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Category: Poetic Fridays

You Are Old, Father William by Lewis Carroll

Illustration to You Are Old, Father William by Sir John Tenniel

Charles Dodgson, maths lecturer at Oxford University, has gone down in history as the author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and has done so under the pen name of Lewis Carroll. He also wrote poems and included some of them into his novel about Alice.

‘You are old, Father William’ is recited by Alice in Chapter 5, “Advice from a Caterpillar”. The poem is a parody of a 1799 verse by Robert Southey called ‘The Old Man’s Comforts’, in which Father William lectures on how he reached happiness in old age by having led a quiet and virtuous life in his youth.

Carroll’s Father William is a completely different man – an eccentric, full of life and mischief despite his age, and still energetic enough to give his son a good kick if need be!

“You are old, Father William,” the young man said,
“And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head—
Do you think, at your age, it is right?”

“In my youth,” Father William replied to his son,
“I feared it might injure the brain;
But now that I’m perfectly sure I have none,
Why, I do it again and again.”

“You are old,” said the youth, “As I mentioned before,
And have grown most uncommonly fat;
Yet you turned a back-somersault in at the door—
Pray, what is the reason of that?”

“In my youth,” said the sage, as he shook his grey locks,
“I kept all my limbs very supple
By the use of this ointment—one shilling a box—
Allow me to sell you a couple?”

“You are old,” said the youth, “And your jaws are too weak
For anything tougher than suet;
Yet you finished the goose, with the bones and the beak—
Pray, how did you manage to do it?”

“In my youth,” said his father, “I took to the law,
And argued each case with my wife;
And the muscular strength which it gave to my jaw,
Has lasted the rest of my life.”

“You are old,” said the youth, “one would hardly suppose
That your eye was as steady as ever;
Yet you balanced an eel on the end of your nose—
What made you so awfully clever?”

“I have answered three questions, and that is enough,”
Said his father; “don’t give yourself airs!
Do you think I can listen all day to such stuff?
Be off, or I’ll kick you down stairs!”

Poem © Out of copyright

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The Thing Is by Ellen Bass

Image by Leroy Skalstad from Pixabay

I became familiar with this beautiful verse when watching a YouTube video of Elizabeth Gilbert’s talk on life and love given in London in July 2019 as part of the promotional campaign for her new book City of Girls. It perfectly captures, quoting Milan Kundera, the unbearable lightness of being and inspires the reader to be strong and loving and appreciative of life no matter what it throws your way. Day by day, until the end.

to love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you’ve held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
your throat filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you, its tropical heat
thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs;
when grief weights you like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief,
you think, How can a body withstand this?
Then you hold life like a face
between your palms, a plain face,
no charming smile, no violet eyes,
and you say, yes, I will take you
I will love you, again.

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Matilda Who told Lies, and was Burned to Death by Hillaire Belloc

Hillaire Belloc (1870-1953) is considered one of the greatest English writers of light verse along with Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear.

Naughty Matilda

His cautionary tales are addressed, first and foremost, to naughty children and, with a great deal of humour and playfulness, serve as warnings – if you fail to behave, you’ll get in trouble as did Matilda Who told Lies, and was Burned to Death.  

