Willy Wet-Leg

Remember Georgie Porgie?

Georgie Porgie pudding and pie,
Kissed the girls and made them cry.
When the boys came out to play,
Georgie Porgie ran away.

Why did we hear such rhymes as little children? Georgie is an anti-role model. Don’t be like him, our nursery school teachers are implying. Boys shouldn’t pick on girls – it only shows they are too craven to stand up for themselves to other boys. Georgie Porgie sounds a little overweight too – I don’t know why, it’s just the name. And we don’t want to be like that either, do we kids? To our molly-coddled age, even Georgie Porgie can sound judgemental and cruel, but they contain an age old wisdom about the nature of bullies, do they not?

Georgie Porgie is an unattributed nursery rhyme. D.H. Lawrence must have had such rhymes in mind when he wrote Willy Wet-Leg, which goes like this:

I can’t stand Willy wet-leg
I can’t stand him at any Price.
He’s resigned, and when you hit him
He let’s you hit him twice.

If Georgie Porgie imparts folk wisdom, Willy Wet-Leg is a vehicle for Lawrence’s own opinions, or at least his own distastes. As we discussed last post, Lawrence was not especially keen on much of the human race, whom he compares unfavourably with lizards and snakes, but Willy seems an especially dislikable specimen. ‘Wet-leg’ implies incontinence, and certainly we would like our school children to value their bladder control. There is something a little discomforting in the way that the poem puts us on the side of the bullies, however, those who named Willy and those who hit him. Is that ‘you’ a personal ‘you’? Are we being invited to scorn the weakness of someone that we are hitting? Why, this is even crueller than Georgie Porgie – call the school board!

But we needn’t worry, for Lawrence is uninterested in pedagogy and child psychology, let alone the behavioural quirks of individual children. He was for a time a school teacher, and he was reportedly bored out of his mind by it. It is not really weak, bullied children that Lawrence has a great distaste for. It is Jesus Christ.

Willy, after all, is perfectly in line with the teachings of the sermon on the mount – ‘But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.’ (Matthew 5:39).

Lawrence wasn’t like our current critics of Christianity who might very well admire the teachings of Jesus -mercy, humility, concern for the poor – but will criticise the failings of the institutionalised religion or its claims to truth. Lawrence takes his critique from Nietzsche, who believed it was precisely mercy, humility and care for the weak – slave morality, he called it, that had weakened man’s resolve, his striving for excellence, his ‘will to power’! Nietzsche believed Christianity – and Judaism, and liberal democracy – had caused a great decline in civilisation. He believed we should be more like the early Greeks (and by ‘we’, he meant the noble elite, who would trample the weak and the poor underfoot); similarly, Lawrence thought we should be more like the ancient Etruscans ‘for whom art life was art and art was life’. As for what should be done with the weak, well we covered that in last week’s blog post…

(P.S. Last week’s Hugh Macdiarmid poem was in fact a Sweettenorbull pastiche. I just couldn’t wait for April Fool’s Day…)

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3 Comments

Filed under Poetry

3 responses to “Willy Wet-Leg

  1. I must confess that D.H.Lawrence is not among my favorite authors. He complains, but what does he offer as a solution, besides something like Hitler’s ? He’s a self-absorbed crank. I am put in mind of Jonathan Swift’s juvenalian satire, “A Modest Proposal” which, it seems to me is literature in the service of thinking about a problem in a shocking enough way that more than one solution might arise. Go, Swift!
    (P.S. O.K. on the April fooling…I think it was so-called “Macdiarmid” who said something like the amount of plagiarism in it was the measure of a good work.)

  2. Ha ha. Actually, Lawrence is not at all a favourite author of mine – I have never managed to get through one of his books, though I find his poetry diverting enough. Self-absorbed crank is about right too – but he has written some good poems, I think.
    Did Macdiarmid say that? I think Morrisey said something similar (speaking of self-absorbed cranks).

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