THE SITWELLS ORGANIZE A ROYAL POETRY BENEFIT FOR THE FREE FRENCH WITH: EDMUND BLUNDEN, GORDON BOTTOMLEY, H.D., WALTER DE LA MARE, T.S. ELIOT, JOHN MASEFIELD, EDITH AND OSBERT SITWELL, WALTER TURNER, ARTHUR WALEY, LADY WELLESLEY, AND VITA SACK-VILLE WEST (Aeolian Hall, April 14, 1943)
but Walter Turner just went on and on.
The audience applauded more than once
to cut him off, but he misunderstood,
and, though the poets heckled him and booed,
he haughtily continued to perform.
The princesses, who sat up front with Osbert,
would chuckle, delicately, with the queen,
as other poets who went overtime
were grumbled at, though Walter took the cake;
the chairman had to pull the plug on him.
And Lady Wellesley, lit-up like a church,
was way too drunk to read. Edith had locked
her in the lady’s room, but she escaped,
approached the stage, and had to be restrained.
Surely the princesses would have some questions:
Why were the poets scornful of each other?
And why did most of them go on too long?
Was Lady Wellesley drunk or just insane?
And didn’t Mr. Eliot seem perturbed
after he caught us giggling at his hodgepodge?
But, anyhow, the royals loved the show,
and Harold Nicolson felt gratified,
certain that Vita Sack-Ville West, his wife,
had far outshone the rest, especially Edith,
who overdid her hierophantic bit.
Harold was worried sick about the war
and couldn’t sleep, though things were looking up.
The Jerries in Bizerte were shellacked,
and, past the Irrawaddy, Wingate read
Gray’s Elegy to resolute commandos
by firelight. Above the Solomon’s,
Lieutenant Barber, army ace, had tailed
and shot a Nippon betty bomber down,
an ambush partly laid in retribution.
Say, Admiral Yamamoto, Sayonara!
FROM THE AUTHOR
The six line stanzas are entirely arbitrary.
To restore the pentameter, that is the first heave.
The blank verse here is tight; there are no anapests (EL
yet and e SPESH lee are glides). The substitutions are
all conservative: nine feminine endings (one fourth of
thirty-six lines) plus five first-foot trochees and one
fourth-foot trochee following a caesura.
Keeping it regular allows the speech rhythm to “ruffle
the meter” (Frost).
Blank verse will accommodate decoration and elevated
diction. You can wrench the syntax if you are careful to
omit anything “that you couldn’t, in some circumstance,
in the stress of some emotion, actually say” (Pound).
Vainly, I dream of accessing some of the splendor
that seems almost inherent in the form itself, from
Tamburlaine (1587) to Idylls of The King (1874).