Saturday, July 11, 2009

Edward Lear, il miglior fabbro

My favourite Edward Lear poem:

The Akond of Swat

Who, or why, or which, or what,
Is the Akond of SWAT?

Is he tall or short, or dark or fair?
Does he sit on a stool or a sofa or a chair,
–––or SQUAT,
The Akond of Swat?

Is he wise or foolish, young or old?
Does he drink his soup and his coffee cold,
–––or HOT,
The Akond of Swat?

Does he sing or whistle, jabber or talk,
And when riding abroad does he gallop or walk
–––or TROT,
The Akond of Swat?

Does he wear a turban, a fez, or a hat?
Does he sleep on a mattress, a bed, or a mat,
–––or COT,
The Akond of Swat?

When he writes a copy in round-hand size,
Does he cross his T's and finish his I's
–––with a DOT,
The Akond of Swat?

Can he write a letter concisely clear
Without a speck or a smudge or smear
–––or BLOT,
The Akond of Swat?

Do his people like him extremely well?
Or do they, whenever they can, rebel,
–––or PLOT,
At the Akond of Swat?

If he catches them then, either old or young,
Does he have them chopped in pieces or hung,
–––or SHOT,
The Akond of Swat?

Do his people prig in the lanes or park?
Or even at times, when days are dark,
–––GAROTTE,
The Akond of Swat?

Does he study the wants of his own dominion?
Or doesn't he care for public opinion
–––a JOT,
The Akond of Swat?

To amuse his mind do his people show him
Pictures, or any one's last new poem,
–––or WHAT,
For the Akond of Swat?

At night if he suddenly screams and wakes,
Do they bring him only a few small cakes,
–––or a LOT,
For the Akond of Swat?

Does he live on turnips, tea, or tripe?
Does he like his shawl to be marked with a stripe,
–––or a DOT,
The Akond of Swat?

Does he like to lie on his back in a boat
Like the lady who lived in that isle remote,
–––SHALLOTT,
The Akond of Swat?

Is he quiet, or always making a fuss?
Is his steward a Swiss or a Swede or Russ,
–––or a SCOT,
The Akond of Swat?

Does like to sit by the calm blue wave?
Or to sleep and snore in a dark green cave,
–––or a GROTT,
The Akond of Swat?

Does he drink small beer from a silver jug?
Or a bowl? or a glass? or a cup? or a mug?
–––or a POT,
The Akond of Swat?

Does he beat his wife with a gold-topped pipe,
When she let the gooseberries grow too ripe,
–––or ROT,
The Akond of Swat?

Does he wear a white tie when he dines with friends,
And tie it neat in a bow with ends,
–––or a KNOT.
The Akond of Swat?

Does he like new cream, and hate mince-pies?
When he looks at the sun does he wink his eyes,
–––or NOT,
The Akond of Swat?

Does he teach his subjects to roast and bake?
Does he sail about on an inland lake
–––in a YACHT,
The Akond of Swat?

Some one, or nobody, knows I wot
Who or which or why or what
Is the Akond of Swat?

[Lear's] Note: For the existence of this potentate see Indian newspapers, passim. The proper way to read the verses is to make an immense emphasis on the monosyllabic rhymes, which indeed ought to be shouted out by a chorus.

The poem's orientalism (the mysterious Akond's luxury and despotism don't indicate that he might really have been a Muslim saint) and casual wife-beating mark it as very much late-Victorian nonsense. But that's OK – sanitised nonsense starts to approach dull old sense. And it shows how even nonsense can be read for the values of the culture it is part of.

Lear's delight in formal play is evident with the outrageous stanza shape – a rhymed couplet of metrically varied tetrameter followed by a rhymed couplet consisting of a monometer followed by a dimeter. Here its comic potential is mined, but I wonder if it could also be turned to non-nonsensical uses. The formality would always be ostentatious, but the way the rhymes fall over one another, with that insistent repetition in the last line, is strange and interesting. Lear wasn't just goofing around.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for your explanation.
As I am a fervent fan of Lear I want to know all about him.
Do you know if his diaries have been published?

Wim Hofman,

Vlissingen
the Netherlands

8:38 PM  
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4:22 AM  

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