Monday, 16 July 2007

Irregular Turkish cavalry commits atrocity

Last January I asked if anyone could tell me the source of a delightful poem which somehow has stuck in my mind for years. A kind reader posted a comment giving me a clue that it was contained in a book by Osbert Lancaster called Drayneflete Revealed. I suppose I must have read it in the fifties but anyway I got hold of a copy today and there was the poem.

The book is a parody of an antiquarian study of an imaginary English town and includes notes on some of its eminent residents over the centuries. One of these is a Miss Amelia de Vere, niece of famous (fictitious) poet Jeremy Tipple, and it is she who is supposed to have written the poem. I quote here all that is known of it, which is entitled Lines on the Late Massacre at Chios:

O hark to the groans of the wounded and dying,
A mother who takes a last lingering look
At her infant aloft, understandably crying,
Impaled on the spear of a Bashi Bazook

O see where the vultures are patiently wheeling
As the Scimitars flash and the yataghans thud
O innocent victims, vainly appealing
To dreaded Janissaries lusting for blood.

As Osbert Lancaster comments: “The two opening verses will serve to demonstrate both the fearless realism of the gentle poetess and her exceptional command of local colour, a command the more extraordinary in that she never, save for a brief visit to Tunbridge Wells, travelled more than ten miles from Draynefleet in all her life”.

I wonder if any modern poet leading a similarly quiet life could conjure up with such verve an evocative picture of a bloody 19th-century battle in the Levant.

[More about Drayneflete HERE]

No comments: