TOM VAUGHAN inspiration

About the poet

Tom Vaughan is a former British diplomat. His novel No Second Prize, based on his experience in post-colonial Zimbabwe, was published by Andre Deutsch in 1993.

Tom’s poems have been published in several magazines and anthologies. One of his poems, Proposal, first published in Orbis, was included in the BBC series/anthology Essential Poems (to Fall in Love with). Beltway Blues, from Tom’s Envoy collection, was included in the Songs of Love and Loss cycle by painist/composer Sir Stephen Hough, premiered in a Wigmore Hall concert on 2 January 2023, sung by Nicky Spence.

In the words of Helena Nelson of the HappenStance Press, which published a short selection of his poetry in 2010 and a longer collection – Envoy – in 2013, Tom’s poems demonstrate that ‘elegant formalism and contemporary style can still go hand in hand’.

HappenStance Sampler

HappenStance Sampler

The Mower 

I cut the grass again today.

It took three hours, but now I know

that man was made his lawn to mow.


It’s smooth enough to play croquet.

The shorn blades smell of long ago.

I cut the grass again today.


I’m basking in the afterglow.

I sit and sip a beer, although

under my feet it starts to grow.


The poems in Envoy reflect Tom’s experience overseas, commenting (often with barbed wit) on people, places and the moral ambiguities of diplomatic life. His deepest concern is with the guilt carried by those whose decisions—however much they may or may not be justified—mean the death and injury of others. But the only certainty for all of us, as he concludes in Via Dolorosa, is that ‘suffering / is in the end / all we can share’.

You can download an e-copy of Envoy here.

Tom Vaughn Envoy


If I spy on you

and you spy on me

you won’t know how much I know

and vice versa – i.e.


we’ll have to assume

no secret’s secure

and therefore plot nothing

too nasty! 

                   I’m sure


you’ll agree: it makes

perfect sense –

it’s like trusting each other

(though at greater expense . . .).

Some Poems of Tom Vaughan


when you dismiss

as dreams, your hopes

when sex is lust


when you come back

from years and years

because you’re lost


to find your home

bulldozed, your past

peopled by ghosts


when you can’t sleep

and ache for hours

in self-disgust


when nations break

like waves on rocks

when what’s unjust


parades as law

when there’s no god

you dare to trust         


when the heavens are bronze

when the earth is iron

when the rain is dust


know that you’ve seen

things as they are

know too you must


even while you mock

his old-school If,

remain steadfast


Published in HQ Poetry Magazine number 61, June-August 2023


for Roland

 Who am I to tell you, but

please think of it this way

today becomes tomorrow, which

will soon be yesterday


and life is long and life is short

while every spinning star

switched on and will switch off, without

being conscious what they are


but you and I can cogitate

till kingdom come, although

whether or not it ever will

we know we’ll never know


and suffering goes on and on

with no apparent end

just ancient short-term remedies:

a book; red wine; a friend


with whom to walk along the beach

and swim far out to sea

and celebrate how good it is

to live in Brittany.


Published in Snakeskin 310, September 2023


It’s time to hunker down and swot

with coffee as my only friend


and each dawn closer to the end

which in the distance I can spot:


the happiness which lies ahead

when I’ll have passed with flying colours


and on a day unlike all others

will saunter through the streets instead.


I won’t be bored, I tell myself:

the world will sparkle, and the hours


will sprinkle down in golden showers.

I won’t need anything – my wealth


will be the knowledge I’ll forget

and which I haven’t learnt as yet.

Published in Snakeskin 310, September 2023


How long there’s been this distance

     between us, I don’t know

but we go on together 

     with a seamless outward show

and perhaps I now love you more

     deeply (even if it’s true

I often feel alone –

     no doubt it’s the same for you)


because I know you’re brave

     and generous and kind

and the thought of hurting me

     wouldn’t cross your mind

though nevertheless you do

     by the way you bustle on

or those evenings passed in silence

     you seemingly withdrawn


and what if this is it –

     the only happiness

we had a right to hope for

     back when we both said yes

and maybe what matters isn’t             

     how we fail, but how we build

on failure, and slowly, surely

     can learn, becoming skilled


at valuing each other

     giving conscious consent

to each new day together

     content to be content

and trusting, praising, caring

     not because we’re who we were

when we first met, but simply

     as real-world connoisseurs.


