Oct 17, 2011 The Workingman’s Friend

Dear readers,
I feel incredibly remiss today, and that’s an apt word because I have now missed an important anniversary twice. I’m in what we’ll call a long, melancomic hangover of celebrating the centenary of Flann O’Brien’s birth (1911-1966). He’s not very much known as a poet, which makes sense, because he didn’t write poetry. He was a novelist and newpaper columnist, and the kind of person about whom later scholars have said “never has a great talent been so greatly squandered,” or something close. But that seems mean-spirited. Of all the many tributes I’ve read over the past couple weeks, I think maybe this one is the most serviceable for neophytes:
Readers will have heard of his famous novel At Swim-Two-Birds, and it’s very strange that of all his many lovely, absurd, and funny epigrams, this poem that appears within it has become his most-quoted bit of writing. If memory serves it’s orated by a character named Jem Casey? Scholars? Anyway, no need to look too fully into the arcane syntax and diction for the “inner meaning” of this one–it’s right there in every refrain. Drink your next Guinness in praise of nonsense, and good old Brian O’Nolan.
THE WORKINGMAN’S FRIEND
When things go wrong and will not come right,
Though you do the best you can,
When life looks black as the hour of night –
A pint of plain is your only man.

When money’s tight and hard to get
And your horse has also ran,
When all you have is a heap of debt –
A pint of plain is your only man.

When health is bad and your heart feels strange,
And your face is pale and wan,
When doctors say you need a change,
A pint of plain is your only man.

When food is scarce and your larder bare
And no rashers grease your pan,
When hunger grows as your meals are rare –
A pint of plain is your only man.

In time of trouble and lousey strife,
You have still got a darlint plan
You still can turn to a brighter life –
A PINT OF PLAIN IS YOUR ONLY MAN.

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