The Subjunctive Verb

This evening (1st Feb 2019) I am reading a story on BBC Radio 3’s The Verb, hosted by Ian McMillan.

The original commission was to write something using the subjunctive mood (roughly, a way of speaking about what didn’t or hasn’t happened).

In recording the programme, with the poets Holly Pester and Mella Elfyn, and listening to grammarian Rob Drummond, I have learned a lot more about this (and the irrealis). But this is what I wrote, when I was starting to get my ideas together:


If only the future were certain,

     if only the past could be changed,

if only our present condition

    could be rearranged, then tested and then rearranged.


If only my mother were living

  to see how her grandkids get on.

If only my dad could remember

  my childhood, my name, or that I am his son.


If only my wife could forgive me

  those things that I shouldn’t have said.

If only my husband if only my husband

  if only my husband were dead.


If only she’d gone to the doctor’s

  the first time she noticed the pain,

and then when they said it was nothing

  had gone back again and again, and again and again and again.


If only he’d left a bit later

  a moment, not hardly a load,

he wouldn’t have hit the A6 when he did

  nor been hit by that stone from the wheel of that van on the opposite side of the road.