Wednesday, 21 October 2009


“Education would be much more effective if its purpose was to ensure that by the time they leave school every boy and girl should know how much they do not know, and be imbued with a lifelong desire to know it.” - William Haley

Yesterday in the train coming back from work I sat in front of two young hooligans. Loud louts who shouted inanities and swore, and terrorised my fellow commuters, some of whom changed seats to distance themselves from them. I stayed put, fascinated by these uneducated dregs of humanity that spoke of gaol and brushes with police, boasted of drunken brawls and were proud of their illiteracy as they tried, but could hardly read a forgotten newspaper on the seat beside them. Their cackling laughter and vile manner, their foul mouths and knocked out teeth their scabby faces and dirty fingernails aroused pity in me for their wasted young lives…

Wasted Lives

I am not talking of the murderer
Whose heinous acts have subjugated and perverted his humanity.
I am not referring to the swindler,
Whose keen mind is twisted into self-serving deception.
I am not even speaking of the addict,
Whose weakness of the spirit wastes both mind and body.
I choose even not to mention the gambler
Whose passion leads to ruin for himself and family…

The wasted lives I sing of
Are much more mundane, more commonplace and more prevalent.
The wasted lives of countless millions
Whose petty mind remains unschooled,
Who fail to take the proffered opportunity.
Those cripples of the intellect
Who lead a life of trivial ennui,
Suspended between a bookless, thoughtless void
And the junk of popular “culture” and vacuous television.
Whose highest pursuit is a drunken revel,
Lust without love, sex without affection;
Or maybe the pointless violence of gangs
Clashing over competing football teams.

My song of wasted lives is a dirge
Of unrealised potential,
And unseized possibility,
Of nascent achievement quashed:
Like the stirrings of an embryo
Aborted before it is allowed to perfect to birth.

The wasted lives cry out
In richest countries and resplendent cities
The very cornerstones of civilisation.
These lives cry out like the howls of savage beasts
Amidst the libraries and the galleries and the museums,
The concert halls and the lecture halls, the universities.

So shall the human race die out:
Not in a nuclear holocaust,
Nor in a terrible pandemic.
Not in a warring bang,
But rather in the whimper of inertia,
Of the wasted lives of the multitudes
Who will cause humanity to peter out in degeneracy…

Jacqui BB hosts Poetry Wednesday


  1. Good observations and an important message in this, Nicholas. The solution isn't easy, of course. But the failures are many: parenting, school, society, even popular media. These wasted lives need rescuing as a much younger age. The young men you witnessed with have a very difficult time rising above their circumstances - likely will not. Something to think about.

  2. They call it gaming here and not gambling because the Indian tribes are subjugating their cultures to build casinos and they want this enterprise to sound lofty. In a three hour drive to Albuquerque I will pass half a dozen. And even at 6 in the morning there will be cars in the parking lots.

    Bankruptcies are up, alcoholism is up, divorce is up, suicides are up. The only thing down is the employment of the native peoples for whom these gaming palaces were built to employ. A full 70 to 80 percent of employees are non-Indian. All management positions are filled by the lenders of the money to build them. There seem to be a lot of Italians.

    This is wasting a culture and a heritage not just a few lives.

  3. We see so many of these wasted lives here too. Your poem evokes feelings of pity and waste in me too Nic. As bekkieann says family, schooling, media all are responsible.

  4. And these same individuals are probably responsible for thinking how amusing to put their fighting dogs into a fenced area at the local dog pound. They killed 3 helpless dogs one of which was somebodies pet.

  5. Amazing poem and I appreciated the context you put it in Nicholas. It is fantastic how a situation like that can trigger you to write this poem as a result.
    We are degenerating as a society and our civilisation is imperiled. Dumb is being glorified and rewarded, so how can we be surprised?

  6. I agree that there are a lot of different factors which can lead to this. Another is peer pressure, with some just getting into the wrong crowd, and boys are much more likely to get themselves into trouble for rowdiness and fighting than girls...for some, fortunately it's just a passing phase and they settle down, return to education and find a steady job, but there are always those who are lost to the system and make a career out of constantly making trouble for themselves and others.