Guest poem sent in by Tamsin Bacchus
(Poem #1907) The Vulture and the Husbandman
By Louisa Caroline N.B. -- A Vulture is a rapacious and obscene bird, which destroys its prey by plucking it limb from limb with its powerful beak and talons. A Husbandman is a man in a low position of life, who supports himself by the use of the plough. -- (Johnson's Dictionary). The rain was raining cheerfully, As if it had been May; The Senate-House appeared inside Unusually gay; And this was strange, because it was A Viva-voce day. The men were sitting sulkily, Their paper work was done; They wanted much to go away To ride or row or run; "It's very rude," they said, "to keep Us here, and spoil our fun." The papers they had finished lay In piles of blue and white. They answered every thing they could, And wrote with all their might, But, though they wrote it all by rote, They did not write it right. The Vulture and the Husbandman Beside these piles did stand, They wept like anything to see The work they had in hand. "If this were only finished up," Said they, "it would be grand!" "If seven D's or seven C's We give to all the crowd, Do you suppose," the Vulture said, "That we could get them ploughed?" "I think so," said the Husbandman, "But pray don't talk so loud." "O undergraduates, come up," The Vulture did beseech, "And let us see if you can learn As well as we can teach; We cannot do with more than two To have a word with each." Two Undergraduates came up, And slowly took a seat, They knit their brows, and bit their thumbs, As if they found them sweet, And this was odd, because you know Thumbs are not good to eat. "The time has come," the Vulture said, "To talk of many things, Of Accidence and Adjectives, And names of Jewish kings, How many notes a sackbut has, And whether shawms have strings." "Please, Sir," the Undergraduates said, Turning a little blue, "We did not know that was the sort Of thing we had to do." "We thank you much," the Vulture said, "Send up another two." Two more came up, and then two more, And more, and more and more; And some looked upwards at the roof, Some down upon the floor, But none were any wiser than The pair that went before. "I weep for you," the Vulture said, "I deeply sympathise!" With sobs and tears he gave them all D's of the largest size, While at the Husbandman he winked One of his streaming eyes. "I think," observed the Husbandman, "We're getting on too quick. Are we not putting down the D's A little bit too thick?" The Vulture said with much disgust "Their answers make me sick." "Now, Undergraduates," he cried, Our fun is nearly done, "Will anybody else come up?" But answer came there none; And this was scarcely odd, because They'd ploughed them every one!
Note: ploughed: university slang for "get failed, give a less-than-passing grade to a candidate in an examination." From another era - before the Second World War if not the First - when as well as the written exams the candidates were examined in pairs viva voce. Three verses of this poem were reproduced in "Poets at Play", a wonderful but rather irritating (it has no index of first lines or titles) anthology, put together by the then Dean of Durham, Cyril Allington. He comments on the title saying it "deals, as will be guesssed, with the kindred arts of plucking and ploughing". Allington has a weakness for puns. The Dedication of his book concludes "TO ALL THE CANONS OF GOOD TASTE (By which, of course, I mean my Chapter)." While looking at it, the Dedication has a verse on what could be called college days - from the other side of the podium... "Schoolmasters sometimes write TO THOSE WHO STILL REMEMBER WHAT WE TAUGHT THEM But ah! experience often shows They're even fewer than we thought them;" Tamsin [Martin adds] When I ran Hilton's "Octopus", I noted that his parodies may be enjoyed as humorous verse in their own right, but are much funnier if you first read the original. Ironically, the parodist I chose to compare him to in this respect was none other than Carroll. Today's poem is definitely better if you've read The Walrus and the Carpenter - there are places where Hilton has sacrificed pure humour for parodic fidelity (a common pitfall when writing parody), and some of his choices only make full sense if you know what he's twisting. [Links] An annotated version of the poem: http://rpo.library.utoronto.ca/poem/1022.html The Walrus and the Carpenter: http://www.cs.rice.edu/~ssiyer/minstrels/poems/347.html Biography: [broken link] http://www.poemhunter.com/arthur-clement-hilton/biography/poet-35387/