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Book Review: W.H. Auden’s Book of Light Verse

January 8, 2005

Here’s the 2nd book review.


I finished reading W.H. Auden’s Book of Light Verse and I found it to be a mixed bag.  First some definitions:  this book was originally published as part of the Oxford University Press’ collection of books of poetry.  Commissioned in the 1930s, it is not, simply stated, a book of comedic verse, although many of the pieces are quite humorous.


It is rather a collection of poetry of popular verse, beginning with poems in Middle English (“Sitteth alle stile and herkneth to me ! / the kyng of Alemaignr, bi mi leaute,”) and carrying through to Auden’s contemporaries (”Spirits of well-shot woodcock, partridge, snipe / Flutter and bear him up the Norfolk sky:”).  Representing many forms, from nursery rhymes (the original “Jack and Gill went up the Hill” is in here — Gil, who knew it was Gil?) to elegies to limericks to odes, and many voices (some American, Irish and Scottish, though mostly British) it is a thorough collection.


And therein lies my problem with it.  As a collection, I found myself thumbing through, looking at particular pieces and savoring them, and skipping others completely.  It is collection which, to me, is often excellent, and occasionally horrible.


One of my favorite pieces (which I have marked since I am sure to read and re-read it) is “The Careless Gallant” by Thomas Jordon.  It begins “Let us drink and be merry, dance, joke, and rejoice, / With claret and sherry, thorbo and voice … In frolics dispose your pounds, shillings, and pence / For we shall be nothing a hundred years hence.”


Another seemed particularly relevant to our current time.  John Gay’s “Ode for the New Year” makes fun of King George, and I drew some inspiration from it, so at the end of this review I present my re-interpretation of this poem, titled “Ode for a Second Inauguration.”  Much of the piece is based on the original John Gay piece — grab the original to compare and see for yourself.


So, in short, a worthwhile piece to add to a poetry collection, but not one to start your library.



1/6/05


An Ode for the Second Inauguration
Written by David Demm, Esq. Poet Laureate
 


God prosper long our gracious King.
Now sitting on his throne;
Who leads this nation by a string
And governs almost none.


This is the day when, right or wrong,
I, David Demm, Esquire,
Must for my pay recite a song
And strum my venal lyre.


Not he who ruled great Judah’s realm,
Eclipsed old Solomon,
Wise wiser that Ours at the helm
(He is the wiser son?).


Since born from wealth, he never felt
The weight of work or toil;
What does he care if tighter belts
Are coin to pay his spoils?


His head with wisdom deep is fraught,
His breast with courage glows;
Alas, how mournful is the thought,
He ever should need foes.


For, in his heart, he likes to win,
Like ‘poleon in his saddle.
If not in field, in Washington
He daily sounds to battle.


The Queen, I also pray, God save!
His consort thin and dear;
Who just as he is wise and brave,
Is pious and sincere.


She’s courteous, good, and charms all folks,
Loves one as well as t’other;
The far right and the Orthodox,
Alike the unwed mother.


God favor both the princesses
With many happy days
And keep their boyfriend’s caresses
Confined to drunken haze.


And keep that special brother Jeb
With harmony and love.
Tallahassee’s gracious ‘deb’
Please keep as Florida’s guv.


Heav’n spread o’er George’s family
That broad illustrious glare,
Which shines so flat in ev’ry eye,
And makes them all so stare.


But oh! ev’n Kings must end, of course,
And to their heirs be civil;
We poets, too, on wingéd horse.
Must soon post to the devil.


Then, since I have a brother too,
May he Parnassus rule;
So shall the Crown and Laurel, too,
Descend from Fool to Fool!


Patterned after John Gay’s “An Ode for the New Year: Written by Colley Ciber, Esq., Poet Laureate”


 

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