Sunday, 7 August 2011

Three rusty nails - Roger McGough

Mother, there's a strange man
Waiting at the door
With a familiar sort of face
You feel you've seen before.

Says his name is Jesus
Can we spare a couple of bob
Says he's been made redundant
And now can't find a job.

Yes I think he is a foreigner
Egyptian or a Jew
Oh aye, and that reminds me
He'd like some water too.

Well shall I give him what he wants
Or send him on his way?
O.K. I'll give him 5p
Say that's all we've got today.

And I'll forget about the water
I suppose it's a bit unfair
But honest, he's filthy dirty
All beard and straggly hair.

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

Mother, he asked about the water
I said the tank had burst
Anyway I gave him the coppers
That seemed to quench his thirst.

He said it was little things like that
That kept him on the rails
Then he gave me his autographed picture
And these three rusty nails.

Roger McGough (born 1937) England


  1. This webpage has a wide range of information which can help students who are studying english for their GCSE's to get a head start.

  2. Three rusty nails is an update on his original piece. I've got a mid 1960s recording when it was all pre-decimal currency. There are a few other differences as well.

  3. @kernow thanks for your comment. You're absolutely right, of course. The version shown here is from his 1976 collection in the glassroom (I have a signed copy), but the orginal was called "Mother, there's a strange man" and was published in 1967 in The Liverpool Scene which included works by Roger, Brian Patten and Adrian Henri. This was the pre-cursor to several successful record albums and ultimately the forming of the group The Scaffold, which Roger was a member of. They were best known for "Lily the Pink" but I loved songs like "3 Blind Jellyfish" and "Today's Monday".

  4. I can say this poem is one of the most amazing I've ever read

  5. we has this poem as part of our Good Friday service at my church just under an hour ago - linked to a poster that the Reader mentioned his daughter in law told him of when he rang her up asking if she had spare nails he could borrow as a visual device - being:

    1 Cross
    3 Nails
    4 Given

  6. I know this poem, firstly in a Polish translation, also from late 60s. Its title was "Mother...", and the currency was an old sixpence.
    English is not my mother tongue but I am not very happy with its current title "Three nails" which discloses the point of the story just before its beginning.
    But still it is a great piece of poetry.

    1. Thanks for your comments. I agree the title kind of gives it away, but it was the poet's own choice, not mine :-)


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