Sunday Poetry: Sometimes, by Anonymous


Sometimes things don’t go, after all,
from bad to worse. Some years, muscadel
faces down frost; green thrives; the crops don’t fail.
Sometimes a man aims high, and all goes well.

A people sometimes will step back from war,
elect an honest man, decide they care
enough, that they can’t leave some stranger poor.
Some men become what they were born for.

Sometimes our best intentions do not go
amiss; sometimes we do as we meant to.
The sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow
that seemed hard frozen; may it happen for you.

– by Anonymous


I like to do my own commentary on the poems I select for Sunday poetry, but the poet’s own commentary on this poem is more fascinating than anything I can come up with.

She prefers not to have her name associated with it, so I’ll respect that wish, although, if you’re curious, it’s easy to Google.

The dreaded Sometimes

I once had this on my site, though I had long ago got sick of it. But I still got a lot of email asking for information about it so I thought it might save time, especially now it’s turned up as a GCSE “unseen poem”! There is also a bit about it on the FAQs on specific poems page, answering the questions “why isn’t the language inclusive” and “why don’t you like the poem”.

But I have now decided to remove the text, though I will keep this information to save email enquiries.

Policy on reproduction of “Sometimes”

* it’s OK to put it on personal blogs
* if you’re a student, you can use it for coursework
* if you’re an exam board, you cannot use it as an exam question
* if you want it for a non-charitable poetry anthology, the answer’s no
* I will allow it to be read for charitable purposes (NB NOT medical ones which fund research on animals, and I won’t change my mind on that for anyone, so please don’t ask). But I would still refuse permission for actual reproduction, unless it was a charity I felt very strongly about.
* if you’re an “inclusive language” fanatic who wants to replace “man” with “human being” and ruin the scansion, don’t you dare!!! See below…
* and if you do quote or reproduce it, I would rather you left my name off. I really do hate it that much. The comedian Arthur Smith, who’s been using it in a charitable/memorial context for some time, respects my feelings on this by never mentioning my name, and I very much appreciate that.

I’m doing this because the poem simply doesn’t represent the kind of poet I want to be. I know many people do like it but it exists on many other sites so I am not depriving them of anything, and I’d rather they didn’t email asking me to change my mind about it, because I can’t.

I wrote it back in the eighties and it appeared in my Selected Poems, which has recently been reprinted by Seren, whom you can contact at this address. It was then included in Poems on the Underground and has since appeared on the trams of Helsinki and the Metro in St Petersburg (there’s a good Russian translation on Vitali Ashkinazi’s web site. Actually I prefer Vitali’s version to the original and one day I might translate it back).

It featured in a BBC Radio 4 programme called The Secret Life of Poems. It has been used by several charities and political organisations, including Charter 88 (for refugees); it has been read during the Irish peace negotiations and in the South African parliament, has been set to music by several people and quoted in other books (most lately appearing in the autobiography of the man in the white suit, Martin Bell).

Despite all this, it wasn’t necessarily political, nor is it about depression, though a lot of clinically depressed people think it is. It isn’t even basically very optimistic. It was originally written about a sportsman who had a drug problem and it expressed the hope that he might eventually get over it – because things do go right sometimes, but not very often… But it isn’t anywhere near skilful or subtle enough and I would cheerfully disown it, if people didn’t now and then write to me saying it had helped them. By the way, you might also care to know that I originally wrote “the sun will sometimes melt a field of snow” (the sportsman’s drug of choice was cocaine). But I mistyped “sorrow” for “snow” and then decided I liked that better. I believe in letting the keyboard join in the creative process now and then.

Also some people have asked “why the odd spelling of “muscatel” as “muscadel”? Because the line doesn’t refer to muscatel grapes; it refers to grape hyacinths, little purple spring flowers which I’ve always known as “muscadel”.

Oh and while we’re at it, a small rant… I am sick of seeing versions of this on people’s sites which are wrong not because of faulty memory but because they’ve been deliberately “adapted” for added political correctness or to simplify the vocabulary or grammar. I’ve seen “man” blithely changed to “woman” by people who apparently don’t notice that this screws up the scansion (which to any writer is far more important than being PC). If you don’t like it the way it is, then write your own, but don’t “adapt” mine and then leave my name on it, because I can scan and I don’t want people thinking otherwise! As you may know, I like fan fiction, but all honest fanfic writers include a disclaimer stressing that this is them, not the original.

I think I love this poet! She cares about scansion! She is open enough in her writing that she recognizes a mistaken improvement. She points out that the darned thing isn’t even really very optimistic – the fact that things go right “sometimes” is a long way from having them go right frequently.

Sometimes, I get hooked by a poem that the author would disown, and go on to read more of her poetry. Sometimes.

One Response to “Sunday Poetry: Sometimes, by Anonymous”

  1. Anonymous says:

    I have had this poem hidden in my drawer for decades because I was ashamed of liking such 'kitsch'. Yet it is not as bad as the author claims it to be, or as some of us who have a taste for good poetry think of it.
    The first time I read it I was 19 and bursting to set the world straight concerning what a woman can – a calling I have sustained in all the decades to follow. Yet I have never, ever, in any of my silent readings, replaced the word man. The poem is inclusive with its determination, and that is its strength. Any human being will go through frost, snow (cocaine or not), deception, and other sorrows. And a man is a human being (this insight is all but a great discovery really)
    The author disapproving of its many versions is probably pre – social media, pre – open innovation, pre open source.
    But I do appreciate to know its origin, its contextuality … it adds new meaning to the many meanings I have already given to the poem.
    However, I am glad, that I had it in my drawer for so many years, just for me to have a peep, sometimes, and for all this time it has been my own, my very own. … until now, when I started searching on the internet and realized – I was as amazed and disturbed as the poet herself – that it is common good.

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