In the latest issue:

Botanic Macaroni

Steven Shapin

What made the Vikings tick?

Tom Shippey

In the Lab

Rupert Beale

Will there be a Brexit deal?

Anand Menon

Short Cuts: Under New Management

Rory Scothorne


Bridget Alsdorf

Sarah Moss

Blake Morrison

Poem: ‘Country Music’

Ange Mlinko

On the Trail of Garibaldi

Tim Parks

Art Lessons

Peter Campbell

You’ll like it when you get there

Tom Crewe

Early Kermode

Stefan Collini

‘The Vanishing Half’

Joanna Biggs

At the Movies: ‘The Truth’

Michael Wood

The Suitcase: Part Two

Frances Stonor Saunders

Poem: ‘Siri U’

Jorie Graham

Diary: Getting into Esports

John Lanchester

The Jains and the BoxerDouglas Oliver
Vol. 11 No. 16 · 31 August 1989

The Jains and the Boxer

Douglas Oliver

565 words


The Jain monk would live in unending harmlessness,
shedding karma, confessing, studying for the fasting death.
He avoids quarrels and politics,
may not repair three unmended garments, nuns four,
has rayaharana, the hand broom of wool or grass,
to clear living things from his path,
a cloth to wipe animate dust from his face
and to prevent such beings entering mouth or nose.
He takes care not to walk too far after rain
because life springs up abundantly then
and must not be damaged.
At dawn, he examines utensils and his skin
to preserve tiny souls;
he will not wash limbs, treat wounds or eczema,
may spend hours in immobility save
for involuntary breathing, coughing and physical secreting.
The monk’s presence may be scarcely bearable:
the filth (mala) on the acarya Hemacandra
brought his sect the honorary name of Maladharin.
We find such things in the Cheyasutta Mahanisiha,
whose Salluddharana explains contrition and confession;
and whose Kammavivagavivarana


The boxer imposes 100 per cent will
punching harm into harm in sadistic rhythms.
He’s called Alan Boum Boum Minter, Mo Hope,
Rocky this, Kid or Killer That.
His history comes in puffs and spurts.
Listen to the bollocky tights, buttocky satins
of Bob Fitzsimmons in his longjohns.
Since then, all the boxers have fallen,
broken-legged spiders,
Joe Gans ‘in his famous fighting pose’
‘the old master’, said the great Fleischer,
fallen. Patterson’s head down
arms wide on the floor,
all fire out, while Johansson
waits in the corner like a fire hydrant.
Straight nose punches.
The Woodcock straight left
Cribb’s face a creased bun
his left staggering Molyneux
Teddy Baldock leaning back but flattening Kid Pattenden’s nose
Bombardier Billy Wells straight on to Porky Flynn’s jaw.
The closed socket of old timers, badly drawn,
like the head of a fleshy screw
a caterpillar trickling down the cheek of Marciano
craze marks on Mills’s eye v. Baksi
but you should see the Eskimo eye
of Lesnevich, head in towels, k.o.,
over Mills, 10 rounds, May 1946.
Blotches on the imperfectly inked glyph of Pruden
Walcott’s face bringing its forehead crumbling down
in the ‘Moment of No Return’, said The Ring.
Treacle round the eye of Cruz
then the crudding round that of Ramos
Chuvalo’s face blind, blown,
but that wasn’t the bloodiest fight ever known;
some would say ‘Harlem’ Tommy Murphy
bombing out Abe Attell
the face of Attell covered in shoeblack
imagine that the black is red
just the fixation on red
Pone Kingpetch dethrones Perez
despite a clown’s eye made up bloodily
Cooper’s eye versus Clay/Ali
the face so grey against the shattered crevice
the light of the game extinguished, turning liquid,
gradually the blood is spent
hollow sockets of The Pugilist’ bronze,
in the National Museum of Rome.


The boxer’s sounds interrupt plosively,
while the Jaina vibrate, so repetitive in consonant
that all is almost vowel, a continuous voicing.
We wish for that passivity, the single vowel of wonder,
unchanging reverence for the sacred. But we fall
into Frenchified voodoo sacrifice: the clean blow’
sudden slice at a cockerell neck. It’s disgusting
to gain erotic victory at such a price.
The Jains know the flow of time free of harm.
The boxer knows its beat: destruction and renewal.
Poetic music flows, undulates, hits beats.
encourages chastity, warns of sexuality and aggressive evils.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Read More

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences