In an Austrian Hospital

HERE in this Austrian town
I lie upon my bed
And watch the snow come floating down
Out of a sky of lead.

The crucifix upon the wall
Its silent figure bears.
I hear a clatter in the hall,
A murmur on the stairs,

And now the smiling nun is come.
“Grüss Gott,” she says to me,
And sets a little flask of rum
Beside my jug of tea.

Well, I am warm and dry, at least.
Clearly it is absurd
To think the blizzard on the piste
Was much to be preferred.

That, all the same, is what I think.
Well, this must be endured.
At least, they bring me rum to drink…
At least, I was insured.

In An Austrian Hospital pic 2

The crows are dressed as if for church;
They seem too staid to fly.
Like vultures on the roof they perch,
Waiting for me to die.

I think I shall not die as yet;
I do not hear the call.
I smoke an Austrian cigarette
And watch the snowflakes fall.

The windows of the Krankenhaus
Are blind with stony doom…
A sudden snatch of Josef Strauss
Sounds from a neighbouring room;

The crows adjust their sable hoods
And rise against the snow.
“More Tales from Vienne Woods!”
They grumble as they go.

In An Austrian Hospital pic 1

The snowflakes fall, and on the roof
Remains a single bird.
Suddenly, by him, as he sits
Racking his pinions and his wits,
The imprint of a cloven hoof
Appears, a trifle blurred.

The wicked crow, as black as sin,
Glares with astonished eyes.
Loosing with his departing toe
A little avalanche of snow,
He flaps away towards the Inn
With harsh, despairing cries.

Was it his master’s voice he heard,
His master’s form he saw?
Upon my wall the crucifix
Guards me from the ghastly bird
And his atrocious claw.

The bird was surely damned, and that
Is all I care to learn.
The snowflakes, trickling from the sky,
Smooth out the cloven print, and I
Read the Tiroler Tagesblatt
With stolid unconcern.

In An Austrian Hospital pic 3

MY soul, why art thou ill at ease?
Whence comes this sense of doom?
The old retainer takes mu skis
And bears them from the room.

Let him depart. They were not mine,
Those ancient skis he bore.
A bone is broken in my Bein,
And I shall ski no more.

He bears them to the shadowy shop,
And I shall be repaid.
Why is it, then, my heart goes hop,
As if I were dismayed?

When he returns at last- ah, then!
Then, should I tip him twenty,
Or should I only give him ten,
And would he think it plenty?

Here I must lie in bitter dole,
Racking my anguished brains
To penetrate the Austrian soul
And guess what it contains.

In An Austrian Hospital pic 4

THE doctor comes and says “Good-bye!”
A day or two ago
I puzzled out the reason why:
He means to say “Hello.”

He asks me if this leg is mine,
This plaster leg he sees.
I tell him it is doing fine,
And he, of course, agrees.

“Gut” he remarks; “doch, das ist gut.”
His face is wise and droll.
He asks, “Is this your other foot?”
And I reply, “fawohl.”

He asks me “Tut es Ihnen Weh?”
His eyes are kind, though small.
“Only the one I broke,” I say.
“The other one, not at all.”

As through the door I watch him go,
He turns to smile again,
And most politely says “Hello!”
Meaning “Auf wiederseh’n.”

In An Austrian Hospital pic 5

OH, how mysterious is this tall, dark maid!
She looks about her with a rueful glance
As if to seek some gem she has mislaid.
Mislaid a gem she has; its name was Hans.

She sent him packing, so she tells me, when
She found one day his morals were amiss.
Beaming, she tells me there are no good men…
The merest infant could have told her this.

And so, deluded girl, she lost her chance.
Now she will have to wait until, once more,
There dawns upon her life another Hans,
No worse, no better, than the one before.

Now she considers women are accurst;
An attitude most damping to romance.
She might as well have opted for the first,
Rather than waiting for the second Hans.

In An Austrian Hospital pic 6

I shall not see the Tyrolean spring.
I lie in bed and watch the snowflakes fall;
For months, as yet, the cuckoo will not call,
And I shall be in London when the swing
Of seasons brings the buttercups and all.

People who hear the thumping of my foot
Will cower against the wall and bite their thumbs,
Like Leporello when the statue comes.
My plaster, darkening with the London soot,
Will greet the springtime like a roll of drums.

And in the summer, when at last I shed
This heavy load, the gentle English rain
Will bring me, now and then, a twinge of pain-
And it will be as if I lay in bed
And watched the Austrian snowflakes fall again.


In An Austrian Hospital (1 of 2) In An Austrian Hospital (2 of 2)


Let No Man Say

LET no man say that I am nearly done for.
My head is bowed but not unduly bloody,
And though my trousers are a trifle muddy,
Mud, after all, is what the tweed was spun for.
I have an ounce of gold; what is a ton for?
The gem-encrusted Gaekwar on his gadi,
The swart director in his paneled study,
The general, wondering whom the war was won for,

The darlings of Society, bright with toppers,
The landed gent, who sees his acres shrinking,
Are no more blithe than I, who scrape for coppers,
And spend the few I get on eating, drinking,
Paraffin, income tax and electricity.
There’s no such thing as limitless felicity.

PUNCH, September 28 1955

Let No Man Say

Fat Man in the Park

Fat Man in the ParkTHE bees inspect him, but prefer the flowers.
He has been lying on the grass for hours,
A fat man in a light-grey suit.
Is he alive or dead?
The point is verging on the moot,
As Wodehouse wonderfully said.

He lies below the sympathetic trees,
A newspaper spread out across his knees.
It may be that he sleeps,
Under the cool, sardonic sky;
It may be that his widow weeps
For him, in Wandsworth or in Peckham Rye.

Aha, he lives! He waves the flies away.
He is a thing of beauty, I should say;
Not by the formal laws
Of art, and all that kind of guff-
Beautiful, though. To anyone who draws
The bound of beauty wide enough.

– R. P. Lister

Punch, May 17, 1961

A Revolution in Grandmothers

MY GRANDMOTHER, when she was thirty-six,
Put on a white lace cap (the widow’s mark),
Black bombazine, and all the bag of tricks,
Lived behind curtains in the cloistered dark,
And cast all mirth and music from her door.
And so she lived, and died at eighty-four.

Not like a current grandmother I wot of,
A lady on the verge of fifty-three,
Who dances, goes to parties, drinks a lot of
Whatever stuff she drinks; a divorcee
Who is, to put it mildly, in the swim,
And makes her daughters look a trifle dim.

The change in grandmothers is quite fantastic.
Does all this come from voting in elections,
The banishment of whalebone by elastic,
The routing of the globes by conic sections,
The crumbling moral outlook of society,
Or merely a decline in strict sobriety?

One thing’s quite certain: this side of the Bosporus
The trade in white lace caps is less than prosperous.

– Saturday Review of Literature –
November 24, 1956