Youngman’s Death @ First Night Design

The Liverpool poet Roger McGough never ceases to enthrall me. I was reminded of this marvellous poem by a friend who posted it on Facebook yesterday.  McGough makes you smile and always makes trenchant points on whichever subject he writes about.

When I was in my thirties, I went back into education to do a Humanities degree. I did not complete the course, partly because I became ill and partly because I started resenting the way literature was being examined.  The pulling apart of sentences to build or deduce meaning began to ruin my native enjoyment.  I did not want to finish the degree and, like a then neighbour of mine, find I had no desire to pick up another work of fiction or book of poetry.  This neighbour had studied History at Oxford and in the fifteen or so years since, had read perhaps one history book.

That is not to decry what such study can do. I learned a great deal and was introduced to writers I had never considered reading such as Doris Lessing and the poet Grace Nichols.

In the meantime, I urge you to read what you will into Let me die a youngman’s death.  And whatever you think or feel about what he is saying is every bit as valuable and ‘right’ and ‘true’ as the pontificating of any literary critic. McGough, in a recent article in The Daily Telegraph recalls how he became hooked on poetry during a Physics lesson at his Catholic school: ‘To hell with this, let’s have some poetry,’ Brother Ryan said, and he’d close his eyes and recite a poem in Gaelic. I was transfixed because it was poetry out of context, rather than, ‘Turn to page 156 and tell me what the poet means at line 17.’

Let me die a youngman’s death by Roger McGough

Let me die a youngman’s death
not a clean and inbetween
the sheets holywater death
not a famous-last-words
peaceful out of breath death

When I’m 73
and in constant good tumour
may I be mown down at dawn
by a bright red sports car
on my way home
from an allnight party

Or when I’m 91
with silver hair
and sitting in a barber’s chair
may rival gangsters
with hamfisted tommyguns burst in
and give me a short back and insides

Or when I’m 104
and banned from the Cavern
may my mistress
catching me in bed with her daughter
and fearing for her son
cut me up into little pieces
and throw away every piece but one

Let me die a youngman’s death
not a free from sin tiptoe in
candle wax and waning death
not a curtains drawn by angels borne
‘what a nice way to go’ death

Take care and keep laughing!