William Plomer

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William Charles Franklyn Plomer (10 December 190321 September 1973) was a South African poet, novelist and campaigner for racial equality. He also wrote the librettos for four of Benjamin Britten’s operas.


  • The commonplace needs no defence,
    Dullness is in the critic’s eyes,
    Without a licence life evolves
    From some dim phase its own surprise;

    Under these yellow-twinkling elms,
    Behind these hedges trimly shorn,
    As in a stable once, so here
    It may be born, it may be born.
    • "The Bungalows", line 45, from A Shot in the Park (London: Jonathan Cape, 1955).

The Dorking Thigh, and Other Satires[edit]

Quotations are cited from the first edition (London: Jonathan Cape, 1945).

  • A family portrait not too stale to record
    Of a pleasant old buffer, nephew to a lord,
    Who believed that the bank was mightier than the sword,
    And that an umbrella might pacify barbarians abroad:
    Just like an old liberal
    Between the wars.
    • "Father and Son: 1939", line 1.
  • Oh, the twenties and the thirties were not otherwise designed
    Than other times when blind men into ditches led the blind,
    When the rich mouse ate the cheese and the poor mouse got the rind,
    And man, the self-destroyer, was not lucid in his mind.
    • "Father and Son: 1939", line 73.
  • When her guests were awash with champagne and with gin
    She was recklessly sober, as sharp as a pin:
    An abstemious man would reel at her look
    As she rolled a bright eye and praised his last book.
    • "Slightly Foxed", line 25.

The Child of Queen Victoria[edit]

  • We hear a great deal about sex nowadays; it is possible to overestimate its importance, because there are always people who pay it little attention or who apparently manage, like Sir Isaac Newton, to get along, without giving it a thought.


  • His most celebrated poems are, of course, the historical-satirical ballads (A or even X certificate) in which a person or period is "hit off", in the sense both of being preserved and hit for six.
  • His poetry may be divided into comic extravaganza on the one hand, and more personal work on the other. There is no one like him in the world in the former genre; as a "light poet" he is preferable to John Betjeman – as fluent in traditional forms, his work is never vitiated by refuge in the poetical or high sentimental, and his choice of words is subtler, funnier and altogether sharper. In his other vein Plomer is fastidious, reticent, elegant and the author of some memorable and moving lines.

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