Which Is the Grandest Name of All?

Which is the grandest name of all?
Churchill, Churchill, Churchill!
Winter sere or crimson fall
Churchill, Churchill, Churchill!

Who held bold freedom’s flag so high
Who gave brass tyrants all the lie
Who forged in us the strength to die?
Churchill, Churchill, Churchill!

Whose warnings fell on stupid ears?
Churchill’s, Churchill’s, Churchill’s!
Whose soul endured the ingrate years?
Churchill’s, Churchill’s, Churchill’s!

Who stayed his post while all the rest
Prayed and promised, groveled, guessed
At shadows from the viper’s nest?
Churchill, Churchill, Churchill!

Hail the temper of the blade
Churchill, Churchill, Churchill!
Who knew the price, and freely paid!
Churchill, Churchill, Churchill!

Why the Stars and Jack so free?
How say we now, “My own country”?
Raise high the name, from sea to sea –
Churchill, Churchill, Churchill!


An Apologia from the Poet

Why would anyone submit a entry on Winston Churchill, now gone over 50 years, in a contemporary poetry contest calling for answers to communism and terrorism?

This note is written to give the reason for the poem’s relevance, with the hope that judges will find the time to read it.  It is not written to praise the poem for its literary quality – if there be any.

The competition announcement asks point-blank, “How can the world defeat such insidious foes?”

A broad answer to that question is, to this writer’s mind, to be found in the many approaches and unwavering boldness of Mr. Churchill in his efforts to stop totalitarianism.

At Versailles in 1918, working with the Allies on the treaty ending the First World War, he proposed overthrowing the infant Bolshevik regime in Russia.

He argued the necessity of ending the regime of Adolph Hitler in the early 1930s, when all his colleagues chose appeasement.

And with his famous speech at Fulton, Missouri, in 1946, he opened the eyes of the world to the danger to freedom of Communist control of Eastern Europe.  In that same speech, in a phrase less remembered but just as historic, he called on the West to rearm and thus speak in a language that Stalin understood.

Were Churchill here today and facing the dictatorship that plagues the Falun Gong there is little doubt what his battle cry would be:  “Bring  the regime down!”  He would propose now what he did then: military strength, diplomatic and trade initiatives, and ceaseless pronouncements.  The latter would include both high-level accounts (his voluminous writings brought him a Nobel Prize) and applied speeches (his at Fulton was one of countless others in the same vein).  All of these approaches have to be employed toward freeing the victims of Islamic terror and Marxist-Leninist thought.  This is what makes his approaches (plural) completely relevant to our age.

For his fearless opposition to tyranny Churchill paid a price – loss of stature in the 1930s, loss of the prime ministership in the 1950s.  The price is always high – possibly, as my poem notes, as high as life itself. Yet we can employ his multiple approaches with boldness – and must if any individual approach is to have success – because we have his example of unremitting courage.


To A Dying Butterfly

A colored streak across the crystal morn
From distant, brightened eave to shadows nigh
Filtering the day through sunlit wings, and born
Upward, a robed nuncio of the sky
Watching its rise and fall, its stained-glass path
Now brightening a twig with falling gold
I felt a breath that stilled my inward wrath
And raised me to a high, dispassioned fold

Yet ’twas a scene I dared not watch or write
For fear some unnamed dread would somehow out
On seeing this creature, veiled in sheerest light
Too frail to rise again from trembling sprout
Gathering its strength, before a last, all-valiant burst
As have we all, flying high above fear’s stifling thrall
And learning, amidst tears, fair turns to worst
And respite sweet to crushing, final fall

And yet our sadness cannot last, for we
Brief butterflies upon this rapturous shore
Know, at life’s end, there is a life to be
With wings which never fail, loves gone before


The Principal of High School “X”

The principal of High School “X” surveys his smooth machine
His articulated org chart, his vivacious football team
And the rare award bestowed last year by fellow bureaucrats:
His bust, inside a snowfall! O, they never will top that!

Aye, the highly-touted principal, he’s got a lion’s roar
But when the Standards boys come ‘round, he’s headed for the door!

