Day 98: William Among the Poets

The facts

“We must find some place to meet,” said Oswald, “where those little wretches aren’t likely to find us.”
By “those little wretches,” as his audience both seen and unseen knew well, he meant those younger brothers and friends of the younger brothers who were, unknown to the Poets, watching through the window. The Poets groaned at the allusion.
“Little beasts!” said Hector passionately. “I know he’s ruined my bicycle, though he swears he never touched it. He’s had it out and had a fall on it. I know. The pedals are all jammed and I can’t ride it at all. I’d like to wring the little beast’s neck!”
“They’re all the same,” said Robert gloomily. “Apple pie beds and cheeking you and taking your things – all over the place.”
The unseen watchers grinned.

  • Number: 8.7
  • Published: 1927 (1926 in magazine form)
  • Book: William in Trouble
  • Synopsis: The Outlaws want Robert to win a poetry competition.


As with The Weak Spot, 4.1, here we amass yet further evidence that Robert and his contemporaries are just as childish and silly as William and his contemporaries – perhaps with the additional element of being pretentious so-and-sos. The fact that Robert’s band of bosom buddies includes Hector (who is Ginger’s older brother) and George (who is Douglas’s) only serves to heighten the symmetry.

In this story, the young men become crazed with poetry, and form themselves into the Society of Twentieth Century Poets – which is really not much more than the same group of friends sitting in the same room but just with a more exciting title – and institute a competition.

“I c’ make up all sorts of po’try,” said William with a swagger. “I can make up the nachur sort, like:
The day is bright to see,
An’ lots of leaves are growin’ on the tree.
“An’ the adventure sort, like:
He bashed him dead
An’ blood came pourin’ out of his head.
“‘an’ – an’ – any sort straight off like that without stop-pin’ to think… rhymes an’ all.”

They then proceed, once again, to behave exactly like the 11-year-old: the ones they pretend to be so much more mature than. George fails to produce a poem by the deadline and comes up with a ‘dog ate my homework’-style excuse: “George’s fountain pen had run out and he’d lost the bottle of fountain pen ink and he didn’t want to spoil his pen by filling it with any old ink, and he thought that writing in pencil was, perhaps, against the rules.” Meanwhile, Hector had lost his, Robert’s was simply awful, and Oswald’s plagiarised from Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

The Outlaws, for some reason all united in the aim of securing a competition victory for Robert, plot to kidnap the judge (although accidentally kidnap the wrong man, a visiting lecturer intending to give a talk on Central Asia: “Mr Augustus Farqueson stood blinking with horror in the doorway. Four of them – all mad – all as mad as hatters. There must be some sort of Asylum for the Young near from which they’d escaped. It was awful – four mad boys each with the strength of five men. He did a hasty sum of mental arithmetic in his head. Yes, it would be like fighting with twenty men”) and browbeat him into awarding the prize as his conscience dictates.

William eventually discovers his mistake, and consoles himself that “even Moses and Napoleon and people like that made mistakes sometimes”. Robert wins the competition anyway under his own steam (or, to be more precise, under the eleven other entrants’ lack of steam). And the Society of Twentieth Century Poets goes the way that so many of William’s own initiatives went: “Though it had been interesting in a way they’d had quite enough of it.”