Saturday, 8 June 2013

Bad verse and worse


All bad poetry springs from genuine feeling, said Oscar Wilde and this is usually, though not always, true. I love really good bad verse. Somewhere in Bucharest I have the commonplace books I wrote by hand aged 22, with scores of examples, but they are not to hand. Still, here are some bad poems.  Does anyone have any other more?

The first everyone knows.

UP the airy mountain,
Down the rushy glen,
We daren't go a-hunting
For fear of little men;
Wee folk, good folk,
Trooping all together;
Green jacket, red cap,
And a white owl's feather!

William Allingham, a better diarist than a poet.

Few months of life has he in store
As he to you will tell,
For still, the more he works, the more
Do his weak ankles swell.

Across the wire the electric message came.
He is no better. He is much the same.

Said to be by Poet Laureate Alfred Austin on the illness of the Prince of Wales but someone read the whole of Austin's dreadful verse and it was not there. How much better life is now we have computers. Gladstone thought of appointing Christina Rossetti as our only female Poet Laureate but instead left office with the position vacant and Lord Salisbury unforgivably preferred the hack, Austin

And now, kind friend, what I have wrote,
I hope you will pass o'er,
And not criticise as some have done
Hitherto herebefore.

Eliza Cook wrote this. She was American equivalent of William McGonagall. I have not bothered to read very much or quote him here. Perhaps I am put off by the fact that Spike Milligan liked him. The Goon Show was great but before my time and in my time Milligan had ceased to be funny.

Irks care the crop-full bird? Frets doubt the maw-crammed beast?

Browning, Mr. (Rabbi Ben Ezra)

Will you oftly

Murmur softly?

Browning, Mrs.



The barges down in the river flop.

Flop, plop,

Above, beneath.

From the slimy branches the grey drips drop...

To the oozy waters, that lounge and flop...

And my head shrieks-"Stop"

And my heart shrieks-"Die"

Ugh! Yet I knew-I knew

If a woman is false can a friend be true?

It was only a lie from beginning to end-

My Devil- My "friend."...

So what do I care,

And my head is empty as air-

I can do,

I can dare

(Plop, plop

The barges flop

Drip, drop.)I can dare, I can dare!

And let myself all run away with my head

And stop.



Plop, flop.


"A tragedy" by Theophile Marzials

I am one of the few people, I suppose, who has read a whole book of Marzials' verse. I was at Cambridge and not studying for my degree. Betjeman put me onto him.

I also read much of James Russell Lowell's poetry and essays. They left me with the abiding suspicion that Americans cannot write. How much indiscriminate reading I did. Had it been harnessed to some cause...

"Over his keys the musing organist,

Beginning doubtfully and far away,

First lets his fingers wander as they list,

And builds a bridge from Dreamland for his lay..."

"The Vision of Sir Launfal" by James Russell Lowell

Lowell of course was one of the famous Brahmins, who gave rise to a very good poem:

And here is to good old Boston,

The home of the bean and the cod,

Where the Lowells talk to the Cabots

And the Cabots talk only to God.

I could have added most of certain poets, of course, like Southey, for example, another Poet Laureate. The only good thing he wrote was his Ode to Gooseberry Pie, which led me after reading it to buy my mother six pounds of gooseberries (my father said they were only in season for about a week so I bulk bought them when I saw them in the greengrocers). She made and I now love the eponymous dish. How ancient that makes me sound. Greengrocers. Fruit being in season. Reading Southey (though probably few people did, even then).

By the way I had a completely mistaken idea of how to pronounce Southey's name until I read Byron rhyming it with 'mouthy'. (I did, however, know how to pronounce Carew and Cowper.)

I do not like TS Eliot much, except for Prufrock, which I love, and thought of including something of his, but instead I shall cheat and give you the first stanza of a parody of Eliot which he himself admired, Chard Whitlow by Henry Reed. Parodies are something else I once collected and are of course not bad poems at all.

As we get older we do not get any younger.

Seasons return, and today I am fifty-five,

And this time last year I was fifty-four,

And this time next year I shall be sixty-two.

And I cannot say I should like (to speak for myself)

To see my time over again— if you can call it time:

Fidgeting uneasily under a draughty stair,

Or counting sleepless nights in the crowded Tube.

When I was twelve I thought Lord Macaulay's essay on Robert Montgomery the funniest thing I had ever read. Lytton Strachey called Macaulay's humour elephantine but it still makes me smile.


  1. Anything by this guy:

  2. She wheels her wheel barrow through streets that are narrow
    Sorry about that.
    I'll come around later with something far greater...

  3. If you understand French you should read some lyrics from Serge Gainsbourg

  4. SPADE! with which Wilkinson hath tilled his lands,
    And shaped these pleasant walks by Emont's side,
    Thou art a tool of honour in my hands;
    I press thee, through the yielding soil, with pride.

    Who shall inherit Thee when death has laid
    Low in the darksome cell thine own dear lord?
    That man will have a trophy, humble Spade!
    A trophy nobler than a conqueror's sword.

  5. Let us not forget the poetic contribution of Thomas Hood, in his Moral to "Miss Kilmansegg and her Precious Leg":

    GOLD! Gold! Gold! Gold!
    Bright and yellow, hard and cold,
    Molten, graven, hammer’d, and roll’d;
    Heavy to get, and light to hold;
    Hoarded, barter’d, bought, and sold,
    Stolen, borrow’d, squander’d, doled:
    Spurn’d by the young, but hugg’d by the old
    To the very verge of the churchyard mould;
    Price of many a crime untold:
    Gold! Gold! Gold! Gold!
    Good or bad a thousand-fold!
    How widely its agencies vary—
    To save—to ruin—to curse—to bless—
    As even its minted coins express,
    Now stamp’d with the image of Good Queen Bess,
    And now of a bloody Mary.

    John Kersey

  6. I was weaned on Hood. How I love early Victorian light verse. My father used to read aloud the dear old Ingoldsby Legends.

  7. John Close:

    AROUND the gods, each seated on a throne,
    The poets, crown'd like royal kings they sat.
    Around their heads a dazzling halo shone,
    No need of mortal robes, or any hat.

    Their curly locks, as white as driven snow,
    Hung down like shining frosted silver threads;
    And oh! their eyes, so full of joy they beam'd
    And sparkled in their grand majestic heads.

  8. A particularly striking image from George Meredith:

    He cancelled the ravaging Plague,
    With the roll of his fat off the cliff.