I Wish You a Wave of the Sea

July 11, 2012 § Leave a comment

Fretting my heart as you pedal your bicycle,
Perdita, once I called, Perdita, twice I called.
Pretty as paint and as cool as an icicle,
  Perdita Simmons!

Shall I tell how we met under fortunate auspices?
Presuming a bottle of Spanish Don Horsepiss is
Fortunate… This is not one of my coarse pieces,
  Perdita Simmons.

Syllables shimmy as sonnets assemble
Themselves in a shadowless summer a-tremble —
A ten-guinea ticket for Merton Commem Ball
  With Perdita Simmons.

Daddy’s a saurian Cambridge historian.
Mummy’s more chummy. She’s tweedy and Tory and
Hunts and what-have-you. So very Victorian
  Is Perdita Simmons.

Thus Mainwaring, tall dark and rich, with a glance as much
As to say, My dear boy, I don’t fancy your chances much
I know Perdie of old, and she doesn’t like dances much,
  Doesn’t Perdita Simmons.

Perdita’s hair ruffles fairer and tanglier,
Perdita’s grin makes my ganglia janglia,
Perdita’s uncle owns half of East Anglia,
  All for Perdita Simmons.

Mainwaring’s plan is for getting a leg over;
Wait till she’s plastered (the bastard!), then beg of her.
No go. (Ho-ho!) Now his face has got egg over.
  From Perdita Simmons.

Oh, how spiffing! (She talks like a school-story serial,
While my lexical style is down-market and beery.) All
Love is insane and remote and ethereal
  And Perdita Simmons.

As we’re pounding the ground in a last hokey-cokey, dawn
Fingers to constables, hauling of chokey-borne
Mainwaring, pissed as a rat on the croquet lawn.
  Sweet Perdita Simmons.

Half-asleep, climbing from Headington Hill, at the crest of it
Sickle moon, scatter of stars and the rest of it,
In my hand one small hand (and this is the best of it)
  Of Perdita Simmons.

Perdita murmurs, You’ll do for a poet.
And kisses me carefully twice, just to show it.
Nobody knows what love is. But I know it.
  It’s Perdita Simmons.

– John Whitworth

Pretty Perdita thwomps menacing Mainwaring with an egg, dances until dawn, then gets whisked away by a poet-narrator who decorates his tale with triple rhymes and a meter that is very much like a wave of the sea. The three characters may have their own love triangle, but my favorite ménage à trois is the trifecta of auspices, Horsepiss is and coarse pieces from a poem stuffed with inventive rhymes.

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the Heavy Dragoon’s Song

July 6, 2012 § Leave a comment

If you want a receipt for that popular mystery,
  Known to the world as a Heavy Dragoon,
Take all the remarkable people in history,
  Rattle them off to a popular tune.

The pluck of Lord Nelson on board of the Victory
  Genius of Bismarck devising a plan —
The humour of Fielding (which sounds contradictory) —
  Coolness of Paget about to trepan —
The science of Jullien, the eminent musico —
  Wit of Macaulay, who wrote of Queen Anne —
The pathos of Paddy, as rendered by Boucicault —
  Style of the Bishop of Sodor and Man —
The dash of a D’Orsay, divested of quackery —
Narrative powers of Dickens and Thackery —
Victor Emmanuel — peak-haunting Peveril —
Thomas Aquinas, and Doctor Sacheverell —
  Tupper and Tennyson — Daniel Defoe —
  Anthony Trollope and Mister Guizot!

Take all of these elements all that is fusible
  Melt them all down in a pipkin or crucible
Set them to simmer, and take off the scum,
  And a Heavy Dragoon is the residuum!

If you want a receipt for this soldier-like paragon,
  Get at the wealth of the Czar (if you can) —
The family pride of a Spaniard from Aragon —
  Force of Mephisto pronouncing a ban —
A smack of Lord Waterford, reckless and rollicky —
  Swagger of Roderick, heading his clan —
The keen penetration of Paddington Pollaky —
  Grace of an Odalisque on a divan —
The genius strategic of Caesar or Hannibal —
Skill of Sir Garnet in thrashing a cannibal —
Flavour of Hamlet — the Stranger, a touch of him —
Little of Manfred (but not very much of him) —
  Beadle of Burlington — Richardson’s show —
  Mister Micawber and Madame Tussaud!

Take all of these elements all that is fusible
  Melt them all down in a pipkin or crucible
Set them to simmer, and take off the scum,
  And a Heavy Dragoon is the residuum!

– W. S. Gilbert

Essentially a list of mostly obscure historical figures, “the Heavy Dragoon’s Song” can be found in Patience, one of the less popular Gilbert and Sullivan operas. Even without Sullivan’s music, Gilbert’s patter song sings and skips and scatters names along the page; it almost works better without musical accompaniment because the lines already have an obvious meter and the reader can stop and swish the sounds around in the mouth (“The dash of a D’Orsay, divested of quackery” has a light almond taste that deserves to be savored). Gilbert was the master of the triple rhyme, an art that is, alas, dying.

the Voice

June 30, 2012 § Leave a comment

Woman much missed, how you call to me, call to me,
Saying that now you are not as you were
When you had changed from the one who was all to me,
But as at first, when our day was fair.

Can it be you that I hear? Let me view you, then,
Standing as when I drew near to the town
Where you would wait for me: yes, as I knew you then,
Even to the original air-blue gown!

Or is it only the breeze, in its listlessness
Travelling across the wet mead to me here,
You being ever consigned to existlessness,
Heard no more again far or near?

  Thus I; faltering forward,
  Leaves around me falling,
Wind oozing thin through the thorn from norward
  And the woman calling.

– Thomas Hardy

The line “consigned to existlessness” was later changed to “dissolved to wan wistlessness”. I’ve chosen the earlier version because I like it better. The woman was probably Emma, Hardy’s first wife, whose death haunted the poet. The sussurrant S’s in the third stanza provide an appropriate soundtrack to the woman’s soft fading, as does the echoed “call to me, call to me” like words screamed into the wind. In the final stanza, the meter breaks down alongside the narrator’s mindset (accompanied by those ghostly indents).

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