06 July 2015


Nonsense and Some Sense Verse Smackdown, Round 3B
(Revisit Round 1, Round 2, the Musical Intermission, and Round 3A)

Thanks to a combination of sloppy planning and absolutely no sense of time (which may be the exact same thing), I've had to extend the giveaway for another two weeks. (Ha! I'll bet you thought I was going to say that I had to backdate the post two days! But yeah, that, too.) Remember that the announcement of the giveaway winner is traditionally made with the announcement of the smackdown champion! My hope is that if I'm amusing enough, like J.K. Rowling, who won last week's little face-off, that you'll all forgive me.

And even if you don't the last two W&Q 29 stragglers will! Right, ladies? ;-P

But back to the brackets: today, we're going to see which of our last two contenders gets to enter the finals on the back of a poem about a FAMOUS FIGURE.

Round 3A
The Funny Four

Hilaire Belloc . . .

Pelagius lived at Kardanoel
And taught a doctrine there
How, whether you went to heaven or to hell
It was your own affair.
It had nothing to do with the Church, my boy,
But was your own affair.

No, he didn't believe
In Adam and Eve
He put no faith therein!
His doubts began
With the Fall of Man
And he laughed at Original Sin.
With my row-ti-tow
He laughed at original sin.

Then came the bishop of old Auxerre
Germanus was his name
He tore great handfuls out of his hair
And he called Pelagius shame.
And with his stout Episcopal staff
So thoroughly whacked and banged
The heretics all, both short and tall --
They rather had been hanged.

Oh he whacked them hard, and he banged them long
Upon each and all occasions
Till they bellowed in chorus, loud and strong
Their orthodox persuasions.
With my row-ti-tow
Their orthodox persuasions.

Now the faith is old and the Devil bold
Exceedingly bold indeed.
And the masses of doubt that are floating about
Would smother a mortal creed.
But we that sit in a sturdy youth
And still can drink strong ale
Let us put it away to infallible truth
That always shall prevail.

And thank the Lord
For the temporal sword
And howling heretics too.
And all good things
Our Christendom brings
But especially barley brew!
With my row-ti-tow
Especially barley brew!
The most famous of Hilaire Belloc's funny poems are those about beasts and "bad" children. And if you remember that Pelagius was one of the "bad" children of Christendom, you'll see that Belloc's Pelagian Drinking Song fits right into his oeuvre!

"Lord, make my enemies ridiculous," the atheist Voltaire "prayed." He was on to something. When it is easy to make fun of someone, it is also easy to dismiss his arguments without giving them their due. That's not fair, of course, even if the thinkers behind them risk lives (and possibly souls) with their ideas. And now I know why a friend of mine has dismissed Belloc as a bully. That is, what Biff Tannen would be like as a sincere convert.

Another reason this poem is pure Belloc is that it celebrates wine. Drinking songs probably aren't the best way to deal with heresy--but we can't all write serious philosophical treatises that don't scan, can we, St. Augustine? You might even say that the drinking song is what comes after the philosophical treatise: the victory chant after the routing of the threat to Christendom. And then we go back to the bully problem, since rubbing it in doesn't seem very Christian. =P

What is Christian, however, is a sense of gratitude. And in this song, Belloc is actually grateful for the "howling heretics"--even if only in the same breath as the "temporal sword." But it's not an accidental juxtaposition. It is thanks to sturdy stone walls, even if we choose to run outside them, that we can enjoy violent storms. Or if you prefer, it is thanks to Marty McFly who fixes everything that we can have fun watching Biff trying to ruin everyone else's life. When we know that our victory is assured--and for Christians, it is--how wonderful the world suddenly appears! Geben mir den Bier, bitte!

. . . Laura E. Richards

Once a Gargoyle and a Griffin
Thought they'd go and take their tiffin
With the eminent Confucius, just outside the temple wall;
So they started off together
In the charming Chinese weather,
But when they reached the spot, Confucius wasn't there at all.

He had gone to the Bazaar, sir,
With his little cup and sarcer,
For an emptiness was in him that he could not well abide;
And there he saw a Gorgon,
Who was playing on the organ,
A sight that's rare in China, and in other lands beside.