Matilda told such Dreadful Lies,
It made one Gasp and Stretch one’s Eyes;
Her Aunt, who, from her Earliest Youth,
Had kept a Strict Regard for Truth,
Attempted to Believe Matilda:
The effort very nearly killed her,
And would have done so, had not She
Discovered this Infirmity.
For once, towards the Close of Day,
Matilda, growing tired of play,
And finding she was left alone,
Went tiptoe to the Telephone
And summoned the Immediate Aid
Of London’s Noble Fire-Brigade.
Within an hour the Gallant Band
Were pouring in on every hand,
From Putney, Hackney Downs, and Bow.
With Courage high and Hearts a-glow,
They galloped, roaring through the Town,
‘Matilda’s House is Burning Down!’
Inspired by British Cheers and Loud
Proceeding from the Frenzied Crowd,
They ran their ladders through a score
Of windows on the Ball Room Floor;
And took Peculiar Pains to Souse
The Pictures up and down the House,
Until Matilda’s Aunt succeeded
In showing them they were not needed;
And even then she had to pay
To get the Men to go away,     
It happened that a few Weeks later
Her Aunt was off to the Theatre
To see that Interesting Play
The Second Mrs. Tanqueray.
She had refused to take her Niece
To hear this Entertaining Piece:
A Deprivation Just and Wise
To Punish her for Telling Lies.
That Night a Fire did break out –
You should have heard Matilda Shout!
You should have heard her Scream and Bawl,
And throw the window up and call
To People passing in the Street –
(The rapidly increasing Heat
Encouraging her to obtain
Their confidence) – but all in vain!
For every time she shouted ‘Fire!’
They only answered ‘Little Liar!’
And therefore when her Aunt returned,
Matilda, and the House, were Burned.

© by owner, provided at no charge for educational purposes

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Today, I Feel by Gervase Phinn

This poem is basically an impressive list of similes.

A simile is an expression that describes something by comparing it with something else, using words such as like, as, as if, as though. For example, as quiet as a mouse (very quiet) and like a bull in a china shop (very clumsy) are similes.

Some of them can be found in dictionaries, others are the author’s coinages. Can you tell which is which?

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Today, I feel as:

Pleased as PUNCH,
Fit as a FIDDLE,
Keen as a KNIFE,
Hot as a GRIDDLE,
Bold as BRASS,
Bouncy as a BALL,
Keen as MUSTARD,
High as a WALL,
Bright as a BUTTON,
Light as a FEATHER,
Fresh as a DAISY,
Fragrant as HEATHER,
Chirpy as a CRICKET,
Sound as a BELL,
Sharp as a NEEDLE,
Deep as a WELL,
High as a KITE,
Strong as a BULL,
Bubbly as BATH WATER,
Warm as WOOL,
Clean as a new PIN,
Shiny as MONEY,
Quick as LIGHTENING,
Sweet as HONEY,
Cool as a CUCUMBER,
Fast as a HARE,
Right as RAIN,
Brave as a BEAR,
Lively as a MONKEY,
Busy as a BEE,
Good as GOLD,
Free as the SEA.

I’M SO HAPPY – I’M JUST LOST FOR WORDS.

© by owner, provided at no charge for educational purposes

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The Owl and the Pussycat by Edward Lear

‘The Owl and the Pussycat’ is probably Edward Lear’s (1812-1888) most famous poem loved by kids as well as adults: in 2014 it was voted the nation’s favourite childhood poem.

Edward Lear wrote it in 1868 for Janet Symonds, 3-year-old daughter of the poet and literary critic John Addington Symonds.

The word ‘runcible’ that has eventually made its way into the Oxford English Dictionary as a nonsense word was coined by the author. Its meaning remains a mystery. It doesn’t help that Edward Lear himself used it to describe such different things as his hat, a wall and even his cat

Lear didn’t help matters: as well as applying the word to a spoon, he went on to use ‘runcible’ to describe his hat, a wall, and even his cat Foss.

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The Three Foxes by Alan Alexander Milne

Image by Amir Boucenna from Pixabay

Alan Alexander Milne (1882 – 1956) was an English author, known in all corners of the world thanks to his books about a teddy bear called Winnie-the-Pooh. He also wrote poetry. I chose his verse The Three Foxes to share with you today because it reminds me of a curious linguistic anecdote.

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Desiderata by Max Ehrmann

Desiderata (Latin: “something that is wanted or needed”) was written in early 1920s by the American writer Max Ehrmann as a prose poem, i.e. in the form of one long prose paragraph. It was only long after the author’s death in 1945 that the poem got its verse-like appearance. It is now his most well-known piece of poetry.

I like it a lot, despite its lack of rhyme, for the wisdom of the advice and encouragement it offers and for the sense of internal peace it creates in your heart.

Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

© by owner, provided at no charge for educational purposes

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