Thoughts on ‘Respectability’

My mother’s generation, and those that came before,
Were poor, but served their families in pestilence and war;
And though I’m not ungrateful, they lived, it seems to me,
Confusing what was decent with ‘respectability’.

A woman’s reputation could be neither begged nor bought,
A gentleman remained one, unless the fool was caught,
Whatever rank or station — in vast conspiracy,
They murdered what was decent for ‘respectability’.

They donkey-stoned their doorsteps and fed you fish for Lent,
They bid you wear fresh underwear in case of accident,
They did it without thinking to preserve their dignity,
Confusing what was decent with ‘respectability’.

The rich man in his motor car, the poor man at his gate,
Their women in the kitchen, and round their hearts the weight
That idle sons with idle dreams might ape the bourgeoisie,
And question what was decent in ‘respectability’.

They martyred aspiration in doily mats and lace,
They smothered hope in duty and sought to know their place,
They hid their lamps in bushels, for fear of mockery,
Confusing what was decent with ‘respectability’.

I do not seek to judge them, the times were different then,
But if you’re young and reading this, then don’t be fooled again,
For I fear their betters tricked them and abused their modesty,
By confusing what was decent with ‘respectability’.