What’s your favourite liberal poem?

It’s National Poetry Day today so we thought it might be worth asking you to nominate your favourite poem with a liberal message. What poem has moved you or made a liberal point in a unique way. Let us know in the comments.

We also thought you might like to see  this piece from 2012 in which Edis Bevan looked at the poetry of Denmark’s Piet Hein. We are nothing if not good Europeans.

In a mad world, remember Denmark’s Piet Hein. Theoretical physicist, poet, wartime resistance activist, mathematician and simply a human being in all its warmest glory. His short poems (Grooks) have a haiku-like quality, reflecting on the simple complexities of life, and as a consequence of real politics as it hits real people. I have cherished these gems for a long time, and wonder if other Liberal Democrats might find them helpful.

His first ever Grook was published in the newspaper Politiken under the Nazi occupation of Denmark. It was

Losing one glove
is certainly painful,
but nothing
compared to the pain,
of losing one,
throwing away the other,
and finding
the first one again

The metaphor for the time was that losing freedom was painful for Danes. But don’t throw away your dignity by collaboration or you will suffer in yourself when freedom returns. Or as that fictional Dane Polonius was made to remark “this above all to thine own self be true”. Now that is something to reflect on, as a minority party in coalition. Whatever we have to do in the short term, let’s make sure we keep our gloves together…

And then there is the law of unintended consequences;

On Problems

Our choicest plans
have fallen through,
our airiest castles
tumbled over,
because of lines
we neatly drew
and later neatly
stumbled over.

or even;

The Road to Wisdom

The road to wisdom?
— Well, it’s plain
and simple to express:
and err
and err again
but less
and less
and less.

But we are in government to make a difference, to do something not just to be something. So we need to face up to the fact that;


Problems worthy of attack,
prove their worth by hitting back

And we certainly have the bruises to prove that one.

There are apparently ten thousand of these Grooks to discover, many of them originally written in English.

Are there any other Piet Hein enthusiasts out there? Any other Grooks for comfort or warning to our political and human situations? The small Grooks at any rate were intended to be in the public domain and used by anyone who felt moved to do so. Shamefully, all twenty volumes of his collected Grook poems are out of print, but the last word, of course, goes to Piet.

Living is…

Living is
a thing you do
now or never —
which do you?

As they say in Danish, Tak for ordet…


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  • Thank you for this, lovely stuff – I have been to Denmark and often think how wise the Danes are. Who else could have made a national thing of ‘hygge’

  • John Donne. No man is an island entire unto himself……………..

  • Denis Loretto 10th Oct '15 - 6:47pm

    Not a poem as such but a little-known quote from the King James version of the bible – often regarded as poetic in character –

    “The vile person shall be no more called liberal, nor the churl said to be bountiful.

    For the vile person will speak villany, and his heart will work iniquity, to practise hypocrisy, and to utter error against the LORD, to make empty the soul of the hungry, and he will cause the drink of the thirsty to fail.

    The instruments also of the churl are evil: he deviseth wicked devices to destroy the poor with lying words, even when the needy speaketh right.

    But the liberal deviseth liberal things; and by liberal things shall he stand.”

    Isaiah 32 verses 5 to 8

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