THIS MONTH’S PARODY (Jul 15) You are old, Father William

THE OLD MAN’S COMFORTS AND HOW HE GAINED THEM

Robert Southey (1799)

Robert Southey (1774-1843) is little read today, though his poem ‘The Inchcape Rock’ remains a favourite of the period. Created Poet Laureate in 1813 (after Sir Walter Scott refused the post), his most enduring contributions to literature were to coin the word ‘autobiography’ and write ‘The Story of the Three Bears’, the original Goldilocks fable.

‘The Old Man’s Comforts and How he Gained Them’ is entirely forgotten while Carroll’s parody lives on. One commentator has characterised Sothey’s verse as ‘dishonest in the interests of piety…poor not because it preaches, but because it preaches flatly and falsely.’ Carroll’s parody ‘undermines the pious didacticism of Southey’s original and gives Father William an eccentric vitality that rebounds upon his idiot questioner’.

Even better to my mind – and still amusing 115 years after it first appeared – is ‘Anon’s’ sharp parody of  Southey / Carroll, a prescient piece of poetry for 1900.

“You are old, Father William,” the young man cried,
“The few locks which are left you are grey;
You are hale, Father William, a hearty old man;
Now tell me the reason, I pray.”

“In the days of my youth,” Father William replied,
“I remember’d that youth would fly fast,
And abus’d not my health and my vigour at first,
That I never might need them at last.”

“You are old, Father William,” the young man cried,
“And pleasures with youth pass away.
And yet you lament not the days that are gone;
Now tell me the reason, I pray.”

“In the days of my youth,” Father William replied,
“I remember’d that youth could not last;
I thought of the future, whatever I did,
That I never might grieve for the past.”

“You are old, Father William,” the young man cried,
“And life must be hast’ning away;
You are cheerful and love to converse upon death;
Now tell me the reason, I pray.”

“I am cheerful, young man,” Father William replied,
“Let the cause thy attention engage;
In the days of my youth I remember’d my God!
And He hath not forgotten my age.”

 

YOU ARE OLD FATHER WILLIAM  (from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland)
Lewis Carroll (1865)

“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 the 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!”

 

YOU ARE YOUNG, KAISER WILLIAM
Anon. (1900)

‘You are young, Kaiser William,’ the young man exclaimed,
‘And your wisdom teeth barely are through,
And yet by your deeds the whole world is inflamed –
Do you think this is proper of you?’

‘As a baby I doted on playing with fire,’
Replied the irascible prince,
‘And though I was spanked by my excellent sire,
I’ve been doing the same ever since.’

‘You are young,’ said the Sage, ‘and your juvenile legs
Are not what one could call fully grown;
Yet you point out to Grandmamma how to suck eggs –
Why adopt this preposterous tone?’

‘As a child,’ said the youth, ’I perceived that my head
Wouldn’t ever allow me to learn,
So I made up my mind to start teaching instead
And I taught everybody in turn.’

‘You are young,’ said the Sage, ‘and you cling to the view
That the whole of the world must be yours.
Now show how the Transvaal’s connected with you
And what business you have with the Boers.’

‘I am tired of your questions and sick of your din,’
Answered William; ‘obey my behest –
Be off, or I’ll treat you as one of my kin,
And order your instant arrest!’

 

Here’s another (very clever) version by Shena Lewington written, she tells me, ‘in praise of the clerk to governors of a school governing body’:

“ You are old, my dear clerk,” the young chair said,
“It’s the minutes you write for your pay.
And yet you’re incessantly tweeting instead –
Do you think, at your age, that’s OK?”

“In my youth,” said the clerk, “when just blogging for fun,
I feared Twitter might injure my cred;
But, now that I’m perfectly sure I have none,
Why, I do it from morning till bed.”

“You are old,” said the governor, gazing in awe,
“And have grown most uncommonly fat;
Yet you managed to pirouette in through the door –
Pray, what is the reason of that?”

“The mental gymnastics of DfE re-states
Have kept all my faculties supple;
Ofsted revisions and policy updates –
Allow me to point out a couple?”

“The agenda’s so long and we don’t understand
The right way to talk our way through it.
We try to comply with the law of the land –
Pray, how shall we manage to do it?”

“In my youth,” said the sage, “the Guide to the Law
Had hundreds of pages within it;
The procedural clout which it gave to the clerk
Has gone, now they’ve chosen to bin it.”

“You are old,” said the chair, “and your mind’s in a fog
– Though your pen is as steady as ever –
You balance your day job with writing a blog;
What made you so awfully clever?”

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

 

3 Comments

  • You may also like this set of verses that I wrote in praise of the clerk to governors of a school governing body: https://reversals.wordpress.com/2016/01/13/you-are-old-my-dear-clerk/

    “ You are old, my dear clerk,” the young chair said,
    “It’s the minutes you write for your pay.
    And yet you’re incessantly tweeting instead –
    Do you think, at your age, that’s OK?”

    “In my youth,” said the clerk, “when just blogging for fun,
    I feared Twitter might injure my cred;
    But, now that I’m perfectly sure I have none,
    Why, I do it from morning till bed.”

    “You are old,” said the governor, gazing in awe,
    “And have grown most uncommonly fat;
    Yet you managed to pirouette in through the door –
    Pray, what is the reason of that?”

    “The mental gymnastics of DfE re-states
    Have kept all my faculties supple;
    Ofsted revisions and policy updates –
    Allow me to point out a couple?”

    “The agenda’s so long and we don’t understand
    The right way to talk our way through it.
    We try to comply with the law of the land –
    Pray, how shall we manage to do it?”

    “In my youth,” said the sage, “the Guide to the Law
    Had hundreds of pages within it;
    The procedural clout which it gave to the clerk
    Has gone, now they’ve chosen to bin it.”

    “You are old,” said the chair, “and your mind’s in a fog
    – Though your pen is as steady as ever –
    You balance your day job with writing a blog;
    What made you so awfully clever?”

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

    .

  • Shena – wow! Thanks for sending this. Impressive stuff. I hope you don’t mind me adding this to the main pages.

  • I’d be honoured!

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