the Akond of Swat

March 23, 2012 § Leave a comment

Who, or why, or which, or what,                     Is the Akond of SWAT?

Is he tall or short, or dark or fair?
Does he sit on a stool or a sofa or chair                 or SQUAT,
                                                                     The Akond of Swat?
Is he wise or foolish, young or old?
Does he drink his soup and his coffee cold            or HOT,
                                                                     The Akond of Swat?
Does he sing or whistle, jabber or talk,
And when riding abroad does he gallop or walk      or TROT,
                                                                     The Akond of Swat?
Does he wear a turban, a fez, or a hat?
Does he sleep on a mattress, a bed, or a mat         or a COT,
                                                                     The Akond of Swat?
When he writes a copy in round-hand size,
Does he cross his T’s and finish his I’s                   with a DOT,
                                                                     The Akond of Swat?
Can he write a letter concisely clear
Without a speck or a smudge or a smear                or BLOT,
                                                                     The Akond of Swat?
Do his people like him extremely well
Or does they, whenever they can, rebel                   or PLOT,
                                                                     The Akond of Swat?
If he catches them then, either old or young
Does he have them chopped in pieces or hung        or SHOT,
                                                                     The Akond of Swat?
Do his people prig in the lanes or park?
Or even at times, when days are dark                     GAROTTE,
                                                                     O the Akond of Swat!
Does he study the wants of his own dominion?
Or doesn’t he care for public opinion                      a JOT,
                                                                     The Akond of Swat?
To amuse his mind do his people show him
Pictures, or anyone’s last new poem                        or WHAT,
                                                                     For the Akond of Swat?
At night if he suddenly screams and wakes,
Do they bring him only a few small cakes                or a LOT,
                                                                     For the Akond of Swat?
Does he live on turnips, tea, or tripe?
Does he like his shawl to be marked with a stripe    or a DOT,
                                                                     The Akond of Swat?
Does he like to lie on his back on a boat
Like the lady who lived in that isle remote,              SHALOTT,
                                                                     The Akond of Swat?
Is he quiet, or always making a fuss?
Is his steward a Swiss or a Swede or a Russ             or a SCOT,
                                                                     The Akond of Swat?
Does he like to sit by the calm blue wave?
Or to sleep and snore in a dark green cave              or a GROTT,
                                                                     The Akond of Swat?
Does he drink small beer from a silver jug?
Or a bowl? or a glass? or a cup? or a mug?             or a POT,
                                                                     The Akond of Swat?
Does he beat his wife with a gold-topped pipe,
When she lets the gooseberries grow too ripe          or ROT,
                                                                     The Akond of Swat?
Does he wear a white tie when he dines with friends,
And tie it neat in a bow with ends                           or a KNOT,
                                                                     The Akond of Swat?
Does he like new cream, and hate mince-pies?
When he looks at the sun does he wink his eyes      or NOT,
                                                                     The Akond of Swat?
Does he teach his subjects to roast and bake?
Does he sail about on an island lake                       in a YACHT,
                                                                     The Akond of Swat?
Someone, or nobody, knows I wot
Who or which or why or what                          Is the Akond of Swat!

– Edward Lear

So many questions and not one answer! The exotic sounding Valley of Swat and its quixotic Akhoond must have baffled Victorian England when both were mentioned in a news item in The Times of India. Lear, according to his notes, was prompted to write a poem in response.

“The Akond of Swat” seems to go on forever and gets progressively weirder and more violent as it unloads its 23 stanzas. The Akhoond, as Lear imagines, likes to beat his wife and kill his people and is prone to whims of fancy food and eccentric fashion.

And yet, we don’t know what the real Akhoond was like. Lear didn’t know. Swat remained a far-off place to Lear who, despite his vast travels abroad, never visited the area. But in his imagined whimsy, Lear describes every despotic leader from King Lear (no relation) to Kim Jung-Il.

The capitalized words are meant to be shouted out by a chorus. Interaction for the proletariat?

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