The Gargoyle and the Griffin
Gave a mournful, scornful sniff in
The direction of the temple, then they followed on his track;
For they said, "There may be food there,
And the cigarettes are good there,
And if Confushy does not treat, we'll treat him--to a whack!"

So they toddled on together
In the charming Chinese weather,
Till they reached the great Bazaar where all the people used to go.
And they too saw the Gorgon,
Who was playing on the organ,
And they said, "What may this creature be, we do not, do not know!"

Now Confucius was retiring
In his nature, and admiring,
He stood behind the Gorgon while he listened to her lay;
But the other two stood staring
With their goggle-eyes a-glaring,
Till the Gorgon chanced to look at them; and then--alas, the day!

Said the Gargoyle to the Griffin,
"Sir, I feel a trifle stiff in
My joints, and I propose that we retire from this spot!"
Said the Griffin to the other,
"I would gladly go, my brother,
But a feeling's o'er me stealing that retire I--can--not!"

Not for long they made their moan there;
They were both turned into stone there,
And their stony, bony carcasses adorned the public way;
While the cheerful little Gorgon
Played away upon her organ,
And enjoyed herself immensely the remainder of the day.

But the Eminent Confucius
Cried aloud, "My goodness grucious!
My neighbors are converted into granite in my sight.
Let me flee from this Bazaar, sir,
With my little cup and sarcer,
For really, for the moment, I have lost my appetite!"
We have another philosopher here, in a poem that is much nicer to him. Which is to say that it's not mean-spirited. But as a fair representation of what that philosopher is about, it misses the mark in a whole other way. As fun as The Gargoyle and the Griffin is, it tells us nothing about Confucius except that he has a name that sounds funny to Anglophones.

Now, Laura E. Richards is at her best when she plays around with the sounds of words, as she does in her poem Eletelephony. So you'd think she'd be able to ride the obvious pun in Confucius much further than "Confushy" . . . or "grucious." =P And perhaps she would have in a poem that was really about him and not about gargoyles, griffins, and gorgons. It's not even clear what he's doing here!

The "origin story" is another genre that lends itself well to humourous verse. (Is there a term I can use that doesn't immediately suggest comic books?) It was only the first man's privilege to name the animals, but a bit of his creativity is in each of his descendants who has made up an outrageous animal myth. Extra points for animals and other creatures that probably never existed at all, because then they are metaphors for human nature! But now I feel that I'm raising the bar even higher on Richards' unambitious, but unpretentious offering.

As for Confucius, he really existed--and as far as I can tell, he didn't have to much to say about animals, mythical or otherwise. (His follower Mencius seems to have cared more about our furry, feathered, and scaled friends; but all the poems I've found about him are dead serious.) Whether his philosophy at least reflected in the prudent choice to stand behind the organ-playing gorgon (I know, right . . .), I will let the scholars decide.

Winner: Hilaire Belloc . . . because, Biff.

* * * * *

Today's face-off features two writers who were seriously considered for the Silly Sixteen and for whom it would be unjust not get at least an honourable mention.

Peter Newell vs. Mervyn Peake

I am ultimately at peace with my decision to leave Peter Newell out of tournament bracket. As funny as some of his verse is, he was really more of an artist than a writer. But I wouldn't say that his humourous illustrations came first and the rhymes came later, like captions. Having enjoyed many of his drawings, my (totally inexpert) opinion is that word and image in his work are twins--always born at the same time, the resemblance between them unmistakable. But if you pushed me to say which twin crowned first, well, okay: the art. On the other hand, I still feel bad about Mervyn Peake not getting a fair chance--which happened only because only six of his nonsense poems are available online and I couldn't have bought a copy of his Book of Nonsense to do a proper bracket. In this face-off, let's judge Newell and Peake not just by the strength of the former's whimsical Educated Love Bird and the latter's philosophical Crocodiles, but also by Newell's Jungle-Jangle and Peake's five other fantastic nonsense poems on his site.

