Of Lice and Men

Yesterday (Thursday 2 October) was National Poetry Day. To mark the occasion we were all encouraged by the organisers to tweet a few verses of a favourite poem, or to perhaps compose some prose of our own.

This was a wonderful opportunity for the nation to share its love of poetry. Unfortunately it also presented an opportunity for politicians to once again demonstrate why they really should not be let loose on social media. Conservative MP and junior minister Matthew Hancock tweeted a limerick which described the Labour Party as ”full of queers”. Unsurprisingly there were calls for Hancock to be sacked and he quickly issued a grovelling apology, describing the tweet as “accidental”.

My own poetic tweet was a few verses of Robert Burns poem “to a louse”. It tells the story of a young woman attending church dressed in her Sunday best. She becomes aware of the fact that everyone is looking at her and assumes that they are enthralled by her great beauty and her fine clothes. Sadly, the reality is that they are all staring at the lice crawling across her bonnet.

I tweeted the final verse –

O wad some Power the giftie gie us, To see oursels as ithers see us!

It wad frae mony a blunder free us, An’ foolish notion:

What airs in dress an’ gait wad lea’e us, An’ ev’n devotion! 

 For those of you not familiar with 18th century Scots dialect, Burns is pointing out that we would all behave much less foolishly if we could only see ourselves as others see us. That strikes me as being even more relevant today than it was when Burns wrote it back in 1785.

It seems to me that Matthew Hancock could have saved himself a lot of grief if he had heeded the advice of Burns and thought for a minute about the affect that his tweet would have on how other people view him.


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