[Borrowed from my poetry blog, purely because of the Shropshire Lad connection]
A second edition
does more than Watneys can
the ways of Art to Man…
Copyright David Harley, 1987. Unpublished (the poem, not the book). Alas, none of my security books has yet made it to a second edition, nor are any of them expected to.
There’s something extremely odd when the notes to a four-line poem (or an over-extended couplet) are this much lengthier than the verse itself, but here goes…
Milton’s self-announced intention in Paradise Lost (Book 1) was ”justify the ways of God to men”. Much later, A.E. Housman, in ‘A Shropshire Lad LXII‘, wrote:
Say, for what were hop-yards meant,
Or why was Burton built on Trent?
Oh many a peer of England brews
Livelier liquor than the Muse,
And malt does more than Milton can
To justify God’s ways to man.
I guess Milton’s somewhat grandiose intent to some extent invites the irreverence of Max Beerbohm’s observation in ‘A Ballade of My Betters’: I haven’t quoted it here as Beerbohm’s writings are not yet out of copyright, as far as I know.
On the whole, I’d rather have written Beerbohm’s piece than my own – or Housman’s – but he beat me to it. The phrase “well of English undefiled” comes from Spenser’s ‘Faerie Queen’, referring to Chaucer, by the way.
David Harley, master of shaggy doggerel.