Re-imagining Timothy Winters

We launch a new challenge based around the classic poem ‘Timothy Winters’ in celebration of poet Charles Causley’s centenary.

Brick wall with a barred window

Charles Causley

2017 is the centenary of Charles Causley’s birth. Born and raised in Cornwall, he was a poet whose work for adults and children ranged across war poetry, religious poetry, eco poetry and protest poetry. He saw no distinction between his adult and children readers, and balanced intimacy and formality in poetry that both popular audiences and critics loved.

You can read a fuller biography here, and find out more about his life and work here. Read lots of his poems online here, and check out his list of publications.

The Sounding Heart

On Wednesday 31 January 2018, we’ll be holding a celebratory Charles Causley centenary event at the Poetry Café in Covent Garden. Enter our challenge, and you (or your poem) could be a star part of this performance.

Timothy Winters

‘Timothy Winters’ is possibly Causley’s most well-known poem – it’s a character-study of young boy feeling the brunt of post-war deprivation but maintaining a bold and assertive presence in the world.

Timothy Winters comes to school 
With eyes as wide as a football pool,
Ears like bombs and teeth like splinters:
A blitz of a boy is Timothy Winters.

His belly is white, his neck is dark,
And his hair is an exclamation-mark.
His clothes are enough to scare a crow
And through his britches the blue winds blow.

When teacher talks he won’t hear a word
And he shoots down dead the arithmetic-bird,
He licks the pattern off his plate
And he’s not even heard of the Welfare State.

Timothy Winters has bloody feet
And he lives in a house on Suez Street,
He sleeps in a sack on the kitchen floor
And they say there aren’t boys like him any more.

Old Man Winters likes his beer
And his missus ran off with a bombardier,
Grandma sits in the grate with a gin
And Timothy’s dosed with an aspirin.

The welfare Worker lies awake
But the law’s as tricky as a ten-foot snake,
So Timothy Winters drinks his cup
And slowly goes on growing up.

At Morning Prayers the Master helves
for children less fortunate than ourselves,
And the loudest response in the room is when
Timothy Winters roars ‘Amen!’

So come one angel, come on ten:
Timothy Winters says ‘Amen
Amen amen amen amen.
Timothy Winters, Lord.

Amen

© Estate of Charles Causley, used by permission of David Higham Associates

Listen to a reading of it here.

Causley’s similes and metaphors are so vivid and powerful. In the first stanza alone, the brilliantly onomatopoeic ‘blitz of a boy’ gives a striking sense of Timothy Winters’ life in mess, distressing appearance, and perhaps explosive behaviour. Causley was always ‘thunderstruck’ when people thought he’d invented Timothy Winters: ‘he was a real bloke. Poor devil.’

Later in the poem, Causley mentions ‘the Welfare Worker’. World War II left Britain very poor – rationing went on well into the 1950s. During the war, the politician William Beveridge did some research into how best to help the poorest in the country. He identified five ‘giant evils’ in society: squalor, ignorance, want, idleness, and disease. To tackle these, he proposed the Welfare State, which would offer free education, the creation of the National Health Service, council housing, and full employment.

The so-called ‘Beveridge Report’ was hugely popular with the public. But it wasn’t easy to put the Welfare State into practice; just like nowadays, there were many problems which led to children like Timothy Winters slipping through the system. You can read more about the beginnings of the Welfare State here.

Ironically, given the poem’s poverty-stricken subject, it’s said that Causley could have lived a comfortable life from the royalties he received from the reproduction of his most famous work.

A family cross the road with their possessions following a bombing raid in WWII

The Challenge(s)!

  1. Read ‘Timothy Winters’

Here’s the easy one. Film yourself reading ‘Timothy Winters’, send it in to us and we’ll pick our favourites to create a shareable archive of young poets performing this poem. Record yourself at home reading it – or involve friends and family in a group rendition – or make a film poem. We’re looking for meaningful and memorable versions of the poem. Please note that you will need to complete a consent form, and if you’re aged 16 or under, you’ll need to ask a parent or guardian to sign permission that it’s okay for you to send a video in. You can download this here. 

  1. Write ‘Timothy Winters’

To enter the world of Timothy Winters more deeply, write us a short poem (up to 32 lines) inspired by Causley’s poem. We want to know who Timothy Winters would be today. What current social situations conspire to make life for young people difficult? How do you react – roaring like Timothy, or in some other mood?

‘Timothy Winters’ is a ballad. As our Poetry Glossary will tell you,

A ballad is traditionally an oral folk poem, meaning that originally it wasn’t written down but sung, often to tell a folk story handed down through generations by wandering minstrels. Therefore traditionally they didn’t have a single author, but were the work of a community. Ballads tend to rhyme (often ABAB or ABCB) and when written down are usually organised in stanzas of four lines. Some good examples include the medieval ballad ‘Sir Patrick Spens’ and ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

You might want to try and write a modern-day ballad, recounting the tale of someone in the community, whether imagined or real. You could do so using the formal shape of a ballad, or you might take the idea of a ballad and go free-form.

You can read more about the ballad form on the Poetry Archive, and see more examples on the Poetry Foundation website.

Charles Causley stands, arms crossed, on the beach in a black and white photo
Charles Causley in the 1950s.

‘Timothy Winters’ is also a character poem. A character poem can be written in any poetic form, and is the equivalent of a painted portrait of a real or imaginary person. What do they look like, where are they from, what do they love, what do they hate, what are their hopes and dreams? They differ from persona poems in that character poems tend to be about a person, while persona poems tend to be in the voice of a person.

For your challenge poem, you could use the ballad form, or write a character poem or go completely free form!

Prizes

Three winning poets will have their poems represented at the Poetry Society’s Charles Causley event in the Poetry Café (Covent Garden, London, UK) on 31st January 2018. Depending on where you live and your availability, this will either be a performance by the winning poets, a video of the performance, or some other type of representation – details to be confirmed.

(If you are based in the UK and we invite you to perform, we will be able to pay your travel fees. Under 18s will need to be accompanied by a parent or guardian.)

All winning poets will have their poems published on Young Poets Network and receive an exclusive Young Poets Network notebook.

How to enter

This challenge has now closed. Thank you to everyone for your submissions! 

2 thoughts on “Re-imagining Timothy Winters

  1. Hello there,
    Your competition is excellent ..I am a poetess from Syria, I did felt ” Timothy Winters” deeply, but I can not participate because I am 26 years old. Anyway, I wish you all the best.
    Yours,

    1. Hi Riham,

      Thank you so much for your lovely comment! I’m sorry to hear that you’re not able to enter. Why not check out our Poetry Opportunities page? Some of the opportunities may be open to you: ypn.poetrysociety.org.uk/poetry-opportunities/

      Best of luck in your poetry endeavours!

      Helen at Young Poets Network

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