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Ballad of the Canal -- Phoebe Cary

(Poem #607) Ballad of the Canal
 We were crowded in the cabin,
   Not a soul had room to sleep;
 It was midnight on the waters,
   And the banks were very steep.

 'Tis a fearful thing when sleeping
   To be startled by the shock,
 And to hear the rattling trumpet
   Thunder, "Coming to a lock!"

 So we shuddered there in silence,
   For the stoutest berth was shook,
 While the wooden gates were opened
   And the mate talked with the cook.

 And as thus we lay in darkness,
   Each one wishing we were there,
 "We are through!" the captain shouted,
   And he sat upon a chair.

 And his little daughter whispered,
   Thinking that he ought to know,
 "Isn't travelling by canal-boats
   Just as safe as it is slow?"

 Then he kissed the little maiden,
   And with better cheer we spoke,
 And we trotted into Pittsburg,
   When the morn looked through the smoke.
-- Phoebe Cary
Note: A parody of James T. Field's "Ballad of the Tempest" (see links)

There are some poems that just cry out for parodies. Now this is not in
itself a bad thing - in fact we ran an entire theme on oft-parodied poems,
where what made them so was their well-earned distinctiveness. However,
there are others which have shot to fame on the basis of a weak
sentimentality or blatant sanctimoniousness, and which no right-thinking
person should be content to leave unskewered <g>.

Well, Field's "Ballad of the Tempest" was just such a poem, and, luckily for
posterity, Phoebe Cary was just such a right-thinking person. Today's poem
is not all that funny if you read it on its own; in conjunction with the
original, I found it hilarious. (My favourite line was the wonderfully
deadpan 'and the banks were very steep').


Here's a joint biography of Cary and her sister Alice
[broken link]


Field's original:
[broken link]

It is unlikely to appear on Minstrels any time soon.

The complete works of Cary online

Cary's most famous poem is probably 'The Leak in the Dike',

We've run a number of parodies on Minstrels, and two parody themes - the
aforementioned oft-parodied poems

  poem #85
  poem #88
  poem #90

and a set of poems run specifically for their parodies:

  poem #376
  poem #378
  poem #380


67 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Ira Cooper said...

For those of us in New York, this poem could be more than a parody. We have
recently seen a state quarter design dedicated to New York harbor, when we
could have had a design commemorating the Erie Canal. Anyone sensitive to
the history of New York State has a particular appreciation for the old
canal system which united the early east and west.

Anthony C. Quintavalle said...

Phoebe Cary work The Leak in the Dike is my favorite poem of all time. This is the first poem I've read by her that is worthy of her greatness

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