. 



The love we thought would never stop
now cools like a congealing chop.
The kisses that were hot as curry
are bird-pecks taken in a hurry.
The hands that held electric charges
now lie inert as four moored barges.
The feet that ran to meet a date
are running slow and running late.
Te eyes that shone and seldom shut
are victims of a power cut.
The parts that then transmitted joy
are now reserved and cold and coy.
Romance, expected once to stay,
has left a note saying GONE AWAY.








Hurried Love


Hear the poem        



Those who make hurried love don't do so

from any lack of affection

or because they despise their partner

as a human being -

what they're doing

is just as sincere as a more formal wooing.


She may have a train to catch; perhaps the

room is theirs for one hour only

or a mother is expected back or

some interruption

known, awaited -

so the spur of the moment must be celebrated.


Making love against time is really

the occupation of all lovers

and the clock-hands moving

point a moral:

not crude, but clever

are those who grab what soon is gone for ever.





Memory Man

I'm sitting drinking Guinness
in memory of you,
on the wall is written Finis
and although the love was true
if I were more romantic I would say sublime
it was not a love that lasted until closing time.

The glasses are being polished
as they shout 'Last orders, please!'
and illusions are demolished
with the same fantastic ease
as the ease with which Joe closes his democratic bar-
if I think of you now, it's 'you were' and not 'you are'.

Each man that loves a woman
must be prepared for this
for a sexual love is human
and betrayal by a kiss
is a commonplace and not just in the holy Book
and it all begins when your eyes take that first long look.

You must have the boldness
to overcome the moods,
the sulking and the coldness,
your love must feed on foods
which wouldn't keep alive a common tabby cat;
no one can have this without an awful lot of that.

So it's sadly time to drink up
and let them stack the chairs-
he's a wise man who can think up
a remedy that bears
much resemblance to an answer (Venus is a jerk?);
for that holiday is over-from now on it's back to work.








The Black Box


As well as these poor poems
I am writing some wonderful ones
They are all being filed separately,
nobody sees them.


When I die they will be buried
in a big black tin box
In fifty years' time
they must be dug up,


for so my will provides.
This is to confound the critics
and teach everybody

a valuable lesson






                             The Dildo


The Dildo is a big heavy  cumbersome sort of bird,

Supposed extinct for many years but its voice is often heard

Booming and blasting over the marshes and moors

With the harsh note of Lesbos and the great outdoors.

The Dildo wears tweed skirts and Twenties elastic-thighed knickers

And smokes black cheroots and still calls films “the flickers”.

It wears pork-pie hats and is really one of the boys,

It has initiated mane pretty girls into forbidden joys.


It has an eye-glass in one eye, and its bad-taste jokes are myriad,

Such as the one about Emily Bronte’s Last Period,

And a good many others that are best left unsaid,

Buried in the old laughter, as the dead bury the dead.


The Dildo is quite frankly worshipped by some members of the community,

Who consider that even its name cannot be taken in vain with impunity

As it hops heavily about on its one wooden leg –

But most real Nature-lovers think it should be taken down a Peg.






Published: 5 March 2013


“Conversation Piece”


by Gavin Ewart; introduced by Michael Caines


Lunch with the FT, a collection of “classic” interviews published this month, might not be the first place you would think to look for a poet – but there he is, Gavin Ewart, chatting with Nigel Spivey over a Negroni or three, at the Café Royal. It is a reminder that this “naturally modest man”, who published hardly any poetry for twenty years and worked in advertising for another twenty (he came up with the name “Strongbow” for a certain Herefordshire cider), was deemed by Harold Bloom to be “one of the essential writers of the 20th century”. There was vindication in that accolade, as Spivey notes, “proving that good light verse has a place with good heavy verse in our lives”.

Plenty of Ewart’s verse, not all of it light, appeared in theTLS from the 1970s onwards. He paid tribute to the paper’s brain-teasing “Author, Author” competition with an unsolvable pastiche, and defended his friend Peter Reading’s poem “Cub” from a charge of anti-Semitism. “Conversation Piece”, published at the end of December 1977, is a serious business, too, despite its playfulness (that punning title, that parenthetic “are we direct?”). The subject is age of several kinds, as well as sex: the aged relatives; another age (“same game / . . . different rules”); the timelessness of myth; old age in general. In the end, as if exhausted and resigned at last, the conventional abab rhyme scheme does its best to flatten out, into aaaa.

