Proverbial wisdom?

5 October 2013

9:00 AM

5 October 2013

9:00 AM

In Competition 2817 you were asked to provide a poem, in the manner of Harry Graham’s Perverted Proverbs, questioning the wisdom of a popular proverb.

Graham was an immensely gifted lyricist and poet. In 1903, in the guise of one Col. D. Streamer, he published Perverted Proverbs: A Manual of Immorals for the Many, in which he brilliantly exposed the absurdity at the heart of those maddening nuggets of so-called wisdom that are trotted out when you least want to hear them. You weren’t obliged to follow Graham’s metre and rhyme, but those who did so earned extra points.

Nick Grace and Brian Allgar deserve an honourable mention. The winners, below, earn £25 each; Chris O’Carroll takes £30.

In the country of the blind,
The one-eyed man is king, you tell me?
There’s not one whit of truth behind
That bill of goods you seek to sell me.
This world rewards the clearest vision
With harshest hatred and derision.
Between him with an eye that sees
And them without, there’s always friction.
Darkness inflicts cruel penalties
On insight — hemlock, crucifixion.
No one-eyed man will ever find
Himself enthroned among the blind.
Chris O’Carroll
It’s such a shame when sun’s so rare
To squander it in making hay.
It cannot hurt to leave it there —
There’s sure to be a better day.
And think of all the other things
That need the balm that sunshine brings.
It would make better use of time
To take a punt out on the broads
Or lie back with a gin and lime
Or snooze the day away at Lord’s.
And see what making hay achieves —
A headache, and a few limp sheaves.
Make hay when skies are dull and cool,
Or leave it to some other fool.
Noel Petty
The fellow must be brought to book
Who thinks a Crowd will ease the strain:
He’s surely neither Sweep nor Cook,
Nor yet Conductor on a train:
‘Get a man in!’ runs the Phrase,
And not the cast of Songs of Praise.
A single chap, with Art and Stealth,
Perhaps with an assistant Nurse,
May cure your pain, restore your Health,
While many hands would make you worse —
And think of knife and fork and spoon
If served you by a whole Platoon!
One servant, Sir, will please His Nibs:
Not scores of Elbows in the Ribs.
Bill Greenwell
‘Ne’er cast a clout till May be out’:
What rot, read on and you’ll agree.
Without the shadow of a doubt
This phrase lacks credibility,
As proverbs per se tend to do.
Let me elucidate for you:
‘Clout’ is a many-petalled flower —
Dishrag or garment (OED);
Mending patch. Influence and power;
A blow, a thump. (D’you follow me?)
The target at which an archer shoots,
A large-headed nail for cobbling boots.
While on the subject, May means may —
Not the spring month, the hawthorn tree.
Who thus pontificates? you say —
Col. D. Streamer: Harry G!
Mike Morrison
On a scale of value, min to max,
I rate this maxim less than min:
It no more helps your wealth to wax
Than swapping gold effects for tin.
The fact you watch each penny piece
Won’t mean you’ll see your funds increase.
And if you hope your tender care
Will make a fortune grow from twopence,
I can with confidence declare
You’re heading for a rude comeuppance.
You’ll never have your pockets lined
While petty cash is all you mind.
So spurn contrary hocus-pocus
And listen to plain common sense:
It pays, of course, to have one focus
But that should be on pounds not pence.
W.J. Webster
Absence makes the heart grow fonder?
Careless words, for I confess
that when I seize the chance to wander
from your side, I like you less.
When I’m away, I tend to roam,
seeking pleasures of a kind
I never would have found at home;
you’re out of sight and out of mind.
You think, when sitting in the heart
of Place Pigalle in Paris, France,
(with bottled madness à la carte)
I’d send a postcard? Not a chance.
Forget fine wines and whisky blends,
this liquid’s green; I’ve time to squander,
raise a glass to ‘absent friends’,
It’s absinthe makes the heart grow fonder.
Sylvia Fairley

No. 2820: postscript

Barbara Hardy’s recent Dorothea’s Daughter and Other Nineteenth Century Postscripts is a collection of short stories in which Professor Hardy imagines significant conversations between characters some time after their novel has ended. These postscripts enter into dialogues with the original narratives by developing suggestions in the text rather than changing the plot in any way. How about other such postscripts to any well-known novel? Please email entries, of up to 150 words, to by midday on 16 October.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

You might disagree with half of it, but you’ll enjoy reading all of it. Try your first 10 weeks for just $10

Show comments