(Poem #1190) Ode to Stephen Dowling Bots, Dec'd
And did young Stephen sicken, And did young Stephen die? And did the sad hearts thicken, And did the mourners cry? No; such was not the fate of Young Stephen Dowling Bots; Though sad hearts round him thickened, 'Twas not from sickness' shots. No whooping-cough did rack his frame, Nor measles drear with spots; Not these impaired the sacred name Of Stephen Dowling Bots. Despised love struck not with woe That head of curly knots, Nor stomach troubles laid him low, Young Stephen Dowling Bots. O no. Then list with tearful eye, Whilst I his fate do tell. His soul did from this cold world fly By falling down a well. They got him out and emptied him; Alas it was too late; His spirit was gone for to sport aloft In the realms of the good and great.
(from Huckleberry Finn) Note: A parody of obituary poetry popular in the late 19th century [UTEL], attributed to "the late Emmeline Grangerford (who died before her 14th birthday) [...] She warn't particular, she could write about anything you choose to give her to write about, just so it was sadful." The bad poet is a common character in humorous fiction, and several author have embellished their stories with actual examples of said poet's output. Some of my favourite examples include Wodehouse, Saki and Sue Townsend, and while today's poem doesn't reach quite that level of sheer sublime ridiculousness, it did make me laugh - not just for the poem, but for the image of the earnest young poet, reading "boy falls down well" and turning her enthusiastic pen to yet another 'tribute'. All the funnier is that the poem's use of bathos could, if written slightly differently, have been a genuinely humourous poem in Emmeline's voice. Twain injected just the right note of seriousness into the last two verses, though, that it is clear to the reader that Emmeline intended a genuinely 'sadful' poem, and the humour becomes Twain's instead. One disappointing thing about today's poem is that Twain's wonderful ear for dialect and speech patterns, so much in evidence throughout Huckleberry Finn, does not really come through in the poem. Of course, Twain probably intended this to portray the poet as educated and 'refined', but I cannot but help think it'd be funnier if the speech patterns evoked a conflict between that education and the more idiosyncraic dialect it was imposed upon. (I freely admit that Twain's decision is likely more artistically accurate, I just think the dialect would've been funnier).  Carroll doesn't actually fall into this category - his parodies were invariably *better* than the poems (and poets) they sent up martin Links: The poem in context: http://www.classic-novels.com/author/twain/huckleberry_finn/huckleberryfinn022.shtml The UTEL site, with some notes: http://eir.library.utoronto.ca/rpo/display/poem2225.html A biography of Twain, and several online texts: http://www.online-literature.com/twain/ And another extensive Twain site: [broken link] http://www.boondocksnet.com/twaintexts