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If Gray Had Had to Write His Elegy in the Cemetery of Spoon River Instead of in That of Stoke Poges -- Sir John Collings Squire

Guest poem sent in by Alan Pearmain
(Poem #1680) If Gray Had Had to Write His Elegy in the Cemetery of Spoon River Instead of in That of Stoke Poges
 The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
 The whippoorwill salutes the rising moon,
 And wanly glimmer in her gentle ray,
 The sinuous windings of the turbid Spoon.

 Here where the flattering and mendacious swarm
 Of lying epitaphs their secrets keep,
 At last incapable of further harm
 The lewd forefathers of the village sleep.

 The earliest drug of half-awakened morn,
 Cocaine or hashish, strychnine; poppy-seeds
 Or fiery produce of fermented corn
 No more shall start them on the day's misdeeds.

 For them no more the whetstone's cheerful noise,
 No more the sun upon his daily course
 Shall watch them savouring the genial joys,
 Of murder, bigamy, arson and divorce.

 Here they all lie; and, as the hour is late,
 O stranger, o'er their tombstones cease to stoop,
 But bow thine ear to me and contemplate
 The unexpurgated annals of the group.

 There are two hundred only: yet of these
 Some thirty died of drowning in the river,
 Sixteen went mad, ten others had D.T.s,
 And twenty-eight cirrhosis of the liver.

 Several by absent-minded friends were shot,
 Still more blew out their own exhausted brains,
 One died of a mysterious inward rot,
 Three fell off roofs, and five were hit by trains.

 One was harpooned, one gored by a bull-moose,
 Four on the Fourth fell victims to lock-jaw,
 Ten in electric chair or hempen noose
 Suffered the last exaction of the law.

 Stranger, you quail, and seem inclined to run;
 But, timid stranger, do not be unnerved;
 I can assure you that there was not one
 Who got a tithe of what he had deserved.

 Full many a vice is born to thrive unseen,
 Full many a crime the world does not discuss,
 Full many a pervert lives to reach a green
 Replete old age, and so it was with us.

 Here lies a parson who would often make
 Clandestine rendezvous with Claflin's Moll,
 And 'neath the druggist's counter creep to take
 A sip of surreptitious alcohol.

 And here a doctor, who had seven wives,
 And, fearing this ménage might seem grotesque,
 Persuaded six of them to spend their lives
 Locked in a drawer of his private desk.

 And others here there sleep who, given scope,
 Had writ their names large on the Scrolls of Crime,
 Men who, with half a chance, might haply cope
 With the first miscreants of recorded time.

 Doubtless in this neglected spot is laid
 Some village Nero who has missed his due,
 Some Bluebeard who dissected many a maid,
 And all for naught, since no one ever knew.

 Some poor bucolic Borgia here may rest,
 Whose poisons sent whole families to their doom
 Some hayseed Herod who, within his breast,
 Concealed the sites of many an infant's tomb.

 Types that the Muse of Masefield might have stirred,
 Or waked to ecstasy Gaboriau,
 Each in his narrow cell at last interred,
 All, all are sleeping peacefully below.

 ·    ·    ·    ·    ·    ·

 Enough, enough!  But stranger, ere we part,
 Glancing farewell to each nefarious bier,
 This warning I would beg you take to heart,
 'There is an end to even the worst career!'
-- Sir John Collings Squire
I first encountered this delightful if macabre parody of Gray's Elegy in Verse
and Worse, an anthology given to me my my girlfriend in 1972.  The mood pivots
from humour to dark reality; I have never visited a graveyard since without
looking at the stones, thinking of Bluebeard and the hayseed Herod and
wondering...

[Hilarious poem, and it ties with Poem #691 for the longest title in the
archive -- martin]

AP

[Links]

Biography: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._C._Squire
Gray's Original: Poem #1091

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