Go to Knowledge4Africa.com

James Kirkup

Rugby League Game

Easier questions to cut your teeth on!

Keith Tankard
Updated: 18 January 2014
Contact the English4Africa Subject Coordinator

It is with great sadness that we have to announce that the creator of Knowledge4Africa, Dr T., has passed away. Helping people through his website gave him no end of pleasure. If you had contact with him and would like to leave a message, please send us an e-mail here.


The poet takes a sarcastic look at the men who play rugby league, overgrown males who are attempting to make heroes of themselves by behaving like little boys once again.


James Falconer Kirkup was born in April 1918 in South Shields, County Durham, the only son of a carpenter. He was educated at South Shields Secondary School before attending Durham University where he graduated with a BA (Hons) in Modern Languages in 1941.

He lived his entire life as a flamboyant and provocative figure but nevertheless remained a lonely person -- which was understandable because he was a self-professed gay at a time when homosexuality was severely frowned upon.

During World War II he declared himself to be a conscientious objector. Instead of fighting, he worked on the land as an agricultural labourer in the Yorkshire Dales.

He later taught at The Downs School in Colwall, Malvern, where he wrote his first book of poetry, The Drowned Sailor at the Downs which was published in 1947.

Kirkup was a prolific English poet and writer, producing over 30 books which included autobiographies, novels and plays. He was the first resident university poet in the United Kingdom and would become a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1962.

He nevertheless left England in 1956 to live and work in Europe, the Americas and the Far East, before finally settling in Japan where he found both acceptance and appreciation for his work. He lived there for more than 30 years, lecturing in English Literature at several universities.

Kirkup leapt to public attention in 1977, when a gay newspaper -- Gay News -- published his poem "The Love that Dares to Speak its Name".

The poem described the homosexual fantasies of a Roman centurion as he contemplated the body of Jesus Christ which was in his care after it had been removed from the cross.

Not only does the poem describe in lurid detail the actions of the centurion but it also attributes homosexual acts to Jesus himself with a host of New Testament characters, including Pontius Pilate, John the Baptist, Paul of Tarsus and Judas.

The newspaper was prosecuted in a private case by Mary Whitehouse -- a "decency defender" -- for what she called "blasphemous libel".

Whitehouse won her case in a trial which appears to have been severely biassed against the newspaper -- several key witnesses were refused permission to testify. The poem is still banned in the United Kingdom.

Kirkup died in May 2009. He was then 91 years of age.

Have you looked at the questions
in the right column?
Read the left column and then answer
the following questions:

"Sport is absurd, and sad.
Those grown men. Just look,
In those dreary long blue shorts,
Those ringed stockings, Edwardian,
Balding pates, and huge
Fat knees that ought to be heroes."
  • What is it that is "sad"? (2)

[Need help?]

  • It is clear that the poet is describing a rugby game out of an old fashion past. How do we know? (2)

[Need help?]

  • Why does the poet speak specifically of the "stockings" as being "Edwardian"? (4)

[Need help?]

  • Why does the poet refer to the "balding pates" of the rugby players? (4)

[Need help?]

  • What is the purpose of the apostrophe in "heroes' "? (2)

[Need help?]

  • What is the TONE of the line: "huge fat knees that ought to be heroes' "? Explain the tone. (3)

[Need help?]

"Is all this courage really necessary?"
  • What is a rhetorical question? Why is it used? (3)

[Need help?]

"They run each other down
With earnest keenness, for the honour of
Virility, the cap, the county side."
  • What is BATHOS? Can you find an example of bathos in these lines? (4)

[Need help?]

  • The poet, by using BATHOS, manages to pinpoint what it is that makes grown men want to play rugby. What is it? (4)

[Need help?]

  • Why does the poet end this line with the word "county side"? (2)

[Need help?]

Try another worksheet?

See also:
This document is copyrighted. No part of it may be reproduced in any form whatever without explicit permission in writing from the author. The sole exception is for educational institutions which may wish to reproduce it as a handout for their students.

Contact the English4Africa Subject Coordinator