Monday 30 August 2021

Normal Service

 Thinking of poets remembered for only one poem, my mind turned to Winthrop Mackworth Praed, who is perhaps not remembered at all these days – but if he is, I think it will be for one poem, 'Good-Night to the Season'. It's certainly the only one of his that I know, but I've remembered it ever since I first came across it  (in an anthology, of course) and I like it a lot. It's a joy to read, one of those poems that jogs along and brings a smile to the face. I really should read more of him...
  Praed was a bit of a star at Eton, had a less than glittering political career, and died at the age of 36 (in 1839), but his witty and ironic poems secured such fame as he had. A poet's poet, he surely influenced Browning, and was admired by Auden, who sagely remarked that his 'serious poems are as trivial as his vers de société are profound',  and Betjeman, who could easily be seen as Praed's poetical heir.
  Here is Praed's 'one poem', the cheerily jaundiced, nimbly anapestic valedictory 'Good-Night to the Season' – 

Good-night to the Season! 'tis over!
Gay dwellings no longer are gay;
The courtier, the gambler, the lover,
Are scatter'd like swallows away:
There's nobody left to invite one,
Except my good uncle and spouse;
My mistress is bathing at Brighton,
My patron is sailing at Cowes:
For want of a better employment,
Till Ponto and Don can get out,
I'll cultivate rural enjoyment,
And angle immensely for trout.

Good-night to the Season! – the lobbies,
Their changes, and rumours of change,
Which startled the rustic Sir Bobbies,
And made all the Bishops look strange:
The breaches, and battles, and blunders,
Perform'd by the Commons and Peers;
The Marquis's eloquent thunders,
The Baronet's eloquent ears:
Denouncings of Papists and treasons,
Of foreign dominion and oats;
Misrepresentations of reasons,
And misunderstandings of notes.

Good-night to the Season! – the buildings
Enough to make Inigo sick;
The paintings, and plasterings, and gildings
Of stucco, and marble, and brick;
The orders deliciously blended,
From love of effect, into one;
The club-houses only intended,
The palaces only begun;
The hell where the fiend, in his glory,
Sits staring at putty and stones,
And scrambles from story to story,
To rattle at midnight his bones.

Good-night to the Season! – the dances,
The fillings of hot little rooms,
The glancings of rapturous glances,
The fancyings of fancy costumes;
The pleasures which Fashion makes duties,
The praisings of fiddles and flutes,
The luxury of looking at beauties,
The tedium of talking to mutes;
The female diplomatists, planners
Of matches for Laura and Jane,
The ice of her Ladyship's manners,
The ice of his Lordship's champagne.

Good-night to the Season! – the rages
Led off by the chiefs of the throng,
The Lady Matilda's new pages,
The Lady Eliza's new song;
Miss Fennel's macaw, which at Boodle's
Is held to have something to say;
Mrs Splenetic's musical poodles,
Which bark 'Batti Batti' all day;
The pony Sir Araby sported,
As hot and as black as a coal,
And the Lion his mother imported,
In bearskins and grease, from the Pole.

Good-night to the Season! – the Toso,
So very majestic and tall;
Miss Ayton, whose singing was so-so,
And Pasta, divinest of all;
The labour in vain of the Ballet,
So sadly deficient in stars;
The foreigners thronging the Alley,
Exhaling the breath of cigars;
The 'loge' where some heiress, how killing,
Environ'd with Exquisites sits,
The lovely one out of her drilling,
The silly ones out of their wits.

Good-night to the Season! – the splendour
That beam'd in the Spanish Bazaar;
Where I purchased – my heart was too tender –
A card-case, – a pasteboard guitar, –
A bottle of perfume, – a girdle, –
A lithograph'd Riego full-grown,
Whom Bigotry drew on a hurdle
That artists might draw him on stone, –
A small panorama of Seville, –
A trap for demolishing flies, –
A caricature of the Devil, –
And a look from Miss Sheridan's eyes.

Good-night to the Season! – the flowers
Of the grand horticultural fête,
When boudoirs were quitted for bowers,
And the fashion was not to be late;
When all who had money and leisure
Grew rural o'er ices and wines,
All pleasantly toiling for pleasure,
All hungrily pining for pines,
And making of beautiful speeches,
And marring of beautiful shows,
And feeding on delicate peaches,
And treading on delicate toes.

Good-night to the Season! – another
Will come with its trifles and toys,
And hurry away, like its brother,
In sunshine, and odour, and noise,
Will it come with a rose or a briar?
Will it come with a blessing or curse?
Will its bonnets be lower or higher?
Will its morals be better or worse?
Will it find me grown thinner or fatter,
Or fonder of wrong or of right,
Or married, – or buried? – no matter,
Good-night to the Season, Good-night!

[Riego, in the seventh stanza, is Rafael del Riego, hanged in Madrid in 1823 for his efforts to resist an absolutist monarchy. The pun on 'draw' is clever.] 

Praed's season is, of course, the London social season. Mine is the butterfly season, the end of which is sadly drawing near. Yesterday morning, it being half sunny and almost warm, I took a stroll around my nearest patch of downland to see what was still flying. There were Meadow Browns in their usual abundance (and their usual range of coloration) with a couple of very weary Gatekeepers, a Brown Argus or two, a few Common Blues and rather more Holly Blues, a Red Admiral, plenty of Speckled Woods (staging a late comeback after a poor summer) and, best of all, half a dozen Chalkhill Blues, still bright and lively. Summer isn't over yet, even if the weather feels like autumn. 

No comments:

Post a Comment