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The Stuffed Owl: An Anthology of Bad Verse (New York Review Books (Paperback)) Paperback – 1 Apr 2003
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"An unholy, unmerciful, but richly humorous book."
Top customer reviews
‘Ye monsters of the bubbling deep/Your Maker’s praises shout/Up from the sands, ye codlings, leap/And wag your tails about’
but a fairer sample of the ‘target’ style would be e.g. Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s
‘Will you oftly/Murmur softly?’ or ‘Our Euripides the human/With his droppings of warm tears’; or Crabbe’s ‘Brother, there dwell, yon northern hill below,/Two favourite maidens, whom ‘tis good to know,/Young, but experienced’.
The very greatest can be found here at their less-than-greatest. The title of the book is itself a quotation from Wordsworth. Toweringly great poet though he was, he lacked, as everyone knows, any sense of the ridiculous whatsoever. He really did cite
‘…the umbrella spread/To weather-fend the Celtic herdsman’s head’ as an instance of spreading decadence. One inclusion that seems to me marginal is from Resolution and Independence, the celebrated question to the old leech-gatherer, betraying that William had not been listening to a word the old fellow said
‘My question eagerly did I renew/How is it that you live, and what is it you do?’ Say what you like, I still find nothing absurd in it and I still think this is one of his greatest poems. How this got into The Stuffed Owl is obvious – the whole scenario was more than Lewis Carroll could take, and it inspired him to perhaps the most hilarious parody (along with Housman’s Fragment of a Greek Tragedy) I have ever read, the White Knight’s tale of the aged aged man a-sitting on a gate.
The funniest things in the book are not so much the poems themselves as the commentaries. These are mainly the work of Wyndham Lewis and Lee, but there is some Olympian demolition by Macaulay of a certain Robert Montgomery (1807-1855) who specialised in obsequious piety. The anthologists themselves contribute a wonderful preface, the captions over the extracts, and, maybe best of all, the index. From this you can easily access, say, ‘Leeds, poetical aspects of’; or ‘Oysters, reason why they cannot be crossed in love’; or ‘Trains, rapture of catching’.
How they must have enjoyed doing it all! It appeals quite inordinately to my sense of humour, and perhaps it will to yours.