Published in Poetry Salzburg Review, No 40 Summer 2023



I wish we’d met before you died

400 years ago

to compare the bitter world you knew

with the bitter world I know.


Of course, some things have changed since then –

your gravelle could be cured

and we’ve conceived more ways to kill

than cannons or the sword –


but I guess you’d find us much the same,

a Friday afternoon job,

self-sure, self-seeking, self-deceived,

self (you’d own up!) absorbed   


with friendship just as rare as when

you lost the soulmate who

would be your standard as you judged

me unread, shallow . . . though


I hope you’d spare an hour or so

while I laboured to explain

why the words you thought time-limited

for some of us remain


a refuge, like your library,

if a challenge too, a call

to live unsolved and unafraid,

unfooled and unenthralled.


Published in HQ Poetry Magazine number 61, June-August 2023


Won’t you tell us a story

it doesn’t have to be true –

a train with a tantrum,

a well-behaved phantom –

anything will do.


Please tell us a story

pretending you were born

in a land overseen

by five Kings and a Queen

who play cards with a unicorn.


Surely you know a story

so long it has no end –

drop us unarmed in danger

to be saved by a stranger

who becomes an exceptional friend.


We’ve heard about a story

of a witch with a terrible spell

making children grow old

and paying them in gold

to forget every story you tell.


So please, tell us a story –

if you don’t, others will.

And they’ll want us to be

their infantry

when they move in for the kill.


Won’t you tell us a story –

it doesn’t have to be true –

we’ll believe what you say

without giving away

that we’ll soon stop believing in you.


First published in Dream Catcher 35, July 2017


In Memory of Albrecht Haushofer, author of the Moabit Sonnets, killed 23 April 1945


I’ve never had to stand up to some fascist

bully, or to camp out in a square

protesting against the blood-soaked dictator

who runs my country. No cocksure imperialist


controls my state; no simplistically earnest

missionary insists I learn a prayer

to another god than mine; no doctrinaire

ideologue has me on his blacklist.


I’ve never waited in a cold, damp cell

for the dawn when faceless men will drag me out

to the noose, or the firing squad. No brutal lout


has tortured me for days until I tell

the lies he wants to hear. I merely scout


the freedom of my chosen prison: doubt.


 These days, who’s at the country’s helm? The bland

leading the bland . . .  Dull politicians whose

bedtime reading is opinion polls,

so spin-controlled and focus-grouped they blend


into a compound breed. Their foes, the closed

minds of ISIS; the bureaucratic fools

who’ve messed up Europe; Putin. Each day’s news

threatening their imagined Disneyland.


But then, I’ve never tried to argue for

my own invented world, or made a stout

defence of my beliefs, or sought the clout


to shape my people’s destiny. Unsure

of all such certainties, I merely scout


the prison of my chosen freedom – doubt.

First published Acumen 84, Jan 2016

Are You An English Gentleman?

Are you an English gentleman

who always sees things through?

Are you an English gentleman

regular and true?

Are you an English gentleman

whose life of quiet despair

seen from the outside, looks to be

reliably square?

Are you part of the landscape

with a firm handshake,

understated savoir-faire?

Are you an English gentleman

avoiding the public glare?


Are you an English gentleman

unflappable under fire?

Annoyingly self-possessed,

genetically a squire?

Are you an English gentleman

never, never late?

Are you an English gentleman

completely out of date?

Are you an English gentleman

unable to cope

with foreign parts and feminists –

have you become a joke?

Politically incorrect

an existential retrospect

a species under serious threat –

are you an English gentleman

bewildered but bespoke?


Are you an English gentleman

although there’s no such thing?

Are you an English gentleman

whose timer has gone ping?

Are you an English gentleman?

If so, hang on old chap –

let’s dine out at my club tonight

and talk a load of crap.


First published in  Time to Kill Sparrows: A Kaleidoscope of Verse by Diplomats and their Families, 1999. Also published in HappenStance Envoy, 2013

Poetry publishers


Some of Tom’s poems have been published in the following online publications:

Get in touch with Tom here