Monday, January 12, 2015

"Beith be not proud though some have called thee mighty"

One of the most attractive things about Paddy Ashdown is that - in Denis Healey's famous formulation - he has a hinterland. That is, a whole range of interests beyond politics.

Today I came across an old Independent article in which he wrote of love for the poetry of John Donne:
Since the age of 16, I have had a copy of the complete poems of John Donne somewhere close at hand. For me, that was a watershed year. I had not been a good student – at best strugglingly average, to the despair of my father. In truth the classroom interested me far less at this age than the rugby pitch, the athletics field and the girls at the local Bedford high school. 
One evening a friend I admired but thought quite weird persuaded me, against my strong inclination, to go with him to the school poetry society run by one of the masters, whom I regarded as equally weird, John Eyre. The evening changed my life – quite literally. For that night I walked through a door opened by Donne into a world of poetry and literature I had never even known existed and have spent a lifetime joyously exploring ever since. The moment may have been life changing for me. ... 
After school, as a young Royal Marines officer involved in the war in Borneo, I took a leather-bound copy of Donne's poems which my wife had given me everywhere I went, until the ravages of jungle damp and termites dismantled it into a collection of mouldy pages. It has been replaced many times since.
Lord Bonkers writes exclusively for Liberal England:

I recall that Paddy Ashplant put his love for Donne to good use during the contest to elect the first leader of whatever name our party had in those days.

Many though Alan Beith was the frontrunner, but Ashplant began his speech to the first hustings by looking his opponent in the eye and declaiming:
Beith be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so.
This was widely counted as something of a zinger, and poor Beith's campaign never recovered from the blow.

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