(Poem #356) The Akond of Swat
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 a 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 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 smear or BLOT, The Akond of Swat? Do his people like him extremely well? Or do they, whenever they can, rebel, or PLOT, At 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, 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 any one'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 in a boat Like the lady who lived in that isle remote, SHALLOTT, The Akond of Swat? Is he quiet, or always making a fuss? Is his steward a Swiss or a Swede or Russ, or a SCOT, The Akond of Swat? Does 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 let 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 inland lake in a YACHT, The Akond of Swat? Some one, or nobody, knows I wot Who or which or why or what Is the Akond of Swat?
[For the existence of this potentate see Indian newspapers, passim. The proper way to read the verses is to make an immense emphasis on the monosyllabic rhymes, which indeed ought to be shouted out by a chorus. - E.L.] What I like most about 'The Akond of Swat' is the way the images grow progressively more surreal with each passing stanza... Lear starts off innocently enough: 'Is he wise or foolish, young or old? Does he drink his soup and his coffee cold, or HOT, The Akond of Swat?' By mid-poem, he's stretching the limits of normalcy: '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?' And the final few stanzas are completely bizarre: 'Does he beat his wife with a gold-topped pipe, When she let the gooseberries grow too ripe, or ROT, The Akond of Swat?' In truth, though, the entire poem is pretty much nonsensical; it's only Lear's delicate touch which keeps it from sounding utterly ludicrous. thomas. [Minstrels Links] Lear's most famous work is the canonical 'The Owl and the Pussycat'. You can read it at poem #165 'The Pobble who has no Toes' is an excellent example of the melancholy that permeates Lear's work; itas archived at (poem #297) [Biography] b. May 12, 1812, Highgate, near London d. Jan. 29, 1888, San Remo, Italy English landscape painter who is more widely known as the writer of an original kind of nonsense verse and as the popularizer of the limerick. His true genius is apparent in his nonsense poems, which portray a world of fantastic creatures in nonsense words and show a Tennysonian feeling for word colour, variety of rhythm, and often a deep underlying sense of melancholy. Their quality is matched, especially in the limericks, by that of his engaging pen-and-ink drawings. The youngest of 21 children, he was brought up by his eldest sister, Ann, and from the age of 15 earned his living by drawing. He subsequently worked for the British Museum, made drawings of birds for John Gould, a zoologist, and, during 1832-37, made illustrations of the Earl of Derby's private menagerie at Knowsley, Lancashire. Lear had a natural affinity for children, and it was for the earl's grandchildren that he produced his first Book of Nonsense (1846, enlarged 1861, 1863). In 1835 he decided to become a topographical landscape painter. Lear, a homosexual, suffered all his life from epilepsy and melancholia. After 1837 he lived mainly abroad. Though naturally timid, he was a constant and intrepid traveler, exploring Italy, Greece, Albania, Palestine, Syria, Egypt, and, later, India and Ceylon. An indefatigable worker, he produced innumerable pen and watercolour sketches of great topographical accuracy. He worked these up into the carefully finished watercolours and large oil paintings, showing Pre-Raphaelite influence, that were his financial mainstay. During his nomadic life he lived, among other places, at Rome, Corfu, and, finally, with his celebrated cat "Foss," at San Remo. Lear published three volumes of bird and animal drawings; seven llustrated travel books (notably Journal of a Landscape Painter in Greece and Albania, 1851); and four books of nonsense--The Book of Nonsense mentioned earlier, Nonsense Songs, Stories, Botany and Alphabets (1871), More Nonsense, Pictures, Rhymes, Botany, etc. (1872), and Laughable Lyrics (1877). A posthumous collection, Queery Leary Nonsense (1911), was compiled by Lady Strachey. -- EB