She stared at him as hard as she
Could stare, but not a single blush
Suffused his face like dawn at sea
Or roses in a bush--

For crocodiles are very slow
At taking hints because their hide's
So thick it never feels de trop,
And tender like a bride's.
I teach-a da bird an' a blow-a da ring,
An' 'e fly into eet an' 'e roost an' 'e sing!
An' whn-a da ring 'eet is not-a in sight
Da bird 'e just spread-a 'ees wing an' make flight.

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Image Sources: a) Peter Newell, b) Mervyn Peake


Paul Stilwell said...

Peake all the way. I just don't like dialectical poetry. Newell's illustrations are great though.

I especially liked Peake's "Of Pygmies, Palms and Pirates" and "I Have My Price". Where knitting is taboo. That's funny. I think that's a "no" for lowering the price. LOL.

Paul Stilwell said...

Great analogy by the way with Biff as sincere convert.

Brandon said...

I think I vote for Peake. Dialectal poetry is indeed a tricky thing.

Belfry Bat said...

I.i.r.c, Kippling used to be in the running, and so we may hearken back to him and say the sort of story you're looking at in Mme Richards' verse is a ... Just so. As it happens, none of the Just so were in verse at the time, so we didn't miss any of them, so ... "bonus", as Wayne and/or Garth might say. Or am I thinking of William and Theodore?

Enbrethiliel said...


Stilwell -- I Have My Price would have been my first choice, had Newell written a poem about crafts that I could hold up against it!

Brandon -- Thanks! =)

Bat -- I remembered the Just So Stories, but the genre they fit into is much older than they are. When I tried googling for the name, though, all I got was "Speculative Fiction." LOL!

Star Crunch said...

I still crack up whenever I hear Belloc's "And may all my enemies go to hell!
Noël! Noël! Noël! Noël!". :)

I preferred the Newell poem, though I did stumble through the dialect a bit.

A little digging seems to turn up pourquoi story as the term.

Enbrethiliel said...


That's a favourite of mine, too! I'm pretty sure it was in a draft of this post, and I can't recall why I didn't let it through.

"Pourquoi story" is a term I've never heard before, but it makes sense!

mrsdarwin said...

Peake for me.

And I like the term "pourquoi story" very much. What an excellent book title that would be.

Sheila said...

Can you guess why I don't like Belloc the Bully?

Sometimes I feel the only reason my friends put up with me rather than burning me at the stake is because they have to reluctantly accept the decadent, pluralist age we live in. They still might argue in favor of the "temporal sword," though, and they would have very good arguments! And if that makes me uncomfortable, well, I'm the problem.


I choose the crocodile because I can't even understand the one about the bird!

Belfry Bat said...

I think the bird singer is supposed to sound Parisian, with a large cigar perhaps.

cyurkanin said...

Oh no! Am I too late to vote in this? If not, then Peake!!!

(And did I just see someone else describe Belloc as a bully also?!!! Heart be still lol I have been wandering around for quite a long time thinking I was a solitary nomadic outcast...)

Enbrethiliel said...


Mrs. Darwin -- An idea for the next NaNoWriMo, perhaps? ;-)

Sheila -- After all I said about Newell's illustrations, I really should have linked to that which accompanied The Educated Love Bird in my post. The poem makes sense to me because I've seen the drawing, but seeing Bat include a "perhaps" in his latest comment shows me that the words can't really stand on their own.

Oh, I don't think you would have merited enough for a burning. Just good a old-fashioned shunning. ;-P On the other hand, in past ages when Faith and culture were virtually one and the same, it would have been much harder to be a non-believer. I imagine it would be like being genuinely culturally Italian if you've lived in an entirely Irish community all your life: it might be possible, but hardly probable that Italian culture would have the channels it needed to flow fully and naturally into such an environment. (So we also see why heretics would be viewed with mistrust in such a world: they would have needed to manipulate their environment, deliberately and willfully, just to exist . . . and to cause others like them to exist.) And speaking of Italy, I recently read an article about modern Sicily which said that even local atheists participate in religious celebrations, because those are such a huge part of being Sicilian.

