Friday 1 November 2013

Hood: Chieftain of the Punning Clan

No sun--no moon!
No morn--no noon!
No dawn--no dusk--no proper time of day--
No sky--no earthly view--
No distance looking blue--
No road--no street--no "t'other side this way"--
No end to any Row--
No indications where the Crescents go--
No top to any steeple--
No recognitions of familiar people--
No courtesies for showing 'em--
No knowing 'em!
No traveling at all--no locomotion--
No inkling of the way--no notion--
"No go" by land or ocean--
No mail--no post--
No news from any foreign coast--
No Park, no Ring, no afternoon gentility--
No company--no nobility--
No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member--
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds--

Well, let's hope November won't be quite that bad...
  The above is a poem by Thomas Hood that I remember reading and enjoying many years ago while I was still in short trousers and such poems were in schoolroom anthologies.
  Over on Anecdotal Evidence, Patrick has been writing in defence of puns, with particular reference to Myles na gCopaleen's Keats and Chapman tales - and Charles Lamb, and indeed Keats. Now, Thomas Hood was the punster supreme - for much of his career, pun-heavy comic verse was his stock in trade, and very good he was at it.
  A hugely prolific author, Hood began his writing life among the Romantics and ended it as a very Victorian early Victorian, mixing whimsy with melodrama, punning humour with sentimental verse. His first effusions were Odes and Addresses to Great People (1825), co-written with John Hamilton Reynolds, his brother-in-law, who was the friend of John Keats and recipient of some of his finest letters. Hood persevered for some while with serious verse and dramatic romance before drifting into humour and becoming a successful comic writer, turning out annuals and magazines full of his own work year after year, despite the ill health that eventually forced him to take to his bed.
  However, Hood scored his biggest hit with the eminently serious poem, The Song of The Shirt, an impassioned protest against the wretched poverty in which seamstresses were obliged to live and work. This was a sensational international success, was dramatised and even printed on pocket handkerchiefs. His poem The Dream of Eugen Aram, about a murderer tormented by his guilt, was also extremely popular, becoming a favourite recitation of Henry Irving. And the sentimental I Remember, I Remember was long an anthology favourite  - and inspired the very different poem of the same name by Philip Larkin.  But back to puns - here's Hood in full flow, with Faithless Nelly Gray: A Pathetic Ballad. Enjoy -

Ben Battle was a soldier bold,
And used to war's alarms;
But a cannon-ball took off his legs,
So he laid down his arms.

Now, as they bore him off the field,
Said he, "Let others shoot;
For here I leave my second leg,
And the Forty-second Foot!"

The army-surgeons made him limbs:
Said he, "They're only pegs;
But there's as wooden members quite
As represent my legs!"

Now, Ben he loved a pretty maid,
Her name was Nelly Gray;
So he went up to pay his devours,
When he devoured his pay!

But when he called on Nelly Gray,
She made him quite a scoff;
And when she saw his wooden legs,
Began to take them off!

"O, Nelly Gray! O, Nelly Gray!
Is this your love so warm?
The love that loves a scarlet coat
Should be more uniform!"

Said she, "I loved a soldier once
For he was blithe and brave;
But I will never have a man
With both legs in the grave!

"Before you had those timber toes,
Your love I did allow;
But then, you know, you stand upon
Another footing now!"

"O, Nelly Gray! O, Nelly Gray!
For all your jeering speeches,
At duty's call I left my legs
In Badajos's breaches !"

"Why then," said she, "you've lost the feet
Of legs in war's alarms,
And now you cannot wear your shoes
Upon your feats of arms!"

"O, false and fickle Nelly Gray!
I know why you refuse: --
Though I've no feet -- some other man
Is standing in my shoes!

"I wish I ne'er had seen your face;
But, now, a long farewell!
For you will be my death; -- alas
You will not be my Nell!"

Now, when he went from Nelly Gray,
His heart so heavy got,
And life was such a burden grown,
It made him take a knot!

So round his melancholy neck
A rope he did entwine,
And, for his second time in life,
Enlisted in the Line.

One end he tied around a beam,
And then removed his pegs,
And, as his legs were off -- of course
He soon was off his legs!

And there he hung, till he was dead
As any nail in town--
For, though distress had cut him up,
It could not cut him down!

A dozen men sat on his corpse,
To find out why he died--
And they buried Ben in four cross-roads
With a stake in his inside!

1 comment:

  1. It's so good just to see mention of Keats and Chapman. I discovered them many years after enjoying Frank Muir and Denis Norden's punning stories on My Word and then decided that the producer of that programme must have known the Myles na gCopaleen stories.