“You Have No Enemies” By Charles Mackay (1814-1889)

Let’s start the week with some poetic inspiration.

The excellent Netflix series “The Crown” launched its fourth season yesterday, with Scully herself, Gillian Anderson, delivering a brilliant portrayal of “the Iron Lady,” Margaret Thatcher. At one point, Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Coleman) warns the Prime Minister that she is making enemies, and she responds by reciting from memory this poem, which I had never heard or read before.

You Have No Enemies

You have no enemies, you say?
Alas! my friend, the boast is poor;
He who has mingled in the fray
Of duty, that the brave endure,
Must have made foes! If you have none,
Small is the work that you have done.
You’ve hit no traitor on the hip,
You’ve dashed no cup from perjured lip,
You’ve never turned the wrong to right,
You’ve been a coward in the fight.

Mackay is not well-known in the U.S., and he was a marginal literary figure in England. But in 2019, a confidante of Thatcher’s revealed that she turned to the writings of Mackay for solace and inspiration, particularly “Enemies,” which she kept in her scrapbook.

I’d describe the poem as a simpler, more direct predecessor of Theodore’s Roosevelt’s famous “The Man in the Arena” speech. (Teddy did go on.) Mackay’s poem has the advantage of being suitable for children, who need to be taught, as do almost all of our current politicians, that popularity isn’t everything.