Analysis II

[Borrowed from my poetry blog, purely because of the Shropshire Lad connection] 

A second edition
does more than Watneys can
to justify
the ways of Art to Man…

avienguide_cover

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 Unpublished (the poem, not the book).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.

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