Plumb Lines

May 1, 2009

Old King Cole Remixed

Filed under: Uncategorized — Keith Staples @ 10:43 am

As a Friday treat, I present you with G.K. Chesterton’s satire on Tennyson, Yeats, and Whitman. (Here’s a link to the original nursery rhyme for the incredibly forgetful and the tragically deprived.)

Variations of an Air

after Lord Tennyson

Cole, that unwearied prince of Colchester,
Growing more gay with age and with long days
Deeper in laughter and desire of life
As that Virginian climber on our walls
Flames scarlet with the fading of the year;
Called for his wassail and that other weed
Virginian also, from the western woods
Where English Raleigh checked the boast of Spain,
And lighting joy with joy, and piling up
Pleasure as crown for pleasure, bade me bring
Those three, the minstrels whose emblazoned coats
Shone with the oyster-shells of Colchester;
And these three played, and playing grew more fain
Of mirth and music; till the heathen came
And the King slept beside the northern sea.

after W.B. Yeats

Of an old King in a story
From the grey sea-folk I have heard
Whose heart was no more broken
Than the wings of a bird.

As soon as the moon was silver
And the thin stars began,
He took his pipe and his tankard,
Like an old peasant man.

And three tall shadows were with him
And came at his command;
And played before him for ever
The fiddles of fairyland.

And he died in the young summer
Of the world’s desire;
Before our hearts were broken
Like sticks in a fire.

after Walt Whitman

Me clairvoyant,
Me conscious of you, old camarado,
Needing no telescope, lorgnette, field-glass, opera-glass, myopic pince-nez,
Me piercing two thousand years with eye naked and not ashamed;
The crown cannot hide you from me,
Musty old feudal-heraldic trappings cannot hide you from me,
I perceive that you drink.
(I am drinking with you. I am as drunk as you are.)
I see you are inhaling tobacco, puffing, smoking, spitting
(I do not object to your spitting),
You prophetic of American largeness,
You anticipating the broad masculine manners of these States;
I see in you also there are movements, tremors, tears, desire for the melodious,
I salute your three violinists, endlessly making vibrations,
Rigid, relentless, capable of going on for ever;
They play my accompaniment; but I shall take no notice of any accompaniment;
I myself am a complete orchestra.
So long.

Gilbert Keith Chesterton

-Keith Staples

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2 Comments »

  1. The last stanza of the Yeats is spot-on, but my favorite has to be the Whitman.

    Comment by Matthew Schmitz — May 1, 2009 @ 1:40 pm

  2. This is great, and I think it needs to be expounded upon with other poets. Who’s with me?

    ee cummings, anyone?

    Best,

    Ricki Schultz
    http://www.rickischultz.com
    http://www.rickischultz.wordpress.com

    Comment by Ricki Schultz — September 29, 2009 @ 10:18 pm


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