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Saturday, March 26, 2011

Number 106: Wendy Cope "Proverbial Ballade"

Proverbial Ballade

Fine words won't turn the icing pink;
A wild rose has no employees;
Who boils his socks will make them shrink;
Who catches cold is sure to sneeze.
Who has two legs must wash his knees;
Who breaks the egg will find the yolk;
Who locks his door will need his keys—
So say I and so say the folk.

You can't shave with a tiddlywinks,
Nor make red wine from garden peas,
Nor show a blindworm how to blink,
Nor teach an old raccoon Chinese.
The juiciest orange feels the squeeze;
Who spends his portion will be broke;
Who has no milk can make no cheese—
So say I and so say the folk.

He makes no blot who has no ink,
Nor gathers honey who keeps no bees.
The ship that does not float will sink;
Who'd travel far must cross the seas.
Lone wolves are seldom seen in threes;
A conker ne'er becomes an oak;
Rome wasn't built by chimpanzees—
So say I and so say the folk.


Dear friends! If adages like these
Should seem banal, or just a joke,
Remember fish don't grow on trees—
So say I and so say the folk.

-- Wendy Cope

Hap Notes: Thought we'd wrap up this week of ballads/ballades with this pithy selection. In 1986 Wendy Cope (born 1945) wrote a book of poems called Making Cocoa For Kingsley Amis and I just fell in love with her poetry and her wry humor. She's amusing but she's so much more than that. The gravest things are said in jest and all that but even more to the point she knows the forms of poetry and how to use them. If you laugh at some of her lines just remember to keep reading closely- she gets into your head by amusing you.

Cope was born in Erith, Kent, went to St. Hilda's College, Oxford and taught elementary school before becoming a full-time free lance writer. She's witty and fun to read. She's not Elizabeth Bishop (who is, though? Bishop is remarkable) but she's very good. Guess who she get compared to often in the U.K. (Ten points if you said Philip Larkin. Sheesh! When will they stop with the Larkin stuff?)

Sometimes she's like a cheery Dorothy Parker:

The Orange

At lunchtime I bought a huge orange
The size of it made us all laugh.
I peeled it and shared it with Robert and Dave—
They got quarters and I had a half.

And that orange it made me so happy,
As ordinary things often do
Just lately. The shopping. A walk in the park
This is peace and contentment. It's new.

The rest of the day was quite easy.
I did all my jobs on my list
And enjoyed them and had some time over.
I love you. I'm glad I exist.

-- Wendy Cope

Sometimes she's hinting at something sad and desperate in this Villanelle-like poem:

Lonely Hearts

Can someone make my simple wish come true?
Male biker seeks female for touring fun.
Do you live in North London? Is it you?

Gay vegetarian whose friends are few,
I'm into music, Shakespeare and the sun,
Can someone make my simple wish come true?

Executive in search of something new -
Perhaps bisexual woman, arty, young.
Do you live in North London? Is it you?

Successful, straight and solvent? I am too -
Attractive Jewish lady with a son.
Can someone make my simple wish come true?

I'm Libran, inexperienced and blue -
Need slim non-smoker, under twenty-one.
Do you live in North London? Is it you?

Please write (with photo) to Box 152.
Who knows where it may lead once we've begun?
Can someone make my simple wish come true?
Do you live in North London? Is it you?

-- Wendy Cope
She hates that her work is online but frankly, I'm not crazy about the fact that Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana" gets used, along with Mozart and Bach and Beethoven and Aaron Copeland to sell cars and beef. If you want to make a steady living from poetry you're going to have to work in a book bindery. I do urge you, when you like a poet, to buy their books, though.

You can hear her read her work here:

Here is a selection of her bitingly funny "love" poems:

Here's a good Cope quote: "I don't set out to write humorous poems it's just sometimes my sense of humour gets into them - well quite often. As a reader I suppose I laugh when I recognise something - I think laughter often is when you recognise something is true but you'd never actually allowed yourself to think that or you'd never heard it put quite so well. I think it's possible for a poem to be funny and serious at the same time and I get very annoyed with the assumption that if a poem is funny then it can't be saying anything important and deeply felt."

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