REGINALD'S RUBAIYAT

The other day (confided Reginald), when I was killing time

in the bathroom and making bad resolutions for the New Year,

it occurred to qme that I would like to be a poet. The chief

qualification, I understand, is that you must be born.

Well, I hunted up my birth certificate, and found that I was

all right on that score, and then I got to work on a Hymn to

the New Year, which struck me as having possibilities. It

suggested extremely unusual things to absolutely unlikely

people, which I believe is the art of first-class catering

in any department. Quite the best verse in it went

something like this:

“Have you heard the groan of a gravelled grouse,

Or the snarl of a snaffled snail

(Husband or mother, like me, or spouse),

Have you lain a-creep in the darkened house

Where the wounded wombats wail?”

It was quite improbable that any one had, you know, and

that’s where it stimulated the imagination and took people

out of their narrow, humdrum selves. No one has ever called

me narrow or humdrum, but even I felt worked up now and then

at the thought of that house with the stricken wombats in

it. It simply wasn’t nice. But the editors were unanimous

in leaving it alone; they said the thing had been done

before and done worse, and that the market for that sort of

work was extremely limited.

It was just on the top of that discouragement that the

Duchess wanted me to write something in her

album—something Persian, you know, and just a little bit

decadent—and I thought a quatrain on an unwholesome egg

would meet the requirements of the case. So I started in

with:

“Cackle, cackle, little hen,

How I wonder if and when

Once you laid the egg that I

Met, alas! too late. Amen.”

The Duchess objected to the Amen, which I thought gave an

air of forgiveness and chose jugee to the whole thing;

also she said it wasn’t Persian enough, as though I were

trying to sell her a kitten whose mother had married for

love rather than pedigree. So I recast it entirely, and the

new version read:

“The hen that laid three moons ago, who knows

In what Dead Yesterday her shades repose;

To some election turn thy waning span

And rain thy rottenness on fiscal foes.”

I thought there was enough suggestion of decay in that to

satisfy a jackal, and to me there was something infinitely

pathetic and appealing in the idea of the egg having a sort

of St. Luke’s summer of commercial usefulness. But the

Duchess begged me to leave out any political allusions;

she’s the president of a Women’s Something or other, and she

said it might be taken as an endorsement of deplorable

methods. I never can remember which Party Irene discourages

with her support, but I shan’t forget an occasion when I was

staying at her place and she gave me a pamphlet to leave at

the house of a doubtful voter, and some grapes and things

for a woman who was suffering from a chill on the top of a

patent medicine. I thought it much cleverer to give the

grapes to the former and the political literature to the

sick woman, and the Duchess was quite absurdly annoyed about

it afterwards. It seems the leaflet was addressed “To

those about to wobble”—l wasn’t responsible for the silly

title of the thing—and the woman never recovered; anyway,

the voter was completely won over by the grapes and jellies,

and I think that should have balanced matters. The Duchess

called it bribery, and said it might have compromised the

candidate she was supporting; he was expected to subscribe

to church funds and chapel funds, and football and cricket

clubs and regattas, and bazaars and beanfeasts and

bell-ringers, and poultry shows and ploughing matches, and

reading-rooms and choir outings, and shooting trophies and

testimonials, and anything of that sort; but bribery would

not have been tolerated.

I fancy I have perhaps more talent for electioneering than

for poetry, and I was really getting extended over this

quatrain business. The egg began to be unmanageable, and

the Duchess suggested something with a French literary ring

about it. I hunted back in my mind for the most familiar

French classic that I could take liberties with, and after a

little exercise of memory I turned out the following:

“Hast thou the pen that once the gardener had?

I have it not; and know, these pears are bad.

Oh, larger than the horses of the Prince

Are those the general drives in Kaikobad.”

Even that didn’t altogether satisfy Irene; I fancy the

geography of it puzzled her. She probably thought Kaikobad

was an unfashionable German spa, where you’d meet

matrimonial bargain-hunters and emergency Servian kings. My

temper was beginning to slip its moorings by that time. I

look rather nice when I lose my temper. (I hoped you would

say I lose it very often. I mustn’t monopolize the

conversation.)

“Of course, if you want something really Persian and

passionate, with red wine and bulbuls in it,” I went on to

suggest; but she grabbed the book from me.

“Not for worlds. Nothing with red wine or passion in it.

Dear Agatha gave me the album, and she would be mortified to

the quick—”

I said I didn’t believe Agatha had a quick, and we got

quite heated in arguing the matter. Finally, the Duchess

declared I shouldn’t write anything nasty in her book, and I

said I shouldn’t write anything in her nasty book, so there

wasn’t a very wide point of difference between us. For the

rest of the afternoon I pretended to be sulking, but I was

really working back to that quatrain, like a fox-terrier

that’s buried a deferred lunch in a private flower-bed.

When I got an opportunity I hunted up Agatha’s autograph,

which had the front page all to itself, and, copying her

prim handwriting as well as I could, I inserted above it the

following Thibetan fragment:

“With Thee, oh, my Beloved, to do a dak

(a dak I believe is a sort of uncomfortable post-journey)

On the pack-saddle of a grunting yak,

With never room for chilling chaperon,

‘Twere better than a Panhard in the Park.”

That Agatha would get on to a yak in company with a lover

even in the comparative seclusion of Thibet is unthinkable.

I very much doubt if she’d do it with her own husband in the

privacy of the Simplon tunnel. But poetry, as I’ve remarked

before, should always stimulate the imagination.

By the way, when you asked me the other day to dine with

you on the 14th, I said I was dining with the Duchess.

Well, I’m not. I’m dining with you.