The Fast-Receding Sloop
or The War of the Whelks


H. G. Whelks
Celia Fate
Pont-op Adverb

  1. O Buckthorpe, sing no more thy sorry strain
  2. I must go down to the woods again, to the woods of far Bombay
  3. High among the mistletoe I saw a carrot hang

O Buckthorpe, sing no more thy sorry strain
Of flowers of golden hue, or pining in the street;
Of alibi and alias, of daffodils and dahlias
Of snow or rain,
Which is not meet
For us forsaken failures.

Sing not thy irreligious sarabande
Of graceless squirrels squabbling on a limb,
To Cicero or Ulysses, to wizards old or foolishes
Who speechless stand
And laugh at him:
His mistress is unruly. She's

In charge of all the pupils at Academies and Schools
And teaches them pig-Latin and the art of shelling peas;
Arithmetic and history, (her talents are a mystery)
Her pupils, fools
Who chop down trees
As Buckthorpe chops down his tree.

O Mrs Buckthorpe, cut thy husband down!
Now pin him to the wall, and watch him writhe
To the occasion. Mimic the Asian!
With fearsome frown
With chuckle blithe
His colour is a beige 'un.

O Buckthorpe, where your plated helmet now?
O where, O where the shield with which you fought
And where the dagger? Please don't stagger
And clutch your brow
As though you'd caught
An ageing witless hag, a

Crone so old and mindless with bare gums and balding head
That half the folk who saw her fell in fits and starts and stops
And lay upon the pathway, even though it wasn't bath-day,
As if quite dead
Like the corpses in the shops
In semi-distant Cáthay.

I must go down to the woods again, to the woods of far Bombay
Down amongst whose fearful glades I left my nesting-box
Wherein I stored two golden combs, my sandals and my socks
My stockings and my mandolin, aligning in the stocks.
I wonder if they died at once, or lived to see the day.

And I'll come back a wiser man, a wiser and a sadder
For madmen all of different size, they climb alike the stair
To unattractive garrets, to the Necromancer's lair
Where the wizard's countless friend are (dare I say it?) debonair:
For if the wise men all are mad, the wizard's friends are madder.

Noone pays their salary and let their tireless work
Find Turkish wirelessmen who chew on celery all day
Or play the flute; and so, without their weekly pay
They clean the nesting-boxes out with vim (if I dare say ...)
For Margelet will surely come and scold them if they shirk.

I dye with madder now my shirt, my hair I dye with woad
My colour-scheme should save me from the pythons in the dell
And if while cycling down the road, I call a daisy "belle"
I pray ye gods be not unkind: consign me not to Hell
For sighing, nay for suing, the seeds uncertain sowed.

So Margelet will cycle now, to the woods where hermits pray
And wring each hour the curfew dour which knells the parting sheep
Watch my still-life resting in its long eternal sleep;
See the unrelenting psychopath that fishes in the deep
And preys on hapless hermit crabs as only he can prey.

If she who dotes on feather omelettes cooks for me a stew
I'll boil it in a samovar and eat it with a fork,
Butter on the feathers -- is it avocet or Stork?
If I put it in the oven will it condescend to talk?
It will only talk to me, if I let it talk to you.

High among the mistletoe I saw a carrot hang
Deserted in the throes of love by Marigold and Meg
It dangled down the distance of one sharpened parasang
Supported by a bulldog clip and held there by a peg.

I gazed, and gazing there I saw a mistle thrush arrive;
It settled on a nearby farm and soon began to chirp.
To hear its chirping, proverbs say, ensures that you will thrive
Albeit in a grimy jail where capybaras burp.

It grazed, and grazing there its knee it soon began to squeal,
A scrannel whine which roused the nearby king
Who, somnolent as ever, was disgorging his last meal
As a favour to his nephew, who had taught him how to sing.

Whales, aardvarks, elephants, rend me no tares,
Give me no cornfield weeds, distract me not with putty
When, twice a day, I hand you out your shares
Of artichokes most cold, and coalmen's jars so smutty
That the jam that's found therein is not, I think, for hares.

Who makes preserves for the creatures of the field?
Is it the ibex, lurking with his bowls of salty goop?
Or else the lonely avocet that tends his barley yield,
And mixes ferro-concrete while cavorting in a hoop
While he does the eightsome reel with a sevenfold shield ....

The carrot hit me on the head
I bit my leg and went to bed,
I knew I'd need that mistletoe, I guessed it wasn't wasted
I thought I'd heard that whistle blow, the turkey wasn't basted.

And so my reverie was worth
A crystal in the snow
Which Venus, at the hour of mirth
Not unrepentant of her birth
Disowned. It pained her so.

©1973, 1999 The Rat Fathom Poets
Edited by Peter Christian
May 20 2024.