a literary tea party
I found this poem on a rainy day in my high school library, after checking out a thick dusty book title Parodies. (I was such a nerd! The last time someone had checked out the book was in 1972! I bought the book off the librarian when they decided to revamp their collection…)
You may have to brush up on your classic poets to appreciate the wit of this poem – I sure did! I still don’t catch some of the allusions.
I was most familiar with Poe’s commentary, after his poem, The Bells. And of course, Robert Burns‘ whiskey-laced offering just makes sense.
It is just as the title describes: All the poets, sitting down to tea, all start waxing eloquent about the kettle and the cups…
The Poets at Tea
by Barry Pain
Pour, varlet, pour the water,
The water steaming hot!
A spoonful for each man of us,
Another for the pot!
We shall not drink from amber,
No Capuan slave shall mix
For us the snows of Athus
With port at thirtysix;
Whiter than snow the crystals
Grown sweet ‘neath tropic fires,
More rich the herb of China’s fields,
The pasture-lands more fragrance yield;
Forever let Brittania wield
The teapot of her sires!
II. (Tennyson, who took it hot):
I think that I am drawing to an end:
For on a sudden came a gasp for breath,
And stretching of the hands, and blinded eyes,
And a great darkness falling on my soul.
O Hallelujah! … Kindly pass the milk.
III. (Swinburne, who let it get cold):
As the sin that was sweet in the sinning
Is foul in the ending thereof,
As the heat of the summer’s beginning
Is past in the winter of love:
O purity, painful and pleading!
O coldness, ineffably gray!
O hear us, our handmaid unheeding,
And take it away!
IV. (Cowper, who thoroughly enjoyed it):
The cosy fire is bright and gay,
The merry kettle boils away
And hums a cheerful song.
I sing the saucer and the cup;
Pray, Mary, fill the teacup up,
And do not make it strong.
V. (Browning, who treated it allegorically):
Tut! Bah! We take as another case–
Pass the pills on the window-sill; notice the capsule
(A sick man’s fancy, no doubt, but I place
Reliance on trademarks, Sir)–so perhaps you’ll
Excuse the digression–this cup which I hold
Light-poised–Bah, it’s spilt in the bed!–well, let’s on go–
Hold Bohea and sugar, Sir; if you were told
The sugar was salt, would the Bohea be Congo?
VI. (Wordsworth, who gave it away):
“Come, little cottage girl, you seem
To want my cup of tea;
And will you take a little cream?
Now tell the truth to me.”
She had a rustic, woodland grin,
Her cheek was soft as silk,
And she replied, “Sir, please put in
A little drop of milk.”
“Why, what put milk into your head?
‘Tis cream my cows supply;”
And five times to the child I said,
“Why pig-head, tell me, why?”
“You call me pig-head,” she replied;
“My proper name is Ruth.
I called that milk”–she blushed with pride–
“You bade me speak the truth.”
VII. (Poe, who got excited over it):
Here’s a mellow cup of tea–golden tea!
What a world of rapturous thought its fragrance brings to me!
Oh, from out the silver cells
How it wells!
How it smells!
Keeping tune, tune, tune,
To the tintinnabulation of the spoon.
And the kettle on the fire
Boils its spout off with desire,
With a desperate desire
And a crystalline endeavor
Now, now to sit, or never,
On the top of the paled-faced moon,
But he always came home to tea, tea, tea, tea, tea,
Tea to the n-th.
VIII. (Rossetti, who took six cups of it):
The lilies lie in my lady’s bower,
(O weary mother, drive the cows to roost),
They faintly droop for a little hour;
My lady’s head droops like a flower.
She took the porcelain in her hand
(O weary mother, drive the cows to roost);
She poured; I drank at her command;
Drank deep, and now–you understand!
(O weary mother, drive the cows to roost).
IX. (Burns, who liked it adulturated):
Weel, gin ye speir, I’m no inclined,
Whusky or tay–to state my mind
Fore ane or ither;
For, gin I tak the first, I’m fou,
And gin the next, I’m dull as you:
Mix a’ thegither.
X. (Walt Whitman, who didn’t stay more than a minute):
One cup for myself-hood,
Many for you. Allons, camerados, we will drink together,
O hand-in-hand! That tea-spoon, please, when you’ve done with it.
What butter-colour’d hair you’ve got. I don’t want to be personal.
All right, then, you needn’t. You’re a stale cadaver.
Eighteen-pence if the bottles are returned.
Allons, from all bat-eyed formula.