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The Pelagian Drinking Song -- Hilaire Belloc

Guest poem from Ashwin Mahalingam

Lest the rest of the known world think I am dead, I have decided to make
my presence felt. Random musings led to this poem by Hilaire Belloc
which seemed extremely entertaining and amusing. So, I'd like you to put
it up on minstrels if you deem it fit:-)
(Poem #78) The Pelagian Drinking Song
Pelagius lived at Kardanoel
And taught a doctrine there
How, whether you went to heaven or to hell
It was your own affair.
It had nothing to do with the Church, my boy,
But was your own affair.

No, he didn't believe
In Adam and Eve
He put no faith therein!
His doubts began
With the Fall of Man
And he laughed at Original Sin.
With my row-ti-tow
He laughed at original sin.

Then came the bishop of old Auxerre
Germanus was his name
He tore great handfuls out of his hair
And he called Pelagius shame.
And with his stout Episcopal staff
So thoroughly whacked and banged
The heretics all, both short and tall --
They rather had been hanged.

Oh he whacked them hard, and he banged them long
Upon each and all occasions
Till they bellowed in chorus, loud and strong
Their orthodox persuasions.
With my row-ti-tow
Their orthodox persuasions.

Now the faith is old and the Devil bold
Exceedingly bold indeed.
And the masses of doubt that are floating about
Would smother a mortal creed.
But we that sit in a sturdy youth
And still can drink strong ale
Let us put it away to infallible truth
That always shall prevail.

And thank the Lord
For the temporal sword
And howling heretics too.
And all good things
Our Christendom brings
But especially barley brew!
With my row-ti-tow
Especially barley brew!
-- Hilaire Belloc
My comments: The first time I read it, I nearly fell out of my chair
laughing. I especially like the row-ti-tow Ti-oodly-ow's appearing at the
end of every alternate stanza. Somehow, however, there does seem to be some
meaning in this poem especially in the lines

        Let us put it away to infallible truth
        That always shall prevail.

which is probably why the piece cannot be classified completely as a
nonsense poem. In the end analysis, the metre and the theme make this a very
enjoyable poem, and I leave it to the reader to draw whatever inferences
he/she may.


20 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Bloch Scott said...

Not a poem, but a drinking song. We sing it at Belloc Society Meetings. Can't appreciate it unless you belt it out in song! It has very deep meaning then. Much of Stephen Foster's delightful songs seem like nonsense when read. Clementine, O, Susannah, etc. But when sung, they delight for generations. Their meaning is delivered in song.

Ken Cashion said...

Is it possible that Belloc (or one of his disciples) played with an alternative version of the first stanza? The one I remember was appended to a study of Pelagius that came out at least ten years ago. My recollection of it is this: (lines 1-4 the same, lines 5 to 8)

Whether you rose to eternal joy
Or sank forever to burn
It had nothing to do with the Church, my boy
It was your own concern.

It seems rather weak for such a talented wit as Belloc to end two lines with the identical "it was your own affair". Next time I'm in our university library I'll see if I can find the book and track down the source.
- Ken Cashion, UW-Parkside (retired, chemistry, not English Lit.)

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