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There are dark stirrings in Brexiteers’ sudden fixation with poetry | Edward Sugden


By turning to Tennyson and Yeats, Geoffrey Cox et al are casting themselves as epic heroes fighting for a return to a purer past

• Edward Sugden is a cultural historian at King’s College London

This week Brexit took an unexpected poetical turn. On Radio 4, the attorney general, Geoffrey Cox, intoned selections from TS Eliot’s The Waste Land and reflected on WB Yeats’ Sailing to Byzantium. Meanwhile, archly poised behind a picture of Margaret Thatcher, the now infamous Mark Francois mumbled through Alfred Tennyson’s Ulysses to the Eurosceptic thinktank the Bruges Group.

Even in a world where hollow bombast and specious eloquence fuel a growing political farce, these readings stand out for their incongruity. Quite why it is that two Conservative politicians, in the wake of a decade of savage cuts to arts funding, have found themselves suddenly seized by the muse in their hour of need seems bizarre to the point of utter opacity.

Related: Mark Francois reading Tennyson, and other reasons to keep politicians away from poetry | Zoe Williams

'April is the cruellest month' - @Geoffrey_Cox recites T. S. Eliot's 'The Waste Land' . The Attorney General explains why he's using poetry to get through Brexit

Political Thinking with @BBCNickRobinson

[Tap to expand] https://t.co/DpSd1Wt5g8pic.twitter.com/hoWavE7nIg

Related: I can feel it: the Tory Brexiteers are starting to crack | Emily Sheffield

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