The Wounded Gigolo

Here is something interesting, new, possibly amusing, but probably more than a little controversial. The Oxford scholar, poet, wit and acquaintance of the Leigh Fermors , Sir Cecil Maurice Bowra, wrote two poems (in 1950) that poked fun at Paddy’s relationships with Balasha Cantacuzene and Joan Leigh Fermor. It appears that Paddy objected to these and prevented their publication in the 2005 poetry collection New Bats in Old Belfries, or Some Loose Tiles. Paddy apparently refers to them in his correspondence with the Duchess of Devonshire. Now that Paddy is no longer with us, it would appear that Henry Hardy (also known as Robert Dugdale) has decided to make them public.

The poems appear to be buried within Hardy’s website which he maintains on the subject of Isaiah Berlin. This poem, The Wounded Gigolo, is in pretty poor taste (all round) but in particular in relation to Balasha; far from spurning Paddy she delighted in their relationship but they were separated first by the war, and then by communism. She knew that their relationship would not be rekindled after the war and she apparently was pleased that Paddy had found happiness with Joan.

Hardy explains himself thus:

When New Bats in Old Belfries was published in 2005, two poems had to be omitted from the book which stated at the time “because their subject was still alive, and unwilling to give his approval for their inclusion in his lifetime.” It can now be revealed that Bowra’s target in the excised poems was Patrick (‘Paddy’) Leigh Fermor, writer and traveller – and Cretan war hero as a result of his activities while serving in the Special Operations Executive (SOE) during the Second World War. Leigh Fermor, born on 11 February 1915, died on 10 June 2011, aged 96.

In an extended correspondence with one of the editors of Bowra’s poems, Paddy showed that he was much put out by the poems about himself, especially ‘The Wounded Gigolo’, which he felt was ‘a bit cracked’. He vacillated about the other poem, but in the end voted against, no doubt partly influenced by the opinion of his late wife Joan, who ‘thought that all the people mentioned in the collection would have been cut to the quick, however much they put on non-spoilsport faces’. When James Morwood of Wadham College visited him later in his Greek home – to ask about his friendship with Bowra on behalf of Leslie Mitchell, Bowra’s biographer – he found Paddy was still smarting.

To Hardy, Leigh Fermor wrote: ‘Could Maurice’s shade ponder all this now, I think I might emerge as more of a saviour than a spoilsport.’ [Edit: I think Paddy was probably right and I publish here for our usual completeness]

My thanks to Mark Granelli and Margaret Campbell for getting in touch about this. Here is the first poem:

The Wounded Gigolo

O Balasha Cantacuzène,
Hear the war-cry of the Gael!
In his last fierce fight he’s losin’;
He will fight, but he will fail.
Cruelly his lady spurned him,
Struck him when he asked for more,
Flung him down the stairs and turned him
Bag and baggage from the door.
Oh unhappy gigolo
Told to pack his traps and go;
He may mope and he may mow,
Echo only answers ‘No’.

Hasten, every loyal Cretan,
To your wounded master’s aid;
He will not admit he’s beaten
While there’s money to be made.
Stalwart heroes stand beside him,
Captain Moss and Major Xan,
Knowing that, whate’er betide him,
He is still their perfect man.
Oh the hero gigolo,
Bleeding from a mortal blow,
He’s been cut off from the dough,
And he murmurs ‘Woe, woe, woe!’

What avail him now the dances
Which he led on Ida’s peak?
No more like a ram he prances;
Gone the bums he used to tweak.
Let him pick and scratch his scrotum,
Wave his cock and shake his balls –
She will never turn to note ’em,
Never listen to his calls.
Oh the jigging gigolo,
Plying his fantastic toe –
Like a wounded buffalo,
He can only belch and blow.

What avails the apt quotation,
What the knowledge of the arts,
What the lore of every nation
Learned from many unpaid tarts?
Ah, his mistress will not listen,
Floating vaguely to the moon;
Vainly do his molars glisten
When he tries to break her swoon.
Oh the learned gigolo,
What was there he didn’t know?
Now there’s nothing left to show
To the girl he dazzled so.

Yet remains his greatest glory,
His proud prowess in the bed.
Never tool renowned in story
Had so fine a lustihead.
Can he not be up and at her?
Strike the target? Ring the bell?
Ah, to her it doesn’t matter;
Nothing can restore the spell.
Oh the potent gigolo,
He could make the semen flow!
Though the cock may crow and crow,
He must pack his traps and go.

