and Oh! The difference

Posted by September Blue Friday, 20 April 2007

Some poems just lend themselves well to parody. Take this of Wordsworth's, for instance:

She dwelt among the untrodden ways
Beside the springs of Dove,
A Maid whom there were none to praise
And very few to love.

A violet by a mossy stone
Half hidden from the eye!
Fair as a star, when only one
Is shining in the sky.

She lived unknown, and few could know
When Lucy ceased to be;
But she is in her grave, and, oh,
The difference to me!

It's well-known, it's simple, and it's easily recognisable from a couple of lines, all of which make it fun to teach if you're introducing students to lyric poetry. And so, of course, it lends itself to parody. There's probably more out there than these, but here's my favourites:

Hartley Coleridge (son of S. T.), writing on Wordsworth himself:
He liv'd amidst th'untrodden ways
To Rydal Lake that lead;
A bard whom there were none to praise,
And very few to read.

Behind a cloud his mystic sense,
Deep hidden, who can spy?
Bright as the night when not a star
Is shining in the sky.

Unread his works - his 'Milk White Doe'
With dust is dark and dim;
It's still in Longman's shop, and oh!
The difference to him!

Phoebe Cary, in a poem that sounds far too recent to have been written in 1854:
He dwelt among "apartments let,"
About five stories high;
A man I thought that none would get,
And very few would try.

A boulder, by a larger stone
Half hidden in the mud,
Fair as a man when only one
Is in the neighborhood.

He lived unknown, and few could tell
When Jacob was not free;
But he has got a wife,– and O!
The difference to me!

Rudyard Kipling:
He wandered down the mountain grade
Beyond the speed assigned –
A youth whom Justice often stayed
And generally fined.

He went alone, that none might know
If he could drive or steer.
Now he is in the ditch, and Oh!
The differential gear!

And Carolyn Wells, parodying another well-known poem:
She dwelt among the untrodden ways
Beside the springs of Dee;
A Cow whom there were few to praise
And very few to see.

A violet by a mossy stone
Greeting the smiling East
Is not so purple, I must own,
As that erratic beast.

She lived unknown, that Cow, and so
I never chanced to see;
But if I had to be one, oh,
The difference to me!

My favourite parody poem, though, is much better-known now than the poem it's parodying. You can see them side-by-side here: Robert Southey's 'The Old Man's Comforts and How He Gained Them' with Lewis Carroll's 'You Are Old, Father William'.

1 Responses to and Oh! The difference

  1. Amy Palko Says:
  2. Great post, September Blue. It's fascinating to see what variations can be achieved!
    I've written a post on Wendy Cope's rewritings of nursery rhymes in the style of Wordsworth and Eliot, if you want to check it out. I've included a link back to here for those who wish to follow it.