The Rat Fathom
in 3 interlacing parts
- The Agricultural Revolution
- I wandered lonely as a twit
- The ostrich, then, inveterate beast
- I was always sad when the people round me said
- At the edge of the forest a little bird sang
- I rode to the sea on the back of a goat
- Buy me a bonnet and polish my boots!
- There was an old person of Bognor.
- She never tells me yes or no.
The Agricultural Revolution
Hopefully will end pollution,
Though I think it much more likely
It will only ease it slikely (!)
This contention, I contend,
Is but a means to butt an end.
And thus the Kings of Rome expired
And the Canons were all fired.
Thus the plot and moral's clear:
If you want to season beer,
Place a lemon very near
The person most admired.
Place a very lemon near
The child who's closest to the hearth,
The child who likes the hottest bath,
The child by Cupid most desired.
The king dislikes a coup d'etat,
And I a rancid abattoir,
And many men a gooseberry sponge,
And every one a gloomy dunge-
On filled with chains and fearsome fangs.
The water drips, the cell-door clangs
And dormice chatter in the wind.
The academic fails, alas, to see
The cats who knew the dormice sinned --
The king dislikes them all but me.
I wandered lonely as a twit,
A blue tit from the hedge outside.
Aside I cast all thoughts of woe.
"Go, thoughts," I said, and then a bit
Of bark my lofty thoughts defied,
As fires will melt the falling snow;
So you and I will lead the march
And bravely spurn the biting cold
And leave our footsteps in the sea,
Whilst lesser men beneath the larch,
The older men (as prophets told)
Forbear, though rich, to pay the fee.
Thus spoke the prophets, long ago.
My thoughts were then on other things --
The kings who taught me semaphore
Can hardly be said to bestow
To souls that soar on silken wings
That sublime sense of knowing more
Than doctors and nurses and artisans too,
Than the men from the mint, or the men from the zoo,
Than businessmen's parents who've come in from the cold,
Than the sage who grows old or the seer who grows mould
On saucers of milk left out on the sill
Or chocolate shrimps that they make at the mill.
Thus spoke the prophets, so strong and so true.
The ostrich, then, inveterate beast,
When nesting in the scrub,
Eats large blue cakes with unripe yeast --
it buys them at the pub.
And drinks, therewith, a pint of ale
And cleans its nest with gusto,
And when it's sad it tells a tale,
A tale of death and lust-o!
But when it nests on mountain-tops
Or perches high on crags,
It takes its ease in cast-out slops
-- it doesn't sing, it brags.
In such a case it brags with vigour
And even sends its friends away.
Sorry sight, O fallen figure!
O fallen pomp, relinquished day!
At times it haunts the lonely shore,
But when distressed, it wails
And sings weird songs of ancient lore
In which invention rarely fails.
Thus ostriches are creatures strange.
Like poems, they are wont to change.
I was always sad when the people round me said
That the elixir of youth must contain excessive lead
And that animals, vegetables, the humble wombat too,
Would never become younger by drinking salty glue
Or go over the eight and collapse into bed
With a navy-blue flute on the top of your head.
What a frightening picture the elephants drew!
I was always glad when the folk around me sang
That the secret of the tiger lay in its horrid fang,
And that Parsifal the Porcupine and all his hateful ilk
Could live off petty cash receipts and half a pint of milk,
Or kill a baboon with a Swiss boomerang,
Or poison a pig with a tainted meringue
And embroider the tale on a mural of silk!
I was often mad when the men about me cried
And pretended they were sorry when a king they hated died.
And remorse was all I felt when the Revolution came,
And the horse was all I smelt when they tried to change my name
Or lace my meringues with strong cyanide
And pretend that my father was not horrified
The day that my mother was led to him, lame.
At the edge of the forest a little bird sang
Of the trauma of Life, the Sturm and the Drang,
And the predator pigeons, the communist crows
Spoke on all of the topics which everyone knows,
"But does everyone care?" asked our hero, alarmed,
On the field of dry stubble so dreadfully farmed,
So appallingly ploughed, so disastrously sown
That the ploughshare was ruined, the ploughman had flown.
