A. P. Herbert

A. P. Herbert Poems

Dear Madam, you have seen this play;
I never saw it till today.
You know the details of the plot,

Hail, soldier, huddled in the rain,
Hail, soldier, squelching through the mud,
Hail, soldier, sick of dirt and pain,

Go slow, you raving ****, go slow,
And do not cut your corners so;
For there's a citizen ahead

There'll always be a Hitler
Beside the silver Spree
If Germans are such silly sheep

The doctor took my shirt away;
He did it for the best;
He said, 'It's very cold today,'

June, gentle June, of whom the crooners croon,
Sweet month of silk, of salmon, and the swoon;
June, what a chance you had—to be your best,

They took the maid; they took the cook as well:
Mamma said 'Splendid! Give the Germans——!
The two small daughters did the housework now;

Honour the 'neutral' Irishman with weapons in his hand—
The men who made the Mulberries—the men who hate the Huns.

Seneca—Solon—Caesar or Cicero—
Take any old and noble name you know,
Denounce the dead, spray poison in the home-
You still will not remind us much of Rome.

(With respectful reference to the admirable exploit of Petty
Officer Alan Baker, of L .B .V. 37)
The Bluebell was a lighter, a dumb barge, a box,
For to lighten the ships in the stream and the docks;
But she weren't very big, and she weren't very new,
And she lay on the barge-roads with nothing to do.

Stop, noise, immediately, that I,
And not some other chap may die!

From sky to earth for Liberty I fell.
I fought. I won my wings again. Farewell.

Fire away, Fritz,
But look over your shoulder;
Fire away, Fritz,

I wandered up to Beaucourt; I took the river track
And saw the lines we lived in before the Boche went back;
But Peace was now in Pottage, the front was far ahead,

Thank you, Sir John; though it's a little strange
To thank the torturer who makes no change.
Thank you. Sir John, you've been extremely nice:

When Rome, and Rommel, disappoint the foe
The Nice Kind German is again on show.
On go the sheep-skins, and the wolves protest

Field Marshal, few, and foolish, are the lands
That do not hail the baton in your hands.
They labelled you a 'showman'. But we know
Good showmen must have something good to show:

I see it coming — the Fund to feed the Huns:
We shall go short of bread to give them buns.
No, thank you, boys. We cannot do too much


'V 8' is Goering, purring through the skies,
Astride a doodle-bug of double girth,
Bound for Old England with a load of lies,

You were a vintage year, proud '44—
The grapes of Teheran—Paris and Rome—
The conquered ocean and the captured shore—
Robbers in rout, and half the harvest home.

A. P. Herbert Biography

Sir Alan Patrick Herbert was an English humorist, novelist, playwright and law reform activist. He was an independent Member of Parliament (MP) for Oxford University for 15 years, five of which he combined with service in the Royal Navy. He was born in Ashtead, Surrey, to Patrick Herbert, a civil servant, and Beatrice Herbert, née Selwyn. His mother died when he was seven years old. He had two younger brothers; both were killed in battle—one in 1914 and the other in 1941. He was educated at Winchester College and New College, Oxford, obtaining a first class honours degree in jurisprudence. He was called to the bar by the Inner Temple in 1919, but never practised. He served in the Royal Navy during the First World War. He served at Gallipoli and was mentioned in dispatches. He drew on that experience for his novel The Secret Battle, published in 1919. During the Second World War, in addition to his parliamentary duties he served in the Royal Navy on patrol-boats in the Thames. He may have been the first serving Member of Parliament to serve in the Royal Navy without being an officer: he was Petty Officer Herbert from 1940 to 1945. In 1935, with the aid of Frank Pakenham, he became an Independent Member of Parliament for Oxford University, from where he was returned until the University seats were abolished in 1950. He was sent to Newfoundland and Labrador in 1943 with Derrick Gunston and Charles Ammon as part of a Parliamentary Commission to investigate the future of the dominion, and supported the cause of independence over confederation as a result. He was knighted in 1945 in Winston Churchill's Resignation Honours. The Times noted "his individual niche in the parliamentary temple as the doughty vindicator of the private member's rights, including not least the right to legislate." Throughout his career he lobbied for reform of several laws that he felt to be outdated, including those on divorce and obscenity, using his satirical skills to great effect. A popular topic of his was the remarkably complex British licensing laws of the time, and in 1935, as a protest, he was the first person to lay a criminal information against the House of Commons for selling alcohol without a licence. (The High Court ruled that it was exempt through Parliamentary privilege.) Giving his maiden speech on his second day in the House, he declared rashly that he planned to introduce the Matrimonial Causes Bill, to reform divorce, and that he would have it passed before that Parliament was over, publishing the novel Holy Deadlock in 1934 to make his points humorously. It was passed, somewhat strengthened by the House of Lords, in 1938 as the Matrimonial Causes Act 1937. This allowed divorce without requiring proof of adultery, although fake adulteries and the bizarre rules about collusion persisted until the Divorce Reform Act 1969 came into force in 1971. He also advocated reform of the gambling laws and the repeal of the entertainments tax, among other causes. Starting in 1910, his humorous writing appeared often in Punch; wherein also were first published his series of Misleading Cases in the Common Law - the work for which he is best remembered. These were satirical pieces, in the form of "law reports" or "judgments", on various aspects of the British legal and judicial system. Many of them featured the exploits of Albert Haddock, a tireless and veteran litigant. One of the best-known and most colourful is Board of Inland Revenue v Haddock, also known as "The Negotiable Cow". Even the title is a humorous allusion to the entirely serious "Smith's Leading Cases". Herbert often referred to himself as "A. P. Haddock" in skits in Punch magazine, whether or not these had a courtroom setting. Thanks to their realism, they were on several occasions mistakenly reported by newspapers both in Britain and elsewhere as factual. One of the "cases", supposedly establishing a novel crime of "doing what you like", was sharply criticized by an American law review article, whose author failed to note its entire absurdity. As such they are examples of the literary technique known as False document. And while, in these fictitious "Law Reports", the fictitious judges and lawyers regularly cited various real and venerable authorities, such as Henry de Bracton, they were prone also to citing texts of Herbert's own imagination such as "Wedderburn on Water Courses" and "A. Capone's Handbook for Bootleggers". More importantly, these cases were Herbert's vehicles for his law reform work. Beneath their satire, they often carried cogent and sharp legal or political points, that tied into his personal crusades against obsolescent legislation. Although entirely fictional, they are, consequently, sometimes quoted in judicial decisions, and are also the subject of academic research. Over his lifetime Herbert published five collections of the Misleading Cases, titled Misleading Cases in the Common Law, More Misleading Cases, Still More Misleading Cases, Codd's Last Case and Bardot M.P.?. Stray cases also appear in his collections of miscellaneous humorous essays, such as General Cargo. Virtually all the cases were assembled into two omnibus volumes, Uncommon Law in 1935 and More Uncommon Law in 1982. A shorter selection, Wigs At Work, appeared in 1966. The BBC successfully adapted them for television as three series of A P Herbert's Misleading Cases (1967, 1968 and 1971), with Roy Dotrice as Haddock and Alastair Sim as the judge, Mr. Justice Swallow. He wrote eight novels, including The Water Gypsies (1930), and 15 plays, including the light opera Tantivy Towers, and the comedy Bless the Bride (1947), which ran for two and a quarter years in London. In addition to his fiction, Herbert wrote What a Word! in 1935, continuing his campaign in Punch for better use of English, including a section on 'Plain English' more than a decade ahead of Sir Ernest Gowers' more celebrated work. Characteristically, Herbert uses humour to make his serious points about good writing. He was the author of the lyrics of the patriotic song Song of Liberty, set in 1940 to the music of Edward Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance March No. 4. After the war he wrote a small booklet called 'The War Story of Southend Pier' detailing an account of when the pier was taken over by the Royal Navy in WW2. In 1967, Herbert published Sundials Old and New; or, Fun with the Sun; a book describing in detail his long fascination with, and experiments in sundial technology. In the book, he describes all manner of sundials, and recounts many of his experiments in designing and building a number of different models, including a few that could be used to tell your position on the earth as well as the local time. In 1970 Herbert published A.P.H., His Life and Times, dedicated to My dear wife, for our 56th anniversary. Herbert loved the River Thames. He lived beside it at Hammersmith, West London. He was a Conservator (a member of the Thames Conservancy Board) and a Freeman of the Company of Watermen and Lightermen. In 1966 he wrote The Thames (Weidenfeld & Nicolson) in which he explored the "machinery" of the river in all its aspects.)

