Dannie Abse is a deservedly celebrated Welsh poet -- and before his retirement he was also a physician. I first saw "How I Won the Raffle" in Poetry in 1992 -- now it also is included in his collection Be Seated Thou (Sheep Meadow Press, 2000).
How I Won the Raffle by Dannie Abse
After I won the raffle with the number
the Master of Ceremonies asked me why,
‘Why did you select that particular number?’
‘A man’s character is his fate,’ I replied,
leaning lazily on a quote as usual.
And suddenly I thought of Schopenhauer’s
two last men in the world, two gaunt hermits,
meeting each other in the wilderness,
how an amiable man like Pufendorf
might postulate they’d shake hands;
a Hobbes they’d kill each other;
a Rousseau they’d pass each other by
in terrible silence.
‘In short,’ said the Master of Ceremonies
‘you chose 1079 because you had to.’
‘In short, I chose 10 because in the old days
ten men used to walk around a new grave.
‘I chose 7 because those ten men used to walk
around the new grave seven times.’
Also because of they pyramids of Egypt;
the hanging gardens of Babylon;
Diana’s Temple at Ephesus;
the great statue of Zeus at Athens,
the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus;
the Colossus of Rhodes;
and the lighthouse of Alexandria.
‘I chose 9 because among all numbers
it looks most like a musical note;
nine because of the nine orders of Angels;
nine because of the nine rivers of Hell.’
Also because of Clio with her backward look;
Calliope, stern, staring at her scroll;
Erato, nude, except for her brassiere;
Euterpe, eyes closed, flute in her mouth;
Terpsichore dancing away, silly one;
Melpomene, arms raised, dagger in hand,
Thalia, mirthless, behind her laughing mask;
Polyhymnia, in sacred robes, orating;
and Urania, dreamy, head amid the stars.
‘Sir,’ I said,
to the scowling Master of Ceremonies,
‘that’s why I chose the winning number