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To a Goose -- Robert Southey

(Poem #842) To a Goose
 If thou didst feed on western plains of yore;
 Or waddle wide with flat and flabby feet
 Over some Cambrian mountain's plashy moor;
 Or find in farmer's yard a safe retreat
 From gipsy thieves, and foxes sly and fleet;
 If thy grey quills, by lawyer guided, trace
 Deeds big with ruin to some wretched race,
 Or love-sick poet's sonnet, sad and sweet,
 Wailing the rigour of his lady fair;
 Or if, the drudge of housemaid's daily toil,
 Cobwebs and dust thy pinions white besoil,
 Departed Goose! I neither know nor care.
 But this I know, that thou wert very fine,
 Season'd with sage and onions, and port wine.
-- Robert Southey
Today's poem is not just a neat bit of humorous verse, but a marvellous send
up of the sonnet form. The late lamented bird is limned, in keeping with the
finest traditions of the sonnet, in nothing but the most 'poetic' of
language - my favourite line, I think, being

                                   ... trace
   Deeds big with ruin to some wretched race

- and then, where a Shakespeare or a Milton would have wrapped the whole up
neatly in a two line apothegm that delivered the message of the sonnet,
Southey deftly undercuts it, descending in the space of three lines from the
sublime to the dinner table.

Constructionwise, too, 'To a Goose' adheres perfectly to the conventions of
the sonnet. The ababbccbdeedff rhyme scheme is slightly unusual, but sonnets
are allowed some flexibility in that matter. The development of the poem
too, would be not at all out of place in a serious sonnet - Southey lending
credence to the fact that in order to effectively parody something, you have
to know it first.



Two poems very similar in spirit are

  Poem #448 William Cowper, 'To The Immortal Memory of the Halibut,
                     On Which I Dined This Day, Monday, April 26, 1784'
  Poem #589 Rupert Brooke, 'Sonnet Reversed'

Other Southey poems on Minstrels:

  Poem #203 'The Battle of Blenheim'
  Poem #652 'The Cataract of Lodore'


38 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Amit Chakabarti said...

Among the finest sonnets I've ever seen! Keep 'em coming.

Carol Hunt said...

I write only to say what a remarkable joy it is to find your site!! How I
love poetry!! And to find all of this on the internet!!

Thank you, thank you!

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