In Terry Pratchett's Equal Rites, he writes the following passage:

Esk, in fact, moved through the fair more like an arsonist moves through a hayfield or a neutron bounces through a reactor, poets notwithstanding, and a hypothetical watcher could have detected her random passage by tracing the outbreaks of hysteria and violence.

I don't understand the meaning of the phrase "poets notwithstanding" here. I've assumed it's a joke, but I'm struggling to understand the punchline. I vaguely recall The Light Fantastic having a running joke about the use of metaphors, but I don't quite see the connection here.

What is Pratchett trying to say with the phrase "poets notwithstanding" here?

  • 3
    @jo1storm, the trick is knowing what the poem is, and hence how you're supposed to move through a fair. When Pratchett makes such a joke it's always a direct reference to another work.
    – Separatrix
    Commented Mar 24, 2022 at 8:18
  • Thing insight that made this make sense to me, is that the "poets notwithstanding" is primarily tied to "her movement through the fair" nad not "neutrons bouncing through a reactor".
    – Brondahl
    Commented Mar 25, 2022 at 10:07
  • the scientifical truth is much better, you shouldn't let poets lie to you
    – amwinter
    Commented Mar 25, 2022 at 17:48

1 Answer 1


This refers to a previous remark by Pratchett in the text:

According to the standard poetic instructions one should move through a fair like the white swan at evening moves o'er the bay

which in turn refers to the folk song She Moved Through the Fair. So Esk moved through the fair "like an arsonist through a hayfield" etc, producing outbursts of violence and hysteria, in spite of the "standard" poetic instructions to move with tranquil elegance.

  • 3
    She Moves Through The Fair, Sandy Denny.
    – PM 2Ring
    Commented Mar 25, 2022 at 21:22
  • 1
    or even "He Moves Through The Fair" - Sinead O'Connor. It is more of a description of the meander through the fair (think pinball). The swan o'er the lake is more of the trip home. Swans in flight move at velocity in a straight line..
    – mckenzm
    Commented Mar 26, 2022 at 0:50

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