Conversation Piece

I sit and hear my mother and my aunt
talking of dog-carts, of a century gone
I try to imagine (there are some who can’t).
Their total age is 181.
Under the clothes, the bodies were the same
as those the striptease, shamelessly as cards,
deals to the watchers now. Just the same game
but played by different rules;
 ripostes, on guards,


masks of all sorts, the flirting with a fan, 
a kind of fencing with an instinct. Who loved who
they had their ways of knowing, woman and man
Something outside them told them what to do.
They weren’t direct like us (are we direct?),
Victoria sat there like a monolith
but even nice girls knew what to expect,
how Zeus crept up on Leda in the myth –


without a visiting card, in fancy dress. 
No lady left the house without her gloves.
Deafness makes meaning something they must guess,
arthritis stiffens Venus and her doves,
for three decades no lovemaking at all –
beauty was jolly, with a motoring veil.
There should be writing, writing on the wall:
All sex shall fail, but love shall never fail.


Gavin Ewart (1977)



Published: 26 August 2014



Poem of the Week: “Two Semantic Limericks”

by Gavin Ewart; introduced by Andrew McCulloch


Limerick (li·mǝrik). 1898. [Said to be from a chorus “Will you come up to Limerick?”, following an extemporized “nonsense-verse” sung by each member of a convivial party.] A form of nonsense-verse; erron. applied to that written by Lear.

This definition comes from the dictionary Gavin Ewart used for the first of his prose versions of the limerick better known as “There was a young man from St John’s”. It is full of the straight-faced reference to unbuttoned licence from which Ewart produces what the then TLS poetry editor Mick Imlah called a “lastingly funny” poem. As an account of the origins of this well-known form, however, it begs a number of questions. The limerick has indeed been traced to the “flyting” in Gaelic of rival poets in a pub in Croom, County Limerick, in the mid-eighteenth century, but these were only translated into English by the Irish nationalist poet James Mangan in 1840, some twenty years after the appearance of The History of Sixteen Wonderful Old Women (1820) – an illustration from which inspired Edward Lear’s “The Owl and the Pussycat” – and Anecdotes and Adventures of Fifteen Gentlemen (1822), one of whom was the original “old man of Tobago”.

The combination of coarse jokes and childish nonsense in the limerick’s pedigree is reflected in the wide variety of uses to which it is still put, though it is perhaps happiest in adult company, unembarrassed when the conversation turns, as here, to bestiality and buggery. But Ewart does more than recycle an old joke. By treating sexual perversion with scholarly and pedantic precision he may be mocking the dons’ inability to see a joke, or perhaps ironically endorsing their preposterous privilege. The Fellows of St John’s are the only people outside the royal family legally allowed to eat unmarked mute swans, though that hardly entitles them to take the kind of liberty suggested here.


Two Semantic Limericks

1. According to The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (1933)

There existed an adult male person who had lived a relatively short time, belonging or pertaining to St John’s*, who desired to commit sodomy with the large web-footed swimming-birds of the genus Cygnus or subfamily Cygninae of the family Anatidae, characterized by a long and gracefully curved neck and a majestic motion when swimming.

So he moved into the presence of the person employed to carry burdens, who declared: “Hold or possess as something at your disposal my female child! The large web-footed swimming-birds of the genus Cygnus or subfamily Cygninae of the family Anatidae, characterized by a long and gracefully curved neck and a majestic motion when swimming, are set apart, specially retained for the Head, Fellows and Tutors of the College.”

2. According to Dr Johnson’s Dictionary (Edition of 1765)

There exifted a person, not a woman or a boy, being in the firft part of life, not old, of St John’s* who wifhed to –––– the large water-fowl, that have a long and very ftraight neck, and are very white, excepting when they are young (their legs and feet being black, as are their bills, which are like that of a goofe, but fomething rounder, and a little hooked at the lower ends, the two fides below their eyes being black and fhining like ebony).

In consequence of this he moved step by step to the one that had charge of the gate, who pronounced: “Poffefs and enjoy my female offspring! The large water-fowl, that have a long and very ftraight neck, and are very white, excepting when they are young (their legs and feet being black, as are their bills, which are like that of a goofe, but fomething rounder, and a little hooked at the lower ends, the two fides below their eyes being black and fhining like ebony) are kept in ftore, laid up for a future time, for the fake of the gentlemen with Spanish titles.”

* A college of Cambridge University

Gavin Ewart (1977)






Mr. Bauld's English - 7 poems