Guest poem submitted by Reed C. Bowman:
(Poem #588) Terence, this is stupid stuff
"Terence, this is stupid stuff: You eat your victuals fast enough; There can't be much amiss, 'tis clear, To see the rate you drink your beer. But oh, good Lord, the verse you make, It gives a chap the belly-ache. The cow, the old cow, she is dead; It sleeps well, the horned head: We poor lads, 'tis our turn now To hear such tunes as killed the cow. Pretty friendship 'tis to rhyme Your friends to death before their time Moping melancholy mad: Come, pipe a tune to dance to, lad." Why, if 'tis dancing you would be There's brisker pipes than poetry. Say, for what were hop-yards meant, Or why was Burton built on Trent? Oh, many a peer of England brews Livelier liquor than the Muse, And malt does more than Milton can To justify God's ways to man. Ale, man, ale's the stuff to drink For fellows whom it hurts to think: Look into the pewter pot To see the world as the world's not. And faith, 'tis pleasant till 'tis past: The mischief is that 'twill not last. Oh I have been to Ludlow fair And left my necktie god knows where, And carried half-way home, or near, Pints and quarts of Ludlow beer: Then the world seemed none so bad, And I myself a sterling lad; And down in lovely muck I've lain, Happy till I woke again. Then I saw the morning sky: Heigho, the tale was all a lie; The world, it was the old world yet, I was I, my things were wet, And nothing now remained to do But begin the game anew. Therefore, since the world has still Much good, but much less good than ill, And while the sun and moon endure Luck's a chance, but trouble's sure, I'd face it as a wise man would, And train for ill and not for good. 'Tis true, the stuff I bring for sale Is not so brisk a brew as ale: Out of a stem that scored the hand I wrung it in a weary land. But take it: if the smack is sour, The better for the embittered hour; It should do good to heart and head When your soul is in my soul's stead; And I will friend you, if I may, In the dark and cloudy day. There was a king reigned in the East: There, when kings will sit to feast, They get their fill before they think With poisoned meat and poisoned drink. He gathered all that springs to birth From the many-venomed earth; First a little, thence to more, He sampled all her killing store; And easy, smiling, seasoned sound, Sate the king when healths went round. They put arsenic in his meat And stared aghast to watch him eat; They poured strychnine in his cup And shook to see him drink it up: They shook, they stared as white's their shirt: Them it was their poison hurt - I tell the tale that I heard told. Mithridates, he died old.
Another poem I love, and memorized long ago (and still have memorized) is brought strongly to mind by Baudelaire's "Enivrez-vous". It's a poem in defense of gloomy poetry, and its take on the situation, and the relative merits of alcohol and poetry, is a little different from Baudelaire's. It's from the collection _A Shropshire Lad_. The poem seems to require some notes and discussion. First of all, "Terence" is a name Housman used in his poetry to refer to himself. I don't know enough about the ancient comic playwright Terence (Publius Terentius Afer), or for that matter about Housman himself, to know what reference Housman may have intended by this. --- Now, on the poem's outline: It begins with a complaint by a friend of the poet for the gloominess of his poems, asking him to sing, or pipe, a happier tune. The second section is the poet's direct response, scoffing at the idea of happy poems for their own sake. If you want false (and fleeting) cheer, he says, drink beer; when you return to the world of reality it will be as dismal as ever. The third section states and recommends his philosophy: prepare your heart and mind for the worst, that you may endure it. In this, the grim wisdom of bleak poems - gleaned from the poet's own bitter experience - may aid you. In the last two lines of this section, the could almost be said to have shifted from the poet to the poem itself. The final section is a poem within a poem. It is nicely self-referential, in that it both illustrates the gloomy poetry Housman is defending, and provides a parable illustrating the philosophy of the third section: just as Mithridates outlasted the unprepared feasters and imbibers (and all the other unprepared kings of the East) by inoculating himself against poisons, so can one innoculate oneself against all ills by judiciously taking of the bitter wisdom in advance. --- Much could be said on the threads and metaphors and interesting usages running through the poem, but I don't want to write a book here. Do take some time to look at all the liquid imagery through the whole poem, though. Have we any comments so far on the list on the ancient Northern metaphor of the Mead of Poetry? Finally, just a few footnotes here on matters which may not be obvious: Burton-upon-Trent is a city famous for its breweries. (I don't know if Ludlow fair was also particularly famous for beer or beer drinking, but, well, any fair would probably do.) At the beginning of _Paradise Lost_, Milton invokes the Heavenly Muse to help him "assert Eternal Providence,/And justify the ways of God to men." "Mithridates", properly spelt "Mithradates", is King Mithradates VI (the Great) of Pontus, in Asia Minor. He reigned from 120 to 63 BCE - fifty-seven years. The story of the poison comes from Pliny the Elder's _Natural History_. In the end, betrayed by his son, he tried to commit suicide, but could not poison himself, so he ordered a mercenary to kill him. Enjoy, all. RCB