Tag Archives: Maurice Bowra

On the Coast of Terra Fermoor

The second of Bowra’s so-called poems which is about Paddy’s relationship with Joan. The full explanation can be found in the preceding article – here.

The first ‘poem’ – The Wounded Gigolo – has started some very interesting debate in the comments section. Why not join in that debate here, and also discuss On the Coast of Terra Fermoor in the comment section at the end of this article?

A link to the section of Henry Hardy’s website where he has buried the poems with some accompanying footnotes is here.

On the Coast of Terra Fermoor

On the coast of Terra Fermoor, when the wind is on the lea,
And the paddy-fields are sprouting round a morning cup of tea,
Sits a lovely girl a-dreaming, and she never thinks of me.
No, she never thinks of me
At her morning cup of tea,
Lovely girl with moon-struck eyes,
Juno fallen from the skies,
At the paddy-fields she looks
Musing on Tibetan books,
On the Coast of Terra Fermoor high above the Cretan Sea.

Melting rainbows dance around her – what a tale she has to tell,
How Carmichael, the Archangel, caught her in the asphodel,
And coquetting choirs of Cherubs loudly sang the first Joel,
Loudly sang the first Joel
To their Blessed Damozel.
Ah, she’s doomed to wane and wilt
Underneath her load of guilt;
She will never, never say
What the Cherubs sang that day,
When the Wise Men came to greet her and a star from heaven fell.

Ah, her memory is troubled by a stirring of dead bones,
Bodies that a poisoned poppy froze into a heap of stones;
When the midnight voices call her, how she mews and mopes and moans.
Oh the stirring of the bones
And their rumble-tumble tones,
How they rattle in her ears
Over the exhausted years;
Lovely bones she used to know
Where the tall pink pansies blow
And her heart is sad because she never saw the risen Jones.

Cruel gods will tease and taunt her: she must always ask for more,
Have her battlecock and beat it, slam the open shuttledore,
Till the Rayners17 cease from reigning in the stews of Singapore.
She will always ask for more,
Waiting for her Minotaur;
Peering through the murky maze
For the sudden stroke that slays,
Till some spirit made of fire
Burns her up in his desire
And her sighs and smiles go floating skyward to the starry shore.

10 June 1950

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