At 8 he gets a memo from the Board’s elected head
Which suggests he drop the Classics and promote the Grateful Dead
At 9 there comes a letter from a parent who complains
That his son has just been X-rayed –  and there’s nothing in his brains!
At half-past ten he briefs a group of counselors on how
They must guide unruly students without raising an eyebrow
Then at noon he gets the bombshell on his private Internet:
Half the students in the senior class can’t read the alphabet!

O the vastly rated principal, he swells with boyish pride –
Until you mention “SATs” – then watch him run and hide!

He knows the latest lingo on “self image” and “respect”
And how to draw a tear with horror stories of “neglect”
He knows the tragic harm that’s done by giving out an “F”
But if you ask him, What’s the harm? – he instantly goes deaf!
Or, when his English students have completed an essay
On the men they view as giants, and a few have gone astray
And praised the Galilean as their bright and shining sword
Why, he’ll make them write “John Dewey” twenty times upon the board!

O the harried, hounded principal, he’s lost his native shame
But he’ll live to be remembered, and promoted, just the same!

Our schools excel at Pageantry, at Band, and Senior Play
At trips for Job Enrichment or for baseball games – away –
But let the teacher mandate that the students learn their text
That they stop their mindless murmur and evince some small respect
To the notes which he has slaved on, and is off’ring from the front –
And they wail, “The man’s a tyrant!  Listen up?  A base affront!”

And the sympathetic principal, the Regs grasped firm in hand
Will reprove th’ offending fellow, and for encores, have him banned!

Parents, have you learned? – the time for keeping still is past
Your kids, in world math contests, finish thirty-third – dead last
Despite the modern buildings and the latest “learning tools”
Despite the years of busing and the most enlightened rules
These our students cannot spell, will not read, and cannot write
They cannot name a hero, they can’t get equations right
One-third can’t name the decade when the Civil War was fought
And over half think cheating is all right if they’re not caught!

And the unassuming principal?  Why, he just draws his pay
And hopes for sweet retirement, before a reckoning day!


A university faculty (PhD  University of California 1967, political science) and freelancer in his early career, Ted Hayes moved into full-time journalism and is now retired.

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7 Responses

  1. Amy Foreman

    “The Principal of High School ‘X'”–truly a word for our times, “fitly spoken.” Thank you, Ted Hayes.

  2. Lenore

    As a Reading and Language Arts tutor, I greatly appreciate the truth of ‘Principal of High School X’…the current downward trend in the education of our young people is concerning…well said. ‘The Dying Butterfly’ also reminds one that many of our butterflies are dying due to the dangerous chemical poisons used in gardens today. Cheers for ‘Which is the Grandest Name of All’.

  3. I. E. Drew Bascule

    When I saw the title, “Which Is the Grandest Name of All?” I immediately thought of Jesus, Yeshua; but Mr. Hayes chose Winston Churchill, whom I consider one of the foremost statesmen of the English-speaking world in 20th century. I can’t help but smile at the insistent, alliterative refrain, despite the eulogizing, rhetorical terms. The poem, though not technically in the form of a clerihew, certainly has that schoolboy quality in its charged language and indifference to polish, which even includes a quote (perhaps indirectly) from Coleridge.

    My father, who served in World War II, and was a medic in the Korean War, once told me, he thought Dwight David Eisenhower and Winston Churchill were the most distinguished leaders of the 20th century. Some time ago, I used to think of Churchill as the Pericles of the English-speaking world; certainly no one has replaced him since. I am thankful Mr. Hayes has reminded me of such an important figure of the 20th century.

  4. Wendy Bourke

    Brilliant writing, here. I particularly enjoyed the piece on Churchill – yes I am a fan – and the accompanying note. Your use of repetition in that piece is inspired – truly stirring and impactful.

  5. David Watt

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading your poems, each addressing distinctly different themes. ‘To A Dying Butterfly’ contains wonderful romantic imagery. ‘The Principal…” speaks with humor of a truth evident in our times. A poem featuring Churchill is unexpected, yet delivers a strong message through clever repetition.


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