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Unit 1.4 – Irish Poetry

Difficulty: Hard

Time: 4 minutes 30 seconds


A Priceless Simplicity by Pat Ingoldsby


You sat in beside me on the bus

because you wanted to.

You talked to me with

a lovely loud open voice

which doesn’t know the meaning

of shyness or inhibition

or fear of saying the wrong thing

and many people in this world

would call you simple.


You have got free travel

because your special allowance

isn’t really very special

and nobody would ever dream

of giving you a job

unless they needed a man to

clean out a public convenience.


Everybody upstairs on the bus

heard every lovely disabled

word that you spoke

but nobody turned around to see the lovely man who was speaking them.

“Isn’t it great to be able

to read and write!”

You boomed out the words

with wild and free enthusiasm.


Then you began to struggle

with the mysteries of the notice on the bus.

“Tha … tha … thank you for

… for … for not smo … king!”

You got it gloriously right

and God I wanted to cheer

but to my eternal shame I didn’t

because it wouldn’t be the right thing.


You struggled with the signs

which we passed and you won

some magnificent victories.

“Ba … ba … bank of Ire … land!”

“No par … no .. par … king!”

You beamed with huge pleasure

when you cracked – “Emergency Exit.”

“Irish Permanent” gave you a hard time

but what the hell you are only learning

for a year or so and you are bloody



We should have all cheered

and saluted you in your triumphs

but we are not simple

so we didn’t.


You got off the bus

and went down to The Dinner Centre

to buy yourself a meal for forty pence.

The bus was suddenly a poorer place

because we had just lost

the richest free man on it.



1.         What does the poem suggest about the nature of shyness and social inhibitions?

  • A          They are complex emotions
  • B          They serve an important function in social situations
  • C          They are often necessary social conventions
  • D          They are learned responses intended to comply with social norms


2.         Why did the poet feel shame? (5th stanza)

  • A          Because he acted exactly like everyone else on the bus
  • B          He had been smoking on the bus
  • C          Because he was afraid to be a hypocrite in public
  • D         Because he felt he was patronising the ‘simple’ man


3.         In what sense is the subject ‘free’? (final stanza)

  • A          Free from societal taboos
  • B          Free from employment
  • C          He is not bound by the need for wealth
  • D          He doesn’t understand and is therefore not bothered by economic and political turmoil.
  • Answers:
    Q1: D.
    In order to answer these questions one must understand the poem as a whole. The poem is about this loud character who people would call ‘simple’. Everybody thinks he is stupid, but the poet thinks he is brilliant because he is not afraid of embarrassment and does exactly as he pleases. He sits beside the poet on the bus because he ‘wanted to,’ and talks loudly, despite the implied social convention to sit quietly and not talk to anyone. He doesn’t understand what it means to be embarrassed and so he doesn’t know the meaning of shyness – because it is a feeling imposed by the presence of others. There is no suggestion in the poem that the other people on the bus were actually inconvenienced by him, so B, and C are out. A is true, to an extent, but it was not the poet’s intention to suggest that shyness is too complex for this man, rather that he is above it.

    Q2: A.
    B is wrong because we don’t know that he was smoking.
    C is wrong because he was, in fact, a hypocrite. Praising the man (in his head) but being unable to do so out loud. This answer is the opposite in meaning of the correct one.
    D is wrong because at no point is it suggested that he was patronising him.
    A is correct because he was too shy to cheer. He defames the other people on the bus for their contempt of this man, but fails to act out what he believes is the right thing to do.
    Q3: A.
    All of these answers are potentially true (except for D which is not backed up at all), but the correct answer is the one which relates back to the intended meaning of the poem. The ‘richest free man’ does not refer to wealth – he only has 40p anyway. He is free from worry about what other people think of him.

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    May 17, 2012

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