Born in India, Eric Arthur Blair (June 25th, 1903 – January 21st, 1950), George Orwell, was an English author, journalist and highly regarded political and cultural commentator. His well respected reviews and columns made him one of the 20th century’s top essay writers. He also wrote three highly acclaimed novels: Homage to Catalonia, Animal Farm and Nineteen eighty-four. The latter two, revealing his critical assessment of Totalitarianism, were published late in his short life.
George Orwell in BBC 1940
Just before his death in 1949 he finished writing the ever popular novel, “Nineteen eighty-four”, predicting our modern controlled societies with great clarity. Orwell coined the terms thought-police, doublethink, and thoughtcrime in his depiction of a future ruled by State propaganda and enforcement controlling every aspect of society.
Relevant today, the term Orwellian is used to describe modern authoritarian social practices.
From an early age Blair wrote poetry. This WWI poem by an 11-year-old Blair, “Awake! Young Men of England”, was first published in 1914 in the Henley and South Oxfordshire Standard newspaper.
7 poems by George Orwell (Eric Arthur Blair)
A Little Poem
A happy vicar I might have been
Two hundred years ago
To preach upon eternal doom
And watch my walnuts grow;
But born, alas, in an evil time,
I missed that pleasant haven,
For the hair has grown on my upper lip
And the clergy are all clean-shaven.
And later still the times were good,
We were so easy to please,
We rocked our troubled thoughts to sleep
On the bosoms of the trees.
All ignorant we dared to own
The joys we now dissemble;
The greenfinch on the apple bough
Could make my enemies tremble.
But girl’s bellies and apricots,
Roach in a shaded stream,
Horses, ducks in flight at dawn,
All these are a dream.
It is forbidden to dream again;
We maim our joys or hide them:
Horses are made of chromium steel
And little fat men shall ride them.
I am the worm who never turned,
The eunuch without a harem;
Between the priest and the commissar
I walk like Eugene Aram;
And the commissar is telling my fortune
While the radio plays,
But the priest has promised an Austin Seven,
For Duggie always pays.
I dreamt I dwelt in marble halls,
And woke to find it true;
I wasn’t born for an age like this;
Was Smith? Was Jones? Were you?
Ironic Poem about Prostitution
When I was young and had no sense
In far-off Mandalay
I lost my heart to a Burmese girl
As lovely as the day.
Her skin was gold, her hair was jet,
Her teeth were ivory;
I said, “for twenty silver pieces,
Maiden, sleep with me”.
She looked at me, so pure, so sad,
The loveliest thing alive,
And in her lisping, virgin voice,
Stood out for twenty-five.
Our Minds Are Married, But We are Too Young
Our minds are married, but we are too young
For wedlock by the customs of this age
When parent homes pen each in separate cage
And only supper-earning songs are sung.
Times past, when medieval woods were green,
Babes were betrothed, and that betrothal brief.
Remember Romeo in love and grief—
Those star-crossed lovers—Juliet was fourteen.
Times past, the caveman by his new-found fire
Rested beside his mate in woodsmoke’s scent.
By our own fireside we shall rest content
Fifty years hence keep troth with hearts desire.
We shall remember, when our hair is white,
These clouded days revealed in radiant light.
Poem from Burma
Brush your teeth up and down, brother,
Oh, brush them up and down!
All the folks in London Town
Brush their teeth right up and down,
Oh! How they shine!
Aren’t they bloody fine?
Night and morning, my brother,
Oh brush them up and down!”
The Lesser Evil
Empty as death and slow as pain
The days went by on leaden feet;
And parson’s week had come again
As I walked down the little street.
Without, the weary doves were calling,
The sun burned on the banks of mud;
Within, old maids were caterwauling
A dismal tale of thorns and blood.
I thought of all the church bells ringing
In towns that Christian folks were in;
I heard the godly maidens singing;
I turned into the house of sin.
The house of sin was dark and mean,
With dying flowers round the door;
They spat their betel juice between
The rotten bamboos of the floor.
Why did I come, the woman cried,
so seldom to her beds of ease?
When I was not, her spirit died,
And would I give her ten rupees.
The weeks went by, and many a day
That black-haired woman did implore
Me as I hurried on my way
To come more often than before.
The days went by like dead leaves falling
And parson’s week came round again.
Once more devout old maids were bawling
Their ugly rhymes of death and pain.
The woman waited for me there
As down the little street I trod;
And musing upon her oily hair,
I turned into the house of God.
So here are you, and here am I,
Where we may thank our gods to be;
Above the earth, beneath the sky,
Naked souls alive and free.
The autumn wind goes rustling by
And stirs the stubble at our feet;
Out of the west it whispering blows,
Stops to caress and onward goes,
Bringing its earthy odours sweet.
See with what pride the the setting sun
Kinglike in gold and purple dies,
And like a robe of rainbow spun
Tinges the earth with shades divine.
That mystic light is in your eyes
And ever in your heart will shine.
Banner image by Bill Peloquin, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons