Bordeaux Bay

Bordeaux Bay
Bordeaux Bay by Guernsey-based artist Tony Taylor

Monday, 1 August 2016


The title of this long poem, The Ministry of Fear, is shared with that of a novel by Graham Greene, published in 1943 and made into a film of the same name the following year.
I chose the poem's title with no awareness of Greene's book and found that the greatest challenge in writing it was to limit the number of verses as they kept rolling off my pen.
Although I'm generally suspicious of any writing that seems to happen easily, as The Ministry of Fear did, I'm not displeased with the end result, despite its echoes of Orwell and Kafka. 
History informs us that the threat of war or instability often inclines the population towards leaders that are perceived to be strong, even though they may rapidly become despots whose rule is totalitarian.  
Images of Vladimir Putin and of Donald Trump were never far from my mind while I worked on these verses.



All hail The Leader, raise a hand,
a clenched fist for the mighty State:
the whole world is his to command
or soon will be, at any rate.
When fear is great, when right means wrong,
support a leader that is strong.


Down in the Ministry of Fear,
pale clerks, with eyes as dead as stones,
breathe in, an icy atmosphere
as, deft, they juggle telephones
to call the media and hacks
and warn them all to guard their backs.

Fear is the lubricant they use
to grease the cogs that turn the wheel,
to influence world-news and views,
contrive to make the unreal real,
set Faction A on Faction B,
erode the roots of liberty.

They know that fear is stronger far
than love, compassion, kindness, care;
that threat of insurrection, war,
will serve to make all men aware
that blind allegiance is required,
that dumb obedience is hard-wired.

The Ministry of Fear proclaims
that all shall kneel and all obey
the Leader and the Leader’s aims
and daily to their children say:
When fear is great, when right means wrong,
support a leader that is strong.


At Fear they like to play mind-games:
there dead-eyed officers confer,
examine lists and highlight names
or conjure fresh names out of air.
The Black Lists and the White Lists grow:
the officers know what they know.

There is a squad of angry guards
that are dispatched from time to time
to break down doors, smash panes to shards,
and seize those that are charged with crime
against the State, omnipotent,   
the protester, the malcontent,

and fetch them each to give account
then lock them up, their names erased,
lost in the system, a miscount
of numbers: they become untraced
if ever loving husband, wife,
should launch petition for their life.

Down in the Ministry of Fear
are rooms with photographs and names
of mutineer and pamphleteer
and all their secret hopes and shames:
their 1-2-3, their A-B-C
and dossiers on you and me.

As if at random, purges come
and randomly men disappear:
statistics are what they become
within the Ministry of Fear.
The stranger, neighbour, cousin, friend,
all rot in dungeons in the end.

What rough interrogation there?
What questions, answerable or not?
What violence is brought to bear
to make one tell what one cannot?
With self-respect and hope denied,
no one could blame men if they lied

and if their falsehoods laid a trail
that brought attention to one’s gate
and all one’s explanations fail,
the prison cell’s an awful fate.
What agony, beyond despair
to be incarcerated there.

The questions, questions without end,
the answers scribbled on a page,
the knowledge that one must depend
on reason, but they disengage,
these questioners, and hurl abuse:
for sanity, they have no use.

If there is nothing to confess
then something must be found, of course.
When pain begins, then, Yes Yes Yes ...
they damn their friends without remorse.
But agonies, far worse, await,
all in the interests of the State.

The needle that invades the eye
the razor blade, the severed ear,
electrodes pressed against the thigh:
this is the Ministry of Fear,
where, it is said, there is a wing
where, from the ceiling, handcuffs swing,

where detainees all pray for death
and howl and damn their mother’s womb
for bearing them, bestowing breath.
The souls within this living tomb,
whose skulls will decorate the shelves,
are lost to light and to themselves.

The officers that read our mail,
(that track our cell-phone’s every peep,
record our murmurs without fail,
that monitor us when we sleep,
that see a crime in every text,
that may decide we should be next

to make that trip without return,
down to the Ministry of Fear
to face interrogators, stern,
then gaolers that abuse and jeer
as we lie puking in the grime)
are simply jobsworths marking time.

They wake each day to feed the cat,
walk dog, hug children, watch TV.
Who would believe they could do that
to innocents like you and me?
They who destroy without a fuss
are ultimately men like us.

Now praise The Leader, raise a hand,
a clenched fist for the mighty State:
the whole world is his to command
or soon will be, at any rate.
When fear is great, when right means wrong,
support a leader that is strong.


  1. Hi Richard. Brilliant, captivated right to the last full stop.

  2. Richard Fleming1 August 2016 at 20:28

    Thanks, Julian. As always, your comments are much appreciated.