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The Diplomatic Platypus -- Patrick Barrington

Thanks to Frank O'Shea for introducing me to today's
poem
(Poem #1028) The Diplomatic Platypus
 I had a duck-billed platypus when I was up at Trinity,
 With whom I soon discovered a remarkable affinity.
 He used to live in lodgings with myself and Arthur Purvis,
 And we all went up together for the Diplomatic Service.
 I had a certain confidence, I own, in his ability,
 He mastered all the subjects with remarkable facility;
 And Purvis, though more dubious, agreed that he was clever,
 But no one else imagined he had any chance whatever.

 I failed to pass the interview, the board with wry grimaces
 Took exception to my boots and then objected to my braces,
 And Purvis too was failed by an intolerant examiner
 Who said he had his doubts as to his sock-suspender's stamina.
 Our summary rejection, though we took it with urbanity
 Was naturally wounding in some measure to our vanity;
 The bitterness of failure was considerably mollified,
 However, by the ease with which our platypus had qualified.

 The wisdom of the choice, it soon appeared, was undeniable;
 There never was a diplomat more thoroughly reliable.
 The creature never acted with undue precipitation O,
 But gave to every question his mature consideration O.
 He never made rash statements his enemies might hold him to,
 He never stated anything, for no one ever told him to,
 And soon he was appointed, so correct was his behaviour,
 Our Minister (without Portfolio) to Trans-Moravia.

 My friend was loved and honoured from the Andes to Esthonia,
 He soon achieved a pact between Peru and Patagonia,
 He never vexed the Russians nor offended the Rumanians,
 He pacified the Letts and yet appeased the Lithuanians,
 Won approval from his masters down in Downing Street so wholly, O,
 He was soon to be rewarded with the grant of a Portfolio,
 When on the Anniversary of Greek Emancipation,
 Alas! He laid an egg in the Bulgarian Legation.

 This untoward occurrence caused unheard-of repercussions,
 Giving rise to epidemics of sword-clanking in the Prussians.
 The Poles began to threaten, and the Finns began to flap at him,
 Directing all the blame for this unfortunate mishap at him;
 While the Swedes withdrew entirely from the Anglo-Saxon dailies
 The right of photographing the Aurora Borealis,
 And, all efforts at rapprochement in the meantime proving barren,
 The Japanese in self-defence annexed the Isle of Arran.

 My platypus, once thought to be more cautious and more tentative
 Than any other living diplomatic representative,
 Was now a sort of warning to all diplomatic students
 Of the risks attached to negligence, the perils of imprudence,
 Beset and persecuted by the forces of reaction, O,
 He reaped the consequences of his ill-considered action, O,
 And, branded in the Honours List as 'Platypus, Dame Vera',
 Retired, a lonely figure, to lay eggs in Bordighera.
-- Patrick Barrington
I was delighted to receive today's poem - its brand of inspired silliness is
rare, and even rarer when this well done. There's a very understated, almost
deadpan quality to Barrington's humour here that is hard to pinpoint, but
definitely recognisable. I am reminded of Shel Silverstein for some reason,
though, again, I can't exactly say why.

As for the form - as Frank said when he sent in the poem, "Its sustained
collection of triple rhymes puts the author right up there with Gilbert."
There is a difference, though - Barrington's rhymes are far less obtrusive,
their perfection blending them seamlessly into the poem rather than
highlighting them. The mix of double and triple rhymes is unexpected, but
(once I squelched the urge to sing the poem to Modern Major General)
remarkably smooth.

Links:

   Biography: Patrick Barrington, 1908-1990

   The other poem of Barrington's that seems to be popular on the net is his
   'I Had a Hippopotamus',
   http://members.aol.com/HippoPage/hipppoem.htm#barrington

   The 'triple rhyme' theme:
      Poem #1023, W. S. Gilbert, 'The Soldiers of our Queen'
      Poem #1025, Newman Levy, 'Thais'
      Poem #1026, Rudyard Kipling, 'The Prodigal Son'

Postscript:
  I have a distinct feeling I'm missing some of the references in the poem,
  particularly the 'Dame Vera' bit in the last verse. If anyone spots an
  allusion, do write in. Likewise, if anyone has more of a biography please
  add it on.

-martin

18 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Stephanie Hart said...