17 April 1950

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42 thoughts on “The Wounded Gigolo

  1. raclis

    I believe PLF returned to Romania after the war and was able to secretly visit Balasha. He found her in much diminished circumstances and condition, but set up an account with a London bookstore to send written materials to her. This does not sound like they left one another in anything but events beyond their control.

    Reply
  2. Phil Ince

    I’m English, prone to nostalgia and coming to an age when I might start talking of “good old days”. However, reading one or two of the comments on this page is sobering and handily disillusioning. It’s to be hoped that these slowly fading 20th century prejudices will, all being well, die out with the men of the time.
    There’s no time like the present.

    Reply
  3. katavalos

    More than a trifle sophomoric, wouldn’t you say? And to quote (I can’t remember who): when there’s a giant around, the pygmies run out with blow guns.

    Reply
  4. JulianA

    Well perhaps PLF has the last laugh anyway. Some of you well read folk on here may read Bowra – (whom?) and I hope I’ve read a few worthwhile things, but I’d barely heard of Bowra, except as an admirer of Joan, before this… I think more people read PLF these days, so I guess Paddy wins.

    Nothing that was written by somebody apparently jealous of a great (and well published) literary talent is going to diminish my view of said talent. My view of the critic is greatly diminished though…

    Reply
  5. Christopher Lord

    Typical sneery comments from “Bugger” Bowra, as all who were at Oxford in the 50s knew and referred to him
    (Magdalen man)

    Reply
  6. George

    Well, both served their country , the one with well deserved cinematic acclamation the other with quiet yet unacknowledged duty.

    I lived close to the Eyres Monsell estates in Leicester. Not a pleasant place. Yet presumably the font of Joan’s living. Do remember she drove a Bentley and had the wherewithal to live an independent photographic life.
    PLF was a part of her life that she seemed willing to subsidise. There are many persons of both sexes who take the same view, and if it fits their lifestyle then it is likely to be a sound investment.
    Bowra contributed much to university life and clearly was held in esteem by many of his peers. He was gay, well they called themselves ‘ buggers ‘ in those days, and openly so.

    Likely that innate bitchiness that resides in the souls of most of us, yet finds its most expressive, and easily identified, voice in the comments of the gay community, lead to these two satirical pieces.

    ** Is anyone able to identify a time when these two met or were part of a particular circle?

    Moving on.

    PLF was quite entitled to embargo the inclusion of the two poems, and likely he did so with a certain amount of venom. Which pleases me since most accounts paint him as a saccharine person with no animus ‘gainst anyone. Personally I would like to think that he was sticking it to Bowra out of pure dislike of the man and all he represented to PLF.

    Reply
    1. Ryan Eyre

      George,

      There are photographs of Bowra and PLF socializing together well after this poem was written and PLF wrote a favorable review of one of Bowra’s books in the early 1960’s. I think the two respected one another at the very least.

      Reply
  7. Miles Fenton

    Perhaps I should take up cudgels on my Uncle’s behalf. A very sorry and unpleasant barb in his direction, full of envy and immature malice. All very clever but yet showing a mean spirit.

    Reply
  8. Nicolas

    Where is the problem here? Some men marry richer women and some women marry richer men; it happens all the time.

    PLUS in Paddy’s case he served his country well in the war, he wrote some of our very favourite books (I hope readers will agree), and he seems to have been generous to a fault with his own money, when he had any.

    So if Balasha/Joan kept him from having to take a 9-to-5 job, it couldn’t have happened to a better man. Hope you enjoyed it all, Paddy!

    Reply
  9. JohnOS

    TomAdshead: funny you should frame the poem as Bowra accusing Paddy of Samgrass like cadging. Bowra was Waugh’s model for Samgrass. And St John in Powell’s Dance to the Music too, IIRC…

    Reply
  10. JohnOS

    Well, Bowra was gay, and the poem certainly has a faggy, campy, sneering quality to it. Bowra and Paddy were both literary men, and war veterans, but otherwise quite different characters. Paddy got the Heinemann Prize in 1950. Maybe Bowra was jealous. Anyway, I’ve got my ticket for the Artemis Cooper event at the RGS on Weds 24 Oct. Maybe Artemis will be able to enlighten us about some clash between the two circa 1950. Maybe I’ll get a chance to discuss it with some of the regulars on this blog!