"O does anyone care?" cried our hero again,
"O does anyone dare to harvest the grain?"
"Yes, yes!" cried the hoopoes, "Yes, yes!" cried the twites,
"We agree on the principle but shan't waive our rights.
Let's combine to continue what men have begun.
Let's take up our cannon and fire our gun!"
From eighty leagues distance the blast could be heard.
The report was excessive and scattered the herd.
The elephants fled and the aardvarks withdrew.
The twites they all twittered, the crows they all crew.
At the edge of the forest where th'avocet lives
And the people are Pobbles, or sailors of sieves,
The eligible elephant spoke of the day
When the king had seduced his great-nephew away.
It was thus that the realm of the forest declined.
By the vice of the king it was all undermined.
I rode to the sea on the back of a goat
And sang to the moon of a beautiful stoat.
Imbued with this sense of ineffable glee,
I spurred the beast on and went into the sea.
The brine, it engulfed us, we sang not a note.
We searched for a sail but there wasn't a boat.
We sought in the sea for aught that should float.
I slid through the sea on the back of a fish.
Methought it would make a delicate dish.
But there chanced to appear a demonstrative beast
For whom every meal would end like a feast.
My fate, it was sealed and I cared not a whit
That the board was prepared and the candles were lit.
And we started to eat, and the beast we all bit.
The importance, I claim, derives from the fact
That the goat became wedged in my digestive tract.
The pain (do I bore you?) was great, I assure you:
I swore at the doctor with minimal tact.
And the fishes came round and condemned me outright,
Their voices all raised to ensure that their plight
Would be better than mine this abominable night.
Buy me a bonnet and polish my boots!
Bring me a bouquet of paranoid coots!
Follow me down to the waters of Bath
And fall on your knees at the fishmonger's hearth!
Sell me your money but give me your land.
Invest what you owe me and give me her hand.
My dowry, my dearie, must be of the best
(A hairy old Tory from south Budapest
Has the whole of the cash of the crew in his care)
And my wealth must exceed that of Arimithea.
When the trumpet is sounded the king, on his knees,
Shall show off his singing with great expertise.
And ninety grand pianos, all played by one man
(Though the tuning is faulty, sounding worse than
A million cats that sing in the woods
And make a vast profit by purchasing goods
From the gnomes on the left or the sprites on the right)
Who is wretched in practice but arrives on the night,
Arrayed with medallions and headdresses fine,
He sings of the days of the summer and wine
In a reedy falsetto which lacks any timbre,
Like tyres on a road with a very poor camber.
Meanwhile the old king will be choking to death
In the arms of his widow, the evil Queen Beth,
Who poisoned her stepsons with strychnine and salt,
Which ensured the proceedings were called to a halt.
There was an old person of Bognor.
For pets he had neither a dog nor
A luminous tope,
A rare calliope
Or the best armadillo in Bognor.
She never tells me yes or no.
It pains me so
(It does, you know)
To hear her "No".
She seldom tells me why or when,
But now and then,
Some nine or ten,
She'll "Why?" or "When?".
She often tells me whereabouts,
Between the shouts,
The ins and outs
Of crassest louts.
She, whom I have so admired, is often somewhat vague,
And he, my colleague in the woods, is often plagued by colds,
And I, though scarce allowed to walk, have visited the Hague
Where, legal wrangles understood, the king his sceptre holds.
And we, who are so many now that we cannot be wrong,
Should not be forced to make a point already made before.
Our lives are overgrown with weeds -- the way is very long,
The primrose path shall peter out in eightscore years and four.
And so she never tells me who
Is bound to do,
To wit, to woo
Or who will come another day
And what he'll say
Or throw away
Of come what may.
©1973, 1999 The Rat Fathom Poets
Edited by Peter Christian
May 31 2023.