Having said all that, I also wonder whether past ages were more tolerant of dissent than their excesses lead us to think. Non-belief is as non-belief does, and a non-believer who doesn't cause any trouble (as opposed to say, a monastery-grabbing Lutheran or a baby-killing Cathar--and yes, I'm playing with stereotypes!) would hardly be rejected by the community where his family has lived for generations. Human nature often tolerates in family and friends what it would not in those it has no connections to.

And forgive me for adding: lighten up a bit! You remind me of the year I argued on and off with friends that I'd never be able to get married because I was too weird for all the eligible bachelors in my sphere. =P Weirdness is an issue when choosing a spouse, of course, but I imagined mine was a bigger handicap than it was--and made it so myself by my own insistence. I daresay that when the initial distress has worn off for the people who really love you, they'll start seeing you as having a really embarrassing quirk . . . on the level of my still listening to boy bands at my "advanced" age.

Bat -- Italian, actually!

Christopher -- You can still vote in this face-off! And the finals, also open to votes, will be next week. =) Now I hate to break it to you, my dear solitary nomadic outcast, but you were the friend I was quoting in this post. =P

cyurkanin said...

Lol Hey now, I've never dismissed him at all, just find his methods unhelpful when he's not preaching to the choir. And actually, I was referring to Sheila's comment regarding finding another who sees the bully in him also (or at least addressed him as you did) :)

Enbrethiliel said...


Ooops! Wrong choice of word for that bit!

Sheila said...

It's true that heresy, of a non-formal kind, wasn't taken seriously in the middle ages -- not least because no one was educated enough to know the difference! There are a lot of saints who believed crazy stuff, just because they didn't know any better. And if you did believe some nutty thing everyone knew was a heretic, why would people care so long as you still went to church? And in a world where hardly anyone ever received communion ANYway, I'm not sure anyone could tell the difference. The big heresies we know about were political; they were a big deal because they were political.

The trouble with religion, of course, is that it's more than one thing at once -- it is the foundation of the social order PLUS a culturally binding system PLUS a set of beliefs about the world. Any while you can't be an Irishman in the middle of Little Italy, you can believe the sun revolves around the earth even if you're the only one who does. (And people will think you're nuts.)

Anyway, I mind the middle ages a lot less than I mind Belloc. He seems to glorify all the wrong medieval things -- which is why he doesn't say what you just said, but instead seems to miss the good old days when you could burn your opponent instead of the tiresome business of arguing with him. Which wasn't even what it was like.

Enbrethiliel said...


Where you write "the trouble with religion," I usually say, "the fantastic thing about religion"! ;-)

I was actually discussing these things with one of my new colleagues, who is an atheist. He was telling his "conversion story," and at every milestone, I was saying to myself, "Sheila has been there, too!" But what I found most interesting was that his main problem with religion is that it is so human. What is human, he argued, is "tainted" (his word) and therefore cannot be divine. For me, the human element in religion is a sign that it is true; if it had no room for sinners (and weirdos), I'd run for the hills!

What I meant by the Irish/Italian analogy is that in the past, the really troublesome heretics made a lot of very deliberate choices in order to get that way. So you could be sure their sort was bad news. In our world, on the other hand, heresy is such a part of the culture, that people can absorb it through no fault of their own and not just through free choice. How much of someone's thinking is due to willful rebellion should be taken on a case-by-case basis.

If you really believe that the sun revolves around the earth, isn't sticking to your guns a small price to pay for people thinking you're nuts? I imagine there isn't much glory in white martyrdom for geocentrism, but if you truly think you're right and that being right about this point is important, then you should own it! Also, there's nuts and there's nuts. I'd gladly have a geocentrist friend and neighbour, and the only potential source of conflict I foresee is if he kept insisting on being seen in a certain way. I understand that if someone thinks Leo di Caprio should play him in a movie, it would be a blow to his ego to know that the producer, director, test audiences, fans, and even his family would cast Robert Pattinson. But we really can't control how seriously others take us and our opinions.

The woman who has been written off as nuts for so long that she doesn't really care any more