This was one of the poems that I read as an 11 year old in school. [The
class was taken by the headmaster - whose brother, Derek Hurd, was then
British
Ambassador to China] It is partly responsible - along with "Custard the
Dragon" and "I must go back to a vest again" - for getting me hooked on
poetry.

I'm told that Patrick Barrington had a seat in the house of Lords and wrote
a book of Poems at about the time of the second world war [but I don't know
exactly when] entitled tales of a submariner - or something similar. I've
hunted the second hand bookshops and never found it.
If anyone has any more poems by him I'd love to know.. they are truly magic.

I am not sure exactly when this poem was written ... If written near or
after the end of WW2 then Vera Lynn was the forces sweetheart in WW2 who
went around singing [we'll meet again] to the troops -a gracious lady
complete with a perm and correct diction deportment and
decorum. Now truly Dame Vera she was probably as beloved of the forces as
the Queen [later the Queen Mum] was of East End of Londoners. She still
sings to the Queen at annual Royal
Galas and on Remembrance Day Celebrations. Ettiquette Present and Correct at
all times. Would never drop a brick, or say a word out of place, much less
lay an egg.

Getting recognised in the honours list is the last thing that happens as you
leave the senior civil service. ... Bloggs, Sir John.
Females at this time would doubtless not have been acceptable as senior
diplomats- rather like discovering an apparantly male US President was a
cross dressing woman..
The problem is not dropping the brick - but that in order to drop an egg
shaped brick you had to be that lesser form of life known as female!.. and
must therefore have told lies [or not known your sex] in order to become a
diplomat in the first place. Lies [or ambivalent sexuality] are something up
with which we will not put.
Vera was a common name suggesting a common sort of female person.
Therefore - "Platypus" and then - said sneering - "Dame Vera!"

A world of English stupid establishment and snobbery in 2 words. How to
condemn someone to the unheard of outer reaches of the universe with just a
Rank and Female name.

Llap
\\//
stef o'knee

PAUL STIMPSON said...

I'm intrigued by mention of a poem called "I must go back to a vest again"
in Stephanie's comments. Where can I find it?

Stephanie Hart said...

This was one of the poems that I read as an 11 year old in school. [The
class was taken by the headmaster - whose brother was then British
Ambassador to China] It is partly responsible - along with "Custard the
Dragon" and "I must go back to a vest again" - for getting me hooked on
poetry.

I'm told that Patrick Barrington had a seat in the house of Lords and wrote
a book of Poems at about the time of the second world war [but I don't know
exactly when] titled tales of a submariner - or something similar. I've
hunted the second hand bookshops and never found it.
If anyone has any more poems by him I'd love to know.. they are truly magic.

Vera Lynn was the forces sweetheart who went around singing to the troops -a
gracious lady complete with a perm and correct diction deportment and
decorum. Now Dame Vera she was probably as beloved of the forces and East
End of London as the Queen Mum was. She sings to the Queen at annual Royal
Galas and on Remembrance Day Celebrations. Ettiquette Present and Correct at
all times. Would never drop a brick, or say a word out of place, much less
lay an egg.

Getting recognised in the honours list is the last thing that happens as you
leave the senior civil service. ... Bloggs, Sir John.
Females at this time would doubtless not have been acceptable as senior
diplomats- rather like a female Pope now.
The problem is not dropping the brick - but that in order to drop an egg
shaped brick you had to be that lesser form of life known as female!.. and
must therefore have told lies [or not known your sex] in order to become a
diplomat in the first place. Lies [or ambivalent sexuality] are something up
with which we will not put.

Llap
\\//
stef o'knee

Alex Wengraf said...

No No Your correspondent Stephanie Hart is wrong. I have known this poem for
years as well (and I am not at all diplomatic). It is published in Verse &
Worse, an anthology by Arnold Silcock Faber (undated) where it is stated
that the poem was published first in Punch August 23rd 1933 as poem XV of
'Songs of a Sub-man' (of which I know nothing). That makes it much too
early for Vera Lynn. I suspect Dame Vera was merely for the rhyme with the
then fashionable resert Bordighera - so faded these days.

Alex Wengraf

ps. Is this a blog? I have never done this before and do not know how I got
on to this site (via Google) looking for the poem. Oh well greetings
whoever you all are.

