Sunday, December 9, 2018

A few lines of bad poetry

From The Stuffed Owl: An Anthology of Bad Verse, edited by D.B. Wyndham Lewis and Charles Lee (1930), lines from William Wordsworth’s poem “Liberty”:

The beetle loves his unpretending track,
The snail the house he carries on his back;
The far-fetched worm with pleasure would disown
The bed we give him, though of softest down.
That’s as close as I can come (after a few glances) to the cloying personifications in lines of contemporary poetry I heard on NPR.

The Stuffed Owl is still in print from New York Review Books, minus eight Max Beerbohm illustrations. An added pleasure of this anthology: Lewis and Lee title each excerpt. (The lines from “Liberty” are titled “Insensibility.”) Another added pleasure: the book’s subject index. For instance: “Beetle, flight of, described, 15; not addicted to vagabondage, 150.” And “Owl, stuffed, emotions evoked by contemplation of, 151.” “The Stuffed Owl,” too, is by Wordsworth.

Remembering The Stuffed Owl prompts me to revise what I wrote about bad poetry: it’s bad poetry presented as legitimate art that makes me groan and wince. Bad poetry presented as such makes me smile and laugh.

See also a woodpecker looking for a gift and Marjorie Perloff’s commentary on the “‘well-crafted’ poem.”

[Who decides what’s bad? We all do.]

comments: 4

Pete said...

I love that book. My niece gave it to me a few years ago, for Christmas. She apparently has good taste in bad art.

Fresca said...

Yes! I have often offered worms nice, cushy beds, and it's true--they always turn up their noses.

Thanks for this.

Richard Abbott said...

It's an interesting thing about WW's poetry - it attracted criticism (well within his lifetime, not just after) that it wasn't "really poetry" but just prose broken into lines so as to look like what most people think poetry "ought to look like". Was WW bothered? Apparently not, as he carried on in said style until an excess of conservativism later in life turned him more conventional, and (arguably) less interesting and innovative!

But I also wonder about the disown / down pairing in lines 3 and 4. To the modern eye this looks like an absurdly forced rhyme. However, he used a lot of Cumberland and Westmorland dialect pronunciation, and that can do odd things with vowel sounds. For example, Bow Fell (a few miles pretty much due west of Grasmere and Rydal, where he composed much of his work) is variously pronounced within modern Cumbria to rhyme with either know or cow (I am, of course, assuming we all pronounce these the same on opposite sides of the Atlantic :) ). The old border between these two counties (both absorbed with part of Lancashire in 1974) passed very close to both Grasmere and Bow Fell, so you have a fair degree of latitude.

So did disown and down sound like an authentic rhyme to some folk living near Grasmere back in the early 1800s? Quite possibly... but I haven't yet found a source which would say for sure one way or the other.

Michael Leddy said...

@Pete, you must have a really thoughtful niece.

@Fresca, I am now imagining a worm tossing and turning before getting out of bed and creeping away. The worm turns.

@Richard, yes, Wordsworth is a mixed bag. Part of the fun of this anthology is seeing W. and others in the company of Ambrose Philips, Julia Moore, &c. That’s a curious question about disown and down. Is it a sight rhyme? Or just awkwardness?