The Best Poem Of A. P. Herbert

At The Theatre: To The Lady Behind Me

Dear Madam, you have seen this play;
I never saw it till today.
You know the details of the plot,
But, let me tell you, I do not.
The author seeks to keep from me
The murderer's identity,
And you are not a friend of his
If you keep shouting who it is.
The actors in their funny way
Have several funny things to say,
But they do not amuse me more
If you have said them just before;
The merit of the drama lies,
I understand, in some surprise;
But the surprise must now be small
Since you have just foretold it all.
The lady you have brought with you
Is, I infer, a half-wit too,
But I can understand the piece
Without assistance from your niece.
In short, foul woman, it would suit
Me just as well if you were mute;
In fact, to make my meaning plain,
I trust you will not speak again.
And—-may I add one human touch?—-
Don't breathe upon my neck so much.

A. P. Herbert Comments

John Ogis 24 June 2014

I am looking for the text of a Herbert poem. I belive the name of said poem is, ¨I Do Feel Bohemiam Tonight.¨ It is the onlñy Herbert poem I was familiar with so seems odd no to find it here with ´all´ his other works. Any Ideas?

8 2 Reply
Wynne Thomas 28 May 2018

As a long-time fan of A.P. Herbert (we even share a birthday) I have tried without success to find his marvellous verse dedicated to the recipe of the perfect Martini. Can anyone help? Wynne Thomas

6 0 Reply
John Ogis 24 June 2014

I am looking for the text of a Herbert poem. I belive the name of said poem is, ¨I Do Feel Bohemiam Tonight.¨ It is the onlñy Herbert poem I was familiar with so seems odd no to find it here with ´all´ his other works. Any Ideas?

2 4 Reply
Paddy Bowen 06 September 2023

I have come across a copy of the poem 'Ode to the Four Letter Word' with A P Herbert's name on it. Is this a recognised work by him? It was amonst paperwork from my Grandparent's who were regular correspondents with him.

0 0 Reply
Charlotte Booker 23 May 2022

I'm looking for a tune Elsa Lanchester sang called "He's Nice, He's Clean, He's British"

1 0 Reply
Simon Crone 08 March 2022

I have what appears to be an original A.P Herbert poem which starts 'On New Year's Eve they crowded to the park. Did say the songs of Britain in the dark...'

1 0 Reply
Roderick Adam-Smith 23 October 2021

I am looking for the full text of the poem starting "The farmer will never be happy again". Do you have a link which covers more than the first verse, please?

1 0 Reply
Laxmi 04 October 2018

A have a book it has a poem of at the theatre in my book of lesson 6

1 0 Reply

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