This poem is WIDELY mis-attributed so here are the facts, which I urge you to pass along when you see it posted with the wrong author's name.
Also, it's good.
English poet (1926- )
Come to the edge.
We might fall.
Come to the edge.
It’s too high!
COME TO THE EDGE!
And they came,
and he pushed,
and they flew.
‘Come to the Edge’, New Numbers (1969). In a profile of Tom Stoppard (The New Yorker, 19 December 1977), Kenneth Tynan described the playwright addressing a class of drama students in Santa Barbara: ‘What is the real dialogue that goes on between the artist and his audience? [Stoppard asks at the end]. By way of reply, he holds the microphone close to his mouth and speaks eight lines by the English poet Christopher Logue ... A surge of applause. In imagination, these young people are all flying.’
Many people have, however, seen the lines attributed to the surrealist French poet Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918). For example, Anthony Powell in his Journals 1982-1986 (1995 – entry for 26 October 1982) has: ‘At Royal Academy Banquet [not of this date] when [Margaret Thatcher] spoke, quoting Guillaume Apollinaire in a speech (something about a man walking blindfold over a cliff), passage I did not recognise, tho’ I know Apollinaire’s works fairly well ... Mrs T knew roughly about Apollinaire, a bit vague about quotation (which I still can’t find).’
Accordingly, in 1995, I asked Christopher Logue for his comments. He had an intriguing explanation for the confusion: ‘In 1961 or '62, Michael English and I were asked by Michael Kustow to design a poster/poem for an Apollinaire exhibition he was mounting at the ICA [Institute of Contemporary Arts in London].
‘I wrote “Come to the Edge” and put the words “Apollinaire said” at the beginning of it; a cross between a title and a first line. On the poster, the poem, plus “Apollinaire said:” framed an illustration of clouds. Later, when the poem was reprinted, I dropped the trope. Last year, though, the US “magician” David Copperfield projected a garbled version of the poem on to a screen as part of his show, as well as printing it in his “tour-book” – the show’s programme. I believe the poem has been reprinted in at least one US book without my permission. Maybe it had the trope attached to it still.’ Indeed, a David Copperfield TV special shown in the UK in 1995 concluded with an approximation of the poem ... attributed to Apollinaire.
Mary McAleese recited the poem at her inauguration as President of the Irish Republic in November 1997. Indeed, according to The Observer (23 November 1997), she even had it written into the silk liking of her inaugural evening gown. By all accounts, the poem was properly attributed to Logue on this occasion.
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As you say, much confusion about it, from Logue to Apollinaire to English Poet to Anonymous:
What is it, anyway? A poem about lemmings?
According to Jeremy Irons, who loves the poem and contributed it to the LIFELINES collection (see separate thread on that), "it deals with risk and trust and the magic that occurs sometimes when you do either."
He may be thinking specifically about how scary it can be to try something daring on stage in front of people, but how great it feels if it works.
Re: Hugh's lemmings - I gather that the latest scientific information is that suicidal lemmings are a myth, and that in the famous footage of them committing suicide they were forced into it because they wouldn't naturally do it. so Hugh's summation of the poem is as controversial as its authorship, making it even more appropriate. Serendipity rules!
Reminds me of some lines of verse in Peter De Vries's novel 'Reuben, Reuben' (made into a film) about a Dylan Thomas-like poet character, which began:
Come, let us spread our picnic by the precipice
but I can't locate my copy. Maybe someone can complete the quote.
I found a six-line poem beginning with the "picnic by the precipice" line but I don't think it's the same poem. It's dated 2002, which is way too recent for REUBEN, REUBEN. Behzad Bayati (Konrad Van Orton) not only claims authorship, he also put a strong warning on the page not to reprint the lines without permission of the author--and the author is NOT MENTIONED on the page. Check it out if you like:
On another webpage, this much is posted and is attributed to a poet named Mordechai Vanunu:
Let's spread a picnic on the precipice,
Eat, drink and be merry with our backs
to the abyss
So now I'm intrigued. I will go to the library and look for the DeVries novel and report back.
Is this the same Mordechai Vanunu who was kidnapped by mossad and returned to Israel for revealing the extent of the Israeli nuclear programme some years ago?
I'm ever-so-curious about the two separate poets claiming authorship.
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That 7-line Picnic poem you found is similar in part to the one I remember from the 'Reuben Reuben' film, but I'm fairly certain it's not identical. Could it have been plagiarized from DeVries?!
I don't remember 'carve pipes from hollowed bones', or the last two of those 7 lines.
The second line, or something like it, may have been in the film. I seem to recall now it was followed by
and in that dusk when we cannot distinguish
bats from swallows, gifts from threats...
(quite different sense). Memory plays strange tricks however. I'll be most interested to hear what's in the DeVries novel.
Maybe you can help me go one step further. I have been using the original poem which as far as I know was written by Guillaume Apollinaire presumably in french. "Come to the edge" he said etc ... I would love to have Apollianire's poem in the original French Langauge. Does anybody has any idea where I can find it? Thanks
Lippu, click on "flat view" below your post and read ALL of Marian NYC's post. She explains the mistaken identity of the author.
I now have a (library) copy of REUBEN, REUBEN. I glanced through it and found MANY poems. Most of them are "by" a character in the book, the adorably named McGland. I haven't found the picnic poem but I'll search again before giving up.
Came across this today.
"But I say: That which is falling should also be pushed!
And him you do not teach to fly, teach - to fall faster!"
Neitsche, Trans. Hollingdale.
"if you push something hard enough, it will fall over"
Fudd's First Law (from Firesign Theatre)
Lincoln Lincoln I've been thinking
what the hell have you been drinking?
Could you tell me which volume of the lifeline collection the come to the edge poem is in?
I've heard several different versions of this poem, though, and claimed by numerous authors.
Come to the edge.
I can't, it's too far.
Come to the edge.
I can't, it's too high.
Come to the edge.
I came, and together we flew.