The beard has come a long way since the dark days of Mr Twit, Jimmy Hill and The Joy of Sex. As Ekow Eshun points out in his insightful essay ‘Welcome to Beardlandia’, the bewhiskered chin will one day come to stand as ‘the definitive visual shorthand for the early 21st century, as the moustache is for the Seventies and a pair of mutton chops for Regency England’.
But now that the beard has gone mainstream, its days as a badge of cool must surely be numbered. Certainly, to judge from the response to the call for poems in praise or dispraise of facial fluff, not everyone is a fan. The pogonophiles and pogonophobes were split pretty much down the middle.
It was tricky to narrow down what was a large and lively entry to just six. Commiserations to Alan Millard, Susan de Sola, Debora Garber and Jonathan Taylor, who stood out in a strong field. The winners, printed below, net £25. Basil Ransome-Davies takes £30.
What are they concealing, those whiskers
That beardies who grow them embrace,
Those uberous bristles, self-seeding as thistles,
Which camouflage half of a face?
Is it merely a shortage of jawline,
A wish to look sage and mature
Or hoping to balance that elegant valance,
A stiffly upstanding coiffure?
Do they feel, in the depth of their mirrors,
That beards raise their status among us?
A curious fetish, so very Keith Flettish,
To fashion a cult of face-fungus.
When I read that the man of the moment
Is grossly hirsute I say ‘tosh!’,
Lip loftily curling and fingertips twirling
My Errol Flynn pencil moustache.
Happy the facially hirsute,
So warm and so manly, so snug,
With their features, as ’twere, in a fur suit,
With their over-lips covered with rug —
You’d all love to own one, confess it,
For a beard is so fully enjoyed —
From the glorious mass of a Blessed,
To the nervously kempt of a Freud,
From the very firm chinwag, a Lincoln,
To the whiskery lengths of Lao Tzu —
There are several styles that bear thinking:
Go, find the style perfect for you!
Perhaps you’ll be shot through with sable,
Perhaps you’ll be straggly and careless:
Either way you’ll disable the fable
That it’s sexy to walk around hairless.
I’ve cleared the obstacles that filled my path:
I’ve married them, or stabbed them in the back.
The throne of Egypt’s now within my grasp,
Now there is only one thing that I lack.
Give me my beard, my mark of royal might,
That gilded wonder, elegant and thin.
And while one diadem adorns my brow,
Another shall descend beneath my chin.
For beards, when not luxuriant and wild
But neatly trussed and trimmed in golden bands
Declare the patriarchy’s right divine
In every age to dominate our lands.
Give me my beard, the bauble that proclaims
Pharaoh Hatshepsut first among her kin.
For all my royalty depends upon
That phallic symbol strapped beneath my chin.
To get one scruple off my chest
I must declare an interest:
I own a beard, to me most dear,
Now in its 39th Great Year.
By subtle arts of snip and trim
I mould it to my current whim.
I can be any one I please
From Marx to Freud to Socrates.
Some hint that it’s a screen wherein
I hide a weakness of the chin.
I hint that logic of that kind
May hide a weakness of the mind.
‘Why do you grow it?’ others say.
‘I don’t,’ I smile. ‘It makes its way
Needing no peat, no blood & bone,
So why do you hack down your own?’
I long to sport a lavish ginger beard,
Luxuriant, flamboyant, curled and plaited,
Though heartless people tell me I’d look weird,
And that the thing would grow unkempt and
Yet still I yearn to deck my hairless chin
With something bushy, jolly, not severe,
That little birds could build their nest within,
The spitting image of old Edward Lear.
In Spring, they’d mate, and eggs would fill the nest,
Then fledglings would appear, to chirp and
How pleasant I would find each tiny guest,
How comfortably each of them would sleep!
But Mother says, in tones that I find churlish,
‘My dear, a beard just isn’t very girlish.’
What is it with you poor pogonophobes,
Did someone cauterise your frontal lobes?
The hours and days, the weeks of life you waste,
The nicks and cuts inflicted in your haste,
The stinging styptic pencil for relief —
Your crass inanity’s beyond belief.
Pink chins and chops, malevolent ‘number ones’
Adopted by your disaffected sons.
Never forget the world’s proud paradigms,
Role models formed for us in former times:
George Bernard Shaw, Guevara, D.H. Lawrence,
To whom the cut-throat was a dire abhorrence;
The Duke of Kent, no less, dear Hemingway,
Darwin. I rest my case, no more to say.
Consider this, you pallid boys new-mown —
Real men bear beards and true testosterone.
Your next challenge is to describe your idea of heaven, or hell, in verse (16 lines maximum). Please email entries to firstname.lastname@example.org by midday on 25 February.