Category Archives: Literature

7 Poems That Every Radical Should Know

This selection of poems is by no means exhaustive. There are hundreds of radical poems we could’ve included, but these are just a few of our favourites – we hope you’re inspired by them too!

  1. Dulce et Decorum Est – Wilfred Owen

Though this poem has become an absolute classic over the years, its radical pacifist message shouldn’t be ignored. Indeed, few poems could be more relevant in today’s world. At this very moment, people’s lives are being ravaged and devastated by violence and war. Soldiers are killed and innocent civilians are slaughtered every day.

Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce et Decorum Est” is one of the few poems that truly encapsulates the real horrors of war. He begins with a description of soldiers marching through sludge until, nine lines in, the men are gassed and fumble about looking for their gas masks.

His carefully chosen words and ingenious use of rhythm bring to life the terror experienced by the men of the First World War. For example, his image of “someone still yelling out and stumbling, / And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime…” is frighteningly vivid, testament to Owen’s skill as a writer and to the realism of his verse.

But Owen, having spent time in the trenches, realised that the realities of war are all too often ignored. Rather than focusing on the fearful nature of conflict and violence (evident in Owen’s description of blood “gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs” and of “incurable sores on innocent tongues”), we tend to aestheticize and glorify the act of going to war.

We instill patriotic ardour into our people, and we present the death of young men as a sacrificial and heroic act. For Owen, though, war is not heroic, nor is it glorious. Indeed, it is precisely the opposite – a horrifying and terrible waste of young life.

So it is Owen’s own experiences of war that led him to see that Horace’s ode was wrong: it is not “Sweet and right to die for your country.” Rather, Horace’s aphorism is just an “old lie” perpetuated to accentuate the false necessity of war. That’s why this poem is so important for pacifists and radicals today.

  1. Jerusalem (And did those feet in ancient time) – William Blake

This is yet another classic poem, and you may think it an odd choice. Before I actually began to concentrate on Blake’s words, I imagined this was simply some patriotic and nationalistic call to arms. But the poem is actually far more than that. Continue reading

Remembrance, Yeats, and the Irish Easter Rising

The following post is a guest post by Tom Bailey, an 18-year-old literary and political blogger. He writes on a variety of topics from music to politics on his own blog, where he also publishes his poems. His Twitter handle is @TomBaileyBlog

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On Easter Monday, 24th April 1916, Irish republicans rebelled against British rule in Ireland and attempted to establish an independent Irish Republic. Various republican groups, led by the likes of Patrick Pearse and James Connolly, seized key locations in Dublin and proclaimed an end to British supremacy.

The rebellion was swiftly stifled, but sadly not before hundreds had been killed and thousands wounded. After Pearse and his followers agreed to a surrender on the 29th of April, republican leaders were rounded up and executed.

As the anniversary of the Easter Rising approaches, it is right that we should commemorate those who lost their lives during the rebellion. But, as we must always ask ourselves, how ought we remember them? How can we best do justice to those who did?

Easter Rising Tea Towel

A tea towel commemorating the Easter Rising, by The Radical Tea Towel Company

Well, perhaps we can find some guidance in the poetry of Irish Republican W.B. Yeats. In his poem “Easter, 1916” Yeats captures the conflict (mental and physical) of the Irish nation like no other writer ever has. The text is here:

I have met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
Eighteenth-century houses.
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club,
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born. Continue reading

Orwell and the Politics of Language (Part 2)

The following post is the second of two posts on George Orwell written by Will Richardson (you can read the first part here), a literary and political writer and friend of the Radical Tea Towel Company. He writes his own blog called The Opinionist and his Twitter handle is @WillRichardson6. Agree with the post or not, we’d love your comments below!

Hello again! Or just hello if you aren’t one of the loyal millions who have read this riveting two-parter from the beginning. In the first half of this on-going discussion, I wrote about the use and manipulation of the English language in politics, and how George Orwell gave us the blueprint to identify the techniques used by our leaders to confuse and manipulate us, and to conceal the truth of matters, to make things sound like other things, basically.

And this because we have allowed our language to be diluted and softened and to have the power and the meaning taken out of it, to an extent.

We are not blameless for the degradation of our language and its manipulative, dishonest use in politics. Unfortunately we have taken the same attitude to English as we take to interior design: minimalism. And of course Twitter, with its hashtags and its 140 characters, has played no small part in this development. Twitter has enabled and necessitated the reduction of discourse down to soundbites and slogans and catch-all phrases, and has completely decimated nuance in public debate. Continue reading

Orwell and the Politics of Language

The following two-part guest post is written by the talented Will Richardson, a literary and political writer and friend of the Radical Tea Towel Company. He writes his own blog called The Opinionist and his Twitter handle is @WillRichardson6

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George Orwell is probably most famous for having the second most misused adjective derived from his name. (“Oh my Gawwwd, mum. I can’t believe you won’t let me skip Nan’s funeral. This is so Orwellian!”) Second only to Kafka, perhaps. (“Oh my Gawwwd this burrito is so Kafkaesque.”) He is also known for uttering a bunch of inconveniently prescient stuff, among which: “In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.

1984, the book from which that shocking quote is taken, has the fine legacy of being the go-to example of dystopian tyranny (“First it’s registers for paedophiles, mate”, John insists, “the next thing you know, Government’s gonna be givin’ you a colonoscopy after every meal”). Although I’ll not try and convince you that if you are currently resident in Britain you are living in some dystopian Hell-scape bordered by barbed wire and overseen by oppressive, droid-headed CCTV; and I’ll not try to convince you that the powers that be keep us in fear and obedient through constant warfare, or that the government and the media tries to divide us by religion or colour or money; I shall be showing you the way in which that quote of old George’s is relevant to us in 2015. For it is not because should you tell the “truth” (man) you will get hauled into the back of a blacked-out van and lugged to room 101; no, it is because the manipulation and alterance of the English language in the political sphere and in public discussion has morphed to allow lies to become truth, and to make our truths lies.

To show what I mean, it won’t be George’s political fiction to which I’ll be referring; it will be his 1946 essay: Politics and the English Language. In this essay, the man elucidates how the politicos’ lingual use allows for truth to be concealed, or for the definition of truth and lie to blur.

George Orwell Tea Towel Continue reading