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Poem for today by Carol Wain

Arts Richmond

Online - 19 May 2020

Poem for today by Carol Wain

Social Mores: Ancient and Modern (then and now..)

(On looking at a found Edwardian* book of social etiquette...)

Some random points picked here, from the section: Etiquette for Ladies.

"The art of conversation is an important social gift...
The voice is an infallible test of good breeding."
(Ladies) "Never look behind you in the street... do not
Talk loudly or laugh as you walk, or swing your arms....

Take care not to call out to a friend."
Sounds much like my old school rules, circa 1954.
But who today observes such customs – except perhaps the Queen?
On meeting those of the other sex, a girl must be so circumspect -
"If you meet a gentleman you know... bow to him first.
He should never make the first salutation."
And travelling – "Never hurry when getting into a carriage"
I'll think about that, when someone gives me a lift to Poetry.
Of course, "A presentation at court is the hallmark demanded
Of those who must aspire to fashionable life."

No special Instagram Influencer page, nor friends' photo on Facebook...
What of those grand balls: events where the It Girl must be seen?
"Evening dress is always considered 'de rigeur' at any kind
of evening entertainment;" – and also for the gents.
"Ladies always wear gloves at dinner parties, gentlemen never -
A rule then altered by the dashing Prince of Wales, no less!
"Always pay your respects to the (very charming) hostess
Before recognising your friends" – and of course, "The ladies leave first."
Today by contrast, a quick call or text says: "Let's go for a drink."
The men and women eye each other up and down, on the street.
Pithy messages get sent, even "sexts" – to fancied sweethearts;
Youngsters stroll into a noisy party, dudmp their jackets
And head for the drinks after a perfunctory "Hi" -
Then get high on weed or shots, raving the night away.
Bleary eyed next day, they stagger home, to work or kip.
Online dating these days rules their lives – just swipe left or right!
Send a quick one-liner, like: "How's things?" - "You're fit,"
"Are you up for anything tonight - or free on Thursday?"
And so it goes – love letters all consigned to history,
Mouldering away in the great-aunt's chest, and mine -
When boys wrote to us, in past summer vacs long gone;
The internet was fantasy, just some postgrad student's dream.
Now Tinder rules, romance crumbles: filed, bundled in pink satin bows.

by Carol Wain (31.3.2020)

* The book in question belonged to the poet's late Aunt Dolly's lover & lifelong friend, Okey Balfour, a languages "don" at Belfast University (and friend of JRR Tolkien). Entitled: Modern Etiquette in Public and Private. Publisher: Frederick Warne & Co. (London & New York) shortly after 1902. They never married but stayed in contact. She - a state school teacher - lived in Kew. 

Social Mores: Ancient and Modern (then and now..)

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