Diana Burns said...

Did you ever find out where 'I must go back to a vest again' came from - I too remember it from school.

Diana

palderson said...

Yes, Patrick Barrington was the last Viscount Barrington, the title is now extinct. He wrote a classic called Songs of a subman. You might be interested to know that his nephew - and godson - has published six books of poetry, under the name of Paul, Bishop of Tracheia (athena Press, Twickenham) Poetry was very much part of their family life.Patrick Barrington knew hundreds of poems by heart.He loved Chesterton, and of course Shakespeare.

SYDNEY FERRY said...

Hello,

I'm sorry to bother you, but I was wondering if you know where to find a full version of "I must go back to a vest" on the internet. I remember at school the it was in the "Sheldon Book of Verse", but as there seemed to be a different edition every year I can't remember which one it would be in.

The other poem I remember with great affection from all those years ago is "Mia Carlotta" by T.A Daly, which starts;

Giuseppe, da barber, ees greata for 'mash,'
He gotta de bigga, da blacka mustache,
Good cl'oes an' good styla an' playnta good cash.

Regards,

Syd Ferry

Wilson Randle said...

I probably should have covered this in my other message! You asked for help with the references in "The Diplomatic Platypus". Subject to correction by a historian, I venture to suggest that the Japanese line ("The Japanese, in self-defence, annexed the Isle of Arran") references Japan's explanations in the early '30s for its invasion of Manchuria (the "Manchurian Incident") as given in the League of Nations, to square this act of aggression with the Briand-Kellogg Pact outlawing war.

Randle Wilson

Trade Commissioner in Residence /

Délégué commercial en résidence

École de gestion Telfer School of Management

Blazons said...

I wonder if this poem has been "Bowdlerised" at all, because your text does
not match what I learned (at 11 years old in England - thirty-odd years ago)
in several places, notably verses 4, 5 and 6.

I was so enthralled by the poem that I happily learned - and still recite,
off by heart:

My friend was loved and honoured from the Andes to Estonia,
He soon achieved a pact between Peru and Patagonia,
He never vexed the Russians nor offended the Rumanians,
He pacified the Letts and he appeased the Lithuanians.
No diplomat has ever worked more cautiously or slowly-O,
In fact they had decided to award him a portfolio,
When on the anniversary of Greek emancipation,
Alas, he laid an egg at the Bulgarian Legation.

This unexpected action caused unheard of inconvenience;
A breach at once occurred between the Turks and the Armenians,
The Greeks poured ultimata, quite unhinged by the mishap at him,
The Poles began to threaten and the Finns began to flap at him.
The Swedes withdrew entirely from the Anglo-Saxon dailies
The right of photographing the Aurora Borealis
And, all attempts to come to a rapprochement proving barren,
The Japanese in self-defence annexed the Isle of Arran.

My platypus, once thought to be more cautious and more tentative
Than any other living diplomatic representative,
Was now a sort of warning to all diplomatic students;
The perfect incarnation of the perils of imprudence.
Beset and persecuted by the forces of reaction-O,
He reaped the consequences of his ill-considered action-O,
And branded in the honours list as Platypus, Dame Vera,
Retired, a lonely figure, to lay eggs in Bordighera.

I can't believe that my 11-yr-old brain invented a line about Turks and
Armenians, or tricky words like ultimata and incarnation. The English lesson
is vivid in my memory - my teacher made us write our own poem commencing "I
had a diplodocus". My effort, incidentally, was so awful I can't quote it -
it involved taking my diplodocus to the shop for groceries.

Is there a definitive version of Mr B's poem?

Helena Deering,
Dublin, Ireland.

Anonymous said...

Here is an HMV personal recording of Patrick Barrington reading the Diplomatic Platypus..
http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xjam07_patrick-barrington-the-diplomatic-platypus_creation

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Tim Keates said...

The poem about the vest is a parody of John Masefield's 'Sea Fever': "I must go back to a winter vest, to a winter vest with sleeves..." "I must go back to a winter vest, for that which most I dread/ is a bad cold and a head cold and a day or more in bed..."
One of the Songs of a Subman ends:
"Mine was the broader aim, the higher reach,
I taught the men who teach men how to teach".
An appropriate comment on the pseudo-science of linguistics?

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