Hilaire Belloc

(27 July 1870 – 16 July 1953 / La Celle-Saint-Cloud)

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Talking (and Singing) of the Nordic Man


I

Behold, my child, the Nordic man,
And be as like him, as you can;
His legs are long, his mind is slow,
His hair is lank and made of tow.


II

And here we have the Alpine Race:
Oh! What a broad and foolish face!
His skin is of a dirty yellow.
He is a most unpleasant fellow.


III

The most degraded of them all
Mediterranean we call.
His hair is crisp, and even curls,
And he is saucy with the girls.

Submitted: Friday, January 03, 2003

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  • Franklin Johnson (1/16/2014 11:47:00 AM)

    This satire of the racial views of his day is very funny. Sorry some of the commenters below take it at face value. Roughly: Nordic=Teutons, some Slavs. Alpine= most Slavs, Turkic peoples, Magyars. Mediterranean=Latins, Greeks. All Caucasians, the Semites to the south are another branch of Caucasians. See wiki article on Nordic race for more info.

    Belloc was not even so sure these groupings were accurate, let alone possessing different qualities. Look at a version of this poem with the pictures included. The 'Nordic' part has a picture of a chinless upper class twit dressed as a fierce Viking, and looking rather hapless. Obviously a picture of a man who thinks he is a member of some master race, when he is really no such thing. The 'Alpine' part has a rather flat-faced Slav dressed in a Swiss mountaineers outfit, a rather incongruous picture, suggesting that some people have their ideas a little confused.

    This excellent satire of racism is called The Three Races. It can be found, with the pictures, in Belloc's 'Cautionary Tales'. To those who think he is advocating the ideas he makes fun of; Belloc was pulling your leg and it came off in his hand. (Report) Reply

  • Herman Chiu (11/18/2009 7:34:00 PM)

    I agree; I don't see why people are taking offense.
    This poem is meant for those who are willing to stop and think for a moment about the true intent behind it - not for those who will simply take it on face value.
    BTW, great, and funny poem! (Report) Reply

  • Terri Turrell (11/18/2009 3:35:00 PM)

    Behold, my child, pure ignorance,
    From one who lacks in common sense;
    Ignoring logic and plain facts,
    Quick to judge by words, not act.

    And here we offer written proof;
    To show semantic rant a spoof!
    (Though dry perhaps, and tongue-in-cheek)
    By all means - read before you speak.

    Belloc indulged in having a little fun at the expense of whomever's leg he could tug and was confident enough in his own beliefs to feel no fear of playing with his poetry. His actions speak his true mind, while verse such as this show his humor and talent for stirring the pot. (Report) Reply

  • Michael Harmon (11/18/2009 12:43:00 PM)

    It would appear Belloc is a rather complicated fellow. Admittedly no expert on him, though, I did a little bit of research and found this excerpt in Wikipedia:

    There are a number of grounds on which Belloc has been deemed by some to be anti-Semitic and not concerned to conceal his views.[21]
    On the other hand, Canadian broadcaster Michael Coren wrote:
    Belloc's polemics did periodically drift into the realms of bigotry, but he was invariably a tenacious opponent of philosophical anti-Semitism, ostracized friends who made attacks upon individual Jews, and was an inexorable enemy of fascism and all its works, speaking out against German anti-Semitism before the National Socialists came to power.

    ~~~~~

    After reading enough, I decided Belloc is something like a Don Rickles of poetry, generally against prejudice, but sometimes coming off sounding somewhat offensive in his ironic statements. Irony is a difficult quality to master by the practitioner, and often misunderstood by those who do not recognize it.

    In any case, lambasting and ridiculing those who misinterpret a poem, or who see things differently, seems to be a chronic flaw among some. (Report) Reply

  • Ramesh T A (11/18/2009 6:56:00 AM)

    The style of Hillaire Belloc is melodiously unique with meaningful message in this poem is amusing to read! He is remembered mainly for his style in writing! (Report) Reply

  • Kevin Straw (11/18/2009 6:45:00 AM)

    Surely this poem is a deft and amusing satire on racism - Belloc is pointing out the absurdity of the generalisations racists are forced to make when they insist that one race is superior to another. He advises children to be like the Nordic man, but can only offer them long legs, a slow mind, lank hair made of tow to which to aspire! In fact “the most degraded” Italian who is “saucy with the girls” is more admirable than either of the others. It should be noted that Belloc had a French mother and an English father. (Report) Reply

  • Jim Doyle (11/18/2008 7:04:00 PM)

    Ha! He’s being PC! ! What a crushingly dismissive accusation! !
    Did I have the audacity not to be awed by this skilful use of language; to show disrespect; and to express an opinion of my own? Then I truely must be some senseless, freedom of speech banning, zealot, who is to be directed to the nearest library to seek out and appreciate the subtleties of this light verse and the uplifting ideas it encapsulates.
    Could it simply be that these lines are vacuous and tasteless; humorous only to those with heads full of ‘mock-moral’ caricatures?
    Belloc: Talking (and singing) of the Nordic Man- “surprised and delighted” - better still, Michael - let’s you and I just avoid frequenting the same used book stores............ and don’t you worry Cindy, I’ll always be prepared to defend your right to free speech – no matter how inane or unoriginal........... (Report) Reply

  • Cindy Gee (11/18/2008 1:57:00 PM)

    I agree with Michael Pruchnicki.Too much P.C takes away all the senses.Please do not carry what was supposed to be a guideline for consideration and good manners to over zealous stupidness. Be banning freedom of speech next. (Report) Reply

  • Jim Doyle (11/18/2008 8:03:00 AM)

    Behold my child the racist man,
    be as different to him as you can.
    His pen is blunt, his mind is too,
    in his ignorance let him stew. (Report) Reply

  • Uloia Norris Moore (11/18/2007 8:15:00 PM)

    What do we know now, that was diffrent from then? His perception no diffrent than those of mordern man.Most judge not from within, still 2007 by there skin. (Report) Reply

  • Shivapriya Surve (11/18/2006 12:58:00 AM)

    Inspite of its strikingly effortless rhyme scheme and naive humour, the poem remains....well....racist!
    I would like to add at the risk of invading the poet's prerogative, that had the poem
    been supplemented with a contrasting stanza refuting the claims made so far; it
    would have been a lot better for obvious reasons! (Report) Reply

Read all 15 comments »

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