Bathos, not pathos

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In Competition No. 2403 you were invited to supply a poem lamenting the fate of a famous person in which bathos is the keynote.

Bathos, or unintentionally falling flat, implies a hoped-for height to fall from. A poet like McGonagall whose verse is consistently bad is pathetic rather than bathetic, whereas Wordsworth could drop hundreds of feet in seconds; witness the ‘Lucy’ poem which plunges fatally in the last two lines: ‘But she is in her grave, and Oh!/ The difference to me.’ In awarding the prizes I haven’t strictly applied the above distinction; in fact Gerard Benson’s entry never fell because it never tried to rise, but since it made me laugh on a glum day he is among the winners printed below. They get £25 each, and Mary Holtby receives £30 for her exercise in what Pope called ‘the art of sinking’.

To sorrowing sailors first the message came,

‘Great Nelson’s dying!’ What a dreadful shame!

Prone on the boards they see our hero lie,

With Hardy on the spot to kiss goodbye.

Sadly he leans above his wounded friend.

‘I’m shattered!’ he exclaims. ‘This is the end!’

The watching crew, with breath severely bated,

Alike lament and, simply devastated,

Recall their admiral in his manly vigour,

Even to ladies an attractive figure.

The hero of the Nile and Copenhagen,

In him our nation surely won a bargain,

Whereas the Frenchies in their turn got more

Than proud, ambitious Boney bargained for.

But now, alas! we mourn his final wreck:

Fate called the shots, and Nelson hit the deck.

Mary Holtby

Oh tragic, painful fate that him befell

Who hymned the Tragedy of Fate so well!

Great Aeschylus, whose shoulders, not his pate,

So long had borne the literary weight

Of glory, fell beneath a crushing blow

That quickly laid him literally low.

O wicked eagle, soaring high above

(Would that you had been no more than a dove!)

Not thinking of imagination’s flight

But only of your own gastric delight!

O tiny tortoise, slowest of your race,

But hard within your rocky carapace,

Fated to be swept up into the sky,

But then let drop, you hurtled from on high,

Struck Aeschylus upon his shiny head,vAnd left him first surprised, then, sadly, dead.

Brian Murdoch

Great Henry, eighth to bear that noble name,

How hazard-prone your golden reign became!

First the fair youth, so fond of goodly sport,

Bounding around the royal tennis court,

Seeking to mend your father’s thrifty ways

With pageantry to set the world ablaze.

And then — how fickle fortune intervenes —

To have such trouble with your various queens!

Six brides you partnered to the wedding feast,

But each one let you down (well, five at least),

On top of which misfortunes, sad to tell,

You had a problem with your legs as well.

And in the end you got your curtain-call

At fifty-five; why, that’s no age at all.

Had you been spared ...but we must curb our greed:

What you achieved was plenitude indeed.

Noel Petty

She was the very image of a queen,

The very image of a mother, too.

In all our history there has seldom been

A person to whom such respect was due.

Through war and peace, whatever fate would bring,

She symbolised this island race’s pride,

She was the consort of an English king,

Though tragically widowed when he died.

In later years she showed great dignity,

Though always ready with a smile and wave,

Becoming England’s favourite OAP,

Till age and illness led her to the grave.

The nation was immersed in grief, but still

She lived to be a centenarian.

She is remembered with immense goodwill,

And of her death no one can say ‘san fairy ann’.

Basil Ransome-Davies

Sir Edward Heath, your death at last

Brings us remembrance of times past

When you sailed out on Morning Cloud

Regardless of the blue-rinse crowd

Who thought your rather humble birth

Unsuited to the topmost berth.

But you, aspiring to be great,

Then sailed the ailing ship of state

Through squalls of union discontent

To port in Europe, where you meant

To anchor her for good and all.

Yes, that was you before the fall

To back-bench status where you sat

So many years, still quite good at

Conducting music in the break —

Just like your popular namesake.

Alanna Blake

O Milton! It was rotten luck

That you had to go blind;

But, being philosophical,

I suppose you didn’t mind.

Hadst thou been living at this hour

(As Wordsworth hoped you might),

At Moorfields, so the experts say,

You could have been put right.

But on the other hand, of course,

If here, instead of Heaven,

You’d have been very, very old:

Three hundred and ninety-seven!

Gerard Benson

No. 2406: Nostalgiad

You are invited to write a nostalgic poem (maximum 16 lines) about commercial products (the Bugatti?) or brand images (His Master’s Voice’s dog?) which are no longer with us. Entries to ‘Competition No. 2406’ by 18 August.