    Reply
  11. r w seibert

    I agree with above comments that jealousy may have a significant role in the motivation of the poem. Bowra, ever the mordant wit, is quoted as giving his reason that he (Bowra) married an unattractive woman-“buggers can’t be chosers”.

    Reply
  12. Pingback: On the Coast of Terra Fermoor « Patrick Leigh Fermor

  13. Judy Stove

    Well, I think it’s a very funny poem, and indicates a witty side of C.M. Bowra which surprises those of us who have read some of his classics works. Fair enough that it was suppressed as long as PLF wanted it to be. But I find it surprising that people are up in arms about it. Surely it is part of the literary history of PLF and his circle, which we are all interested in? And I agree with Justin, above, that it is important that the less nice sides of this be brought out, as well as the admirable ones.

    Reply
  14. Carl Hagan

    Sir Cecil’s supercilious sarcasm smaks of jealousy and not of Paddy at all. Given the context of cold and hot wartime mortal danger and renting, raging passions engendered Sir Cecil deserved a Rottweiler ripping at his bits for penning this slander.

    Reply
  15. Justin

    I don’t think this is a good poem, of course, but it does raise for me a question about how PLF has and will be perceived. There’s a romanticism that he fostered in his books and about his life that makes it all feel magic. And since his death, I haven’t heard much of anything negative said about him. It’s like he’s been prematurely mythologized, or even like he prematurely mythologized himself. But he was a real person and he had his flaws… I mean, right? What about his darker side?

    This is one reason I’m not surprisingly unexcited about the new biography – I’m afraid it will be a “good stuff version” – a “jolly fun adventure” of a life but not much meat. Not that I want PLF to be worse than he actually was (and my impression is that he was a great guy, as well as brilliant), I just want a more complete picture. So that, and only that, is why I appreciate the posting of this crappy verse.

    Reply
  16. Lawrence S. Freundlich

    Bowra’s sexual denigrations of Paddy are just trash. What I find more demeaning to Bowra is his jealousy of Paddy’s astounding scholarship and linguistic genius. Bowra, whose own scholarship is profound, should have been able to admire his rival, instead of feeling compelled to besmirch him. Paddy: no money and genteel. Bowra: wealthy and vulgar.

    Reply
    1. alexandraco46

      it’s always like this, quoting you Lawrence S. Freundlich, “Paddy: no money and genteel. Bowra: wealthy and vulgar.” You see this in everyday’s life permanently, since ever in history and under various excuses. ALAS! Wish Paddy as well as both ladies being able to defend themselves, but they cant… totally exposed to our mercy or not. I am disappointed.

      Reply
  17. alexandraco46

    I just wish I mentioned something here. Balasha was a very modest personality! She was what westerners would call a sophisticated character. No, she was not this. She was a simple but GREAT soul. I have my own sources, which I dont want to mention here and not anywhere – it was her wish to be kept as modest and in the shadow as possible. At the beginning I was myself wondering WHY Paddy mentions her so little in his books, while she was a MAJOR part of his life. It was her wish. I think he respected her wish. I was thinking at a certain moment to go on a “trip” of my own rehabilitating her, her art and her premises in Baleni. But I wont,, because she would NEVER agree!

    Reply
  18. Tom Adshead

    What a mean-minded poem? Don’t know much about Bowra, but this one reflects worse on him than on Leigh Fermor. But it was probably written for a private audience, one that Bowra felt would share his views, so it’s probably just as well it wasn’t published.

    Reply
    1. alexandraco46

      I dont think it’s mean- or ill-minded. It’s certinly a joke between men. But then, no joke without a small trace of truth. the issue here is that this poem should have been burned not to survive, let alon being published.

      Reply
      1. Tom Adshead

        I agree that it should have been burned. But the dig at Leigh Fermor that he sponges off women is nasty, especially from someone with a wealthy background like Bowra’s.

        Reply
        1. proverbs6to10 Post author

          But Tom, that bit about the sponging will have a strong element of truth about it. Paddy had no family money, and apart from his time in the Army and the British Council in Athens, he never had a salaried job. Payment for his writing was pretty intermittent and haphazard.

