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Ode to Stephen Dowling Bots, Dec'd -- Mark Twain

(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.
-- Mark Twain
        (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[1], 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).

[1] Carroll doesn't actually fall into this category - his parodies were
invariably *better* than the poems (and poets) they sent up


  The poem in context:

  The UTEL site, with some notes:

  A biography of Twain, and several online texts:

  And another extensive Twain site:
    [broken link]

53 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

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