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Good Gnus -- P G Wodehouse

Guest poem submitted by Suresh Ramasubramanian,
along with a longish prologue. Read on:

This poem is supposedly by Charlotte Mulliner, one of Mr Mulliner's endless
procession of relatives ... a poet and animal lover who comes under the
"spell" of Bludleigh Court, a country house full of avid hunters and one
poet boyfriend who suddenly starts to hunt rats with an umbrella when he's
at Bludleigh.  This spell makes even the most refined poet and animal lover
a ravening hunter after prey ranging from big game to rats and sparrows.

Charlotte thinks she hasn't been affected by the spell, till she gets a poem
that she sent to an animal rights magazine rejected: something that has
never, ever happened before. Here's the poem ...
(Poem #1537) Good Gnus
 (A Vignette in Verse)

 When cares attack and life seems black,
 How sweet it is to pot a yak,
       Or puncture hares and grizzly bears,
          And others I could mention;
 But in my Animals "Who's Who"
 No name stands higher than the Gnu;
       And each new gnu that comes in view
          Receives my prompt attention.

 When Afric's sun is sinking low,
 And shadows wander to and fro,
       And everywhere there's in the air
          A hush that's deep and solemn;
 Then is the time good men and true
 With View Halloo pursue the gnu;
       (The safest spot to put your shot
          is through the spinal column).

 To take the creature by surprise
 We must adopt some rude disguise,
       Although deceit is never sweet,
          And falsehoods don't attract us;
 So, as with gun in hand you wait,
 Remember to impersonate
       A tuft of grass, a mountain-pass,
          A kopje or a cactus.

 A brief suspense, and then at last
 The waiting's o'er, the vigil past;
       A careful aim. A spurt of flame.
         It's done. You've pulled the trigger,
 And one more gnu, so fair and frail,
 Has handed in its dinner-pail;
       (The females all are rather small,
          The males are somewhat bigger).
-- P G Wodehouse
(Attributed to Charlotte Mulliner, in the short story "Unpleasantness at
Bludleigh Court", from Wodehouse's book "Mr Mulliner Speaking").

Wonderfully funny, with just the right combination of bombastic poetry,
nonsense rhymes (who but PGW can rhyme "yak" with "black" when talking of
the blackness of life) and a liberal sprinkling of classic PGW like "handed
in its dinner pail", all of which is mixed in with the sort of sanctimonious
and didactic wording used by highbrow journals that cater to the "arts and
poetry" type of crowd that eats at "The Crushed Pansy" (the restaurant with
soul) and tends to read portuguese love sonnets bound in mauve leather.


Keeping with the title of the poem, this email has been written using gnus
on emacs 21.3. No gnus were harmed in the typing of this poem.

47 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Karen said...

How wonderful that you have seen fit to include a work by PG Wodehouse!
In my mind
he was ever the master of a delightful phrasing. Even the cadence of
this poem is somehow
pleasing, reviving a sense of childishness in its rhythmn.

Equally enjoyable to read were the prologue and following comments ( I
think I might actually
try to open a cafe called the "Crushed Pansy" = there are SO many
possibilities to have
fun with that....)

When I am feeling down or overwhelmed by life, I shall
challenge myself to remember these words:

"When cares attack and life seems black,
How sweet it is to pot a yak,"

Indeed, let's keep a perspective, shall we?

Ajit Narayanan said...

One is reminded instantaneously, of course, of Micheal Flanders's immortal
song "The Gnu". The song is particularly funny because Flanders insists on
pronouncing ALL (and then some) of the silent alphabets in the lyrics --
gnu, for example, is pronounced "g-nu", "no" is pronounced "g-no", and so

The Gnu

A year ago, last Thursday I was strolling in the zoo
when I met a man who though he knew the lot.
He was laying down the law about the habits of Baboons
And how many quills a porcupine has got.
So I asked him: 'What's that creature there?'
He answered: 'Oh, H'it's a H'elk'
I might of gone on thinking that was true,
If the animal in question hadn't put that chap to shame
And remarked: 'I h'aint a H'elk. I'm a G-nu!'

'I'm a G-nu, I'm a G-nu
The g-nicest work of g-nature in the zoo
I'm a G-nu, How do you do
You really ought to k-now w-ho's w-ho's
I'm a G-nu, Spelt G-N-U
I'm g-not a Camel or a Kangaroo
So let me introduce,
I'm g-neither man nor moose
Oh g-no g-no g-no I'm a G-nu'

I had taken furnished lodgings down at Rustington-on-Sea
Whence I travelled on to Ashton-under-Lyme
And the second night I stayed there I was woken from a dream
That I'll tell you all about some other time
Among the hunting trophies on the wall above my bed
Stuffed and mounted, was a face I thought I knew;
A Bison? No, it's not a Bison. An Okapi? Unlikely, Really. A Hartebeest?
When I though I heard a voice: 'I'm a G-nu!'

I'm a Gnu, ,A g-nother gnu
I wish I could g-nash my teeth at you!
I'm a Gnu, How do you do
You really ought to k-now w-ho's w-ho.
I'm a Gnu Spelt G-N-U,
Call me Bison or Okapi and I'll sue
G-nor am I the least
Like that dreadful Hartebeest,
Oh, g-no, g-no, g-no,
G-no g-no g-no I'm a Gnu
G-no g-no g-no I'm a Gnu

-- Micheal Flanders


edward milburn said...

I learned this poem by heart in grade school and never could remember where it came from. It was a homework project where we were to chose any poem and say it by heart in front of the class and I chose this. To this day I have been able to recite this poem {almost correct} by heart. I have amused young and old by reciting it and I am now in my 50s. So nice to see it here and to now know who wrote it. Thanks

Bill Turbett said...

I've loved this poem. Just realized the meter and arrangement of lines are a dead ringer for Pish-Tush's song that begins"Our great Mikado, virtuous man/When he to rule our land began" in act I of "The Mikado" All the best. Bill

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