          Reply
          1. Tom Adshead

            There’s a difference between being poor and sponging! I think the implication is that PLF wanted to live beyond his means, and chose women who would pay for that, which I don’t think matches the fact. If you take a mean view of his trip across Europe, you could claim that he was cadging off all of his hosts in a Samgrass-like way, but I don’t think anyone has suggested this.
            It will be interesting if this is addressed by the new biography, but my feeling is that it will have to wait for a less connected biographer.

  19. Christos Paganakis

    I cant see the need to get all Po-faced about this .
    24 hours ago I penned five quite disgraceful 4 line stanzas on the theme of Australia Day , because some lazy child had asked others to do her homework for her in the Yahoo Answers Poetry section .
    Anyone reading those without realising that they were a deliberately provocative lampoon could take them as a terrible insult , when it was merely an idle joke .
    Yes this is scurrilous and far too near the knuckle in places , but it was up to Paddy to thump their author in the snout ( or shoot him ) , not us , strangers .
    And frankly , you read worse than this on the inside of any university toilet door , and that’s just in the Ladies .
    This has all the hallmarks of something scribbled out in a hurry by someone who was a competent poet , for a laugh , it’s not ” Erotokritos ” .
    As an exercise in Eng Lit I’d say nice rhymes , nice metre , but a limited grubby theme carried on far too long , shorter and sharper would have been much funnier .
    Barmy idea to put it in a book though , Private joke stuff like this is always incomprehensible to the stranger , and so the author just comes across as an unpleasant Perv .

    Reply
    1. proverbs6to10 Post author

      The issue for me Christos is what it says about Balasha who did very little harm to anyone but like many millions had a terrible half-starved life under communisim and did not reject Paddy at all. I agree he can attack Paddy and he was man enough to stand up to it, but Balasha did not deserve such treatment. It shows Bowra as a grudge bearing, insensitive soul, who chose an inappropriate and easy target. But then I don’t much care for or read stuff on the back of toilet doors.

      Reply
      1. alexandraco46

        hats off Tom “proverbs”. Indeed, if balasha helped Paddy financially, it is out of a noble soul, like many “noble” romanians. I didnt want to touch this because FEW would ever understand! And i rest my case, but Balasha deserves MUCH, VERY MUCH! And if she ever refused to be helped by him (like leaving Romania during communism), it is out of PRIDE and consideration towards him. REAL “NOBEL” ROMANIANS would do the same and this doesnt mean they are “selfdistructive”.

        Reply
      2. Christos Paganakis

        Well Tom , further to our discussion re ” pensees on toilet doors “, what exactly do we know about the Balasha / PLF relationship ?
        Not much , neither were in the present day business of kiss and tell .
        All I can go on is the thin tale that he met B , her in the throes of being just divorced , and they moved in together in the watermill across the water from Poros , before retiring for an extended stay at her pad in Roumania .
        As he had his pound a week , or whatever , still , I expect he managed to pay for his own cigarettes , while board and lodging came free .
        Does that make him a gigolo , or toy-boy ? ( which my wife tells me is the present day denomination for younger impecunious man + wealthier older woman )
        And then the looming WW2 called him back to England .
        Just as well , or he’d have ended up in an internment camp .

        Was he living on her ?
        Did he jump home because of the looming war , or did she push him to go ?
        Was the reason to leave the oncoming War , or had the love affair run its course ? Or both ?
        Could he have got her ” out ” during the Cold War ( Given his skills and aquaintances I think we’d have to say yes ) , but would she have left Roumania alone , or wanted to stay unless sundry others could be got out too — making it mission impractical ?
        Who can say ?
        Perhaps we may learn more in the shower of biographies and books to come , — or not .
        People back then were reluctant to bare their souls in today’s fashion , perhaps we shall never be privy to the detail of their relationship .

        ( That poem hasn’t improved any , on re-reading it , either . )

        Reply
        1. proverbs6to10 Post author

          Christos – I think one has to make up one’s own mind. There are, as you say, many possibilities.

          I think what is certain is that they were very happy together and it was the announcement of war that led to Paddy departing, in fact almost immediately after 3 Sep.

          I think you overestimate his ability to get her out of the country.

          You will enjoy this particular section in the biography I am sure. Balasha and her family will have plenty of mentions. Whether you can come to a conclusion I cannot say.

          Tom

          Reply
  20. Roger de Brantes

    There have already been a number of hints answering the riddle of where PLF (remember the Saki article?) got the money necessary to his lifestyle; Here’s another, consistent, one. I wonder if the coming biography will mention financial resources? Very non-U.

    Reply

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