Dr Johnson

by Jane Seabourne

HE’RO n.s. [heroes, Latin]
1. A man eminent for bravery
2. A man of the highest class in any respect

He was a fleshquake of a man who whirred
& clucked & worked his jaw;
who was the butt of school-boy jokes;
coat-front spattered with expectorated snuff;
wig lop-sided, singed by candle flames
held too near to his imperfect eyes.

Melancholic & afraid of idleness,
he stood, for penance, bareheaded in the rain,
for filial disobedience of which he was ashamed.

He shared his narrow house with sundry folk,
& fed Hodge, his cat, with oysters, everyday;
& at his latter end, rejected laudanum
to be unclouded when he settled his account with God.

He was a good & faithful servant to English words,
& kept them fixed & safe between the covers of his book.


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My poem, ‘Dr Johnson’ was inspired by Samuel Johnson, one of my literary heroes. Among his many achievements, he compiled the first comprehensive English dictionary. He was a complicated and interesting man who intrigues me. His house in Lichfield is one of my favourite places to visit. – Jane