Magnetic Poetry - October

It's National Poetry Day today and this year's theme is Work. By an absolute coincidence this month's magnetic poem, written in October 2004 is about my work at the time, so it seems appropriate to share it with you today. This is the only poem I've written where I've been consciously inspired by another poem. Until yesterday I was only familiar with the first 4 lines:

I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.

These lines are oft quoted in business courses and motivational materials. I've experienced it on Total Quality Management, Train the Trainer, project management and my Diploma in Business Analysis courses. It's any easy mnemonic trotted out as being the holy grail to ensure success in requirements gathering, assessing training needs and problem solving. And yes, I've used it many times with much success in my work.

However, by the time I wrote my poem, my honest serving men were fast becoming my demons. As reported last month, I still wasn't sleeping and I was working on projects which not only had ridiculous timescales (the When? of the first line), I often didn't understand the need for them (Why?) and where they were going to be delivered was extremely complicated (OK I had to use Were, as Where? wasn't available - 4 cities, 3 companies and 2 countries). The last 2 lines refer to the ever changing nature of the projects - bringing the delivery date forward was a common occurrence. My head was in a complete whirl and these words pulled off the magnetic poetry calendar summed things up perfectly.

Seeing the effect these tiny little words can have in the world of work, it's ironic they come from a children's story, The Elephant's Child, from the Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling. It's a delightful tale of how a little elephant's insatiable curiosity lands him in trouble and as a result gets the trunk we're all familiar with. The poem comes at the end of the story, and I wonder if everyone read beyond the first four lines, whether it would be so popular in the world of work?

I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.
I send them over land and sea,
I send them east and west;
But after they have worked for me,
I give them all a rest.

I let them rest from nine till five,
For I am busy then,
As well as breakfast, lunch, and tea,
For they are hungry men.
But different folk have different views;
I know a person small-
She keeps ten million serving-men,
Who get no rest at all!

She sends'em abroad on her own affairs,
From the second she opens her eyes-
One million Hows, two million Wheres,
And seven million Whys!

Flighty is gathering the bloggers' response to National Poetry Day - why not pop over and see what everyone else has to say on the world of work, or even add your own response? BTW the label bad poetry is for my poetry (I am the crowned queen after all!), not Kipling's.

And if you find the world of work depressing, then watch out (or better still, why not take part?) for a fun blogging poetry event hosted by Happy Mouffetard this Sunday. Yes, in response to JAS' musings about the prevalence of bad poetry and cats on blogs, we have the inaugural LAPCPADPOUB day - Lets All Post Cat Photos And Dire Poetry On Our Blogs day. Hurrah! You have been warned ;)


  1. Looking forward to reading your best effort at writing the worst poem ever on the 12th. I'm joining in the fun that Happy Mouffetard is organizing with lots of kittycat pics and perhaps a very bad poem too. Afterall I used to be a fully paid up member of BAPS, the Bloody Awful Poet Society. :-)

    BTW I hope you are sleeping much better now.

  2. Lovely entry which I shall add to my entry straight away!

  3. Hi Yolanda - I'm hampered by JAS' ban on my bad poetry, but I suspect that won't stop me ;)

    And yes - sleep's much better these days thanks :)

    Helloooo Flighty - thanks. I've updated this piece to link to you properly now. I see the National Poetry Day website is having some bandwidth problems though.

  4. I so enjoyed reading all of this! What a wonderful entry and I am very impressed with how it all inter-twines. (Is that a made up word?) Brilliant links too!

  5. I agree, I'm not sure execs would care for the whole poem. I will have to check out LACAPA...posts this weekend. I would love to participate, but I have to think a long time to write even bad poetry:)

  6. My son loved listening to the Just So Stories...thanks for bringing back the memory! Also thanks for your response to my poem. :)

  7. Daffy - thanks for your feedback. I love finding really good links for everyone and I'm particularly pleased with the ones I found for here :)

    Rose - I think you're right. Another example of how things can get twisted when they're out of context right?

    Glo - Hello! I wasn't familiar with this Just So story, so it was a delight to discover it when putting this post together :)

  8. Thanks for your kind words on my Work "bloggerel", VP, and I enjoyed your post here very much - you obviously enjoy words as much as I do!

  9. Hi Lois - lovely to see you here. I enjoyed myself very much over at yours...

  10. Thanks for coming by my blog. Yours is great! I remember reading Just-So Stories to myself, then to my kids...what a great 'work' choice :-)

  11. Hi Laura b - welcome! It's a good contrast isn't it ;)


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