Beer

Original Text: 
Charles Stuart Calverley. Verses and Translations, rev. edn. (1862: Cambridge: Deighton, Bell, 1871).
1In those old days which poets say were golden --
2    (Perhaps they laid the gilding on themselves:
3And, if they did, I'm all the more beholden
4    To those brown dwellers in my dusty shelves,
5Who talk to me "in language quaint and olden"
6    Of gods and demigods and fauns and elves,
8And staid young goddesses who flirt with shepherds:)
9In those old days, the Nymph called Etiquette
10    (Appalling thought to dwell on) was not born.
12    No fashions varying as the hues of morn.
13Just as they pleased they dressed and drank and ate,
15And danced unchaperoned, and laughed unchecked,
16And were no doubt extremely incorrect.
17Yet do I think their theory was pleasant:
19Back to those times, so different from the present;
21Nor smote a billiard-ball, nor winged a pheasant,
22    Nor "did" her hair by means of long-tailed combs,
24Nor -- most astonishing of all -- drank Beer.
25No, they did not drink Beer, "which brings me to"
27Not that "the middle" is precisely true,
28    Or else I should not tax your patience long:
29If I had said "beginning," it might do;
30    But I have a dislike to quoting wrong:
31I was unlucky -- sinned against, not sinning --
33So to proceed. That abstinence from Malt
34    Has always struck me as extremely curious.
35The Greek mind must have had some vital fault,
36    That they should stick to liquors so injurious --
38    And not at once invent that mild, luxurious,
39And artful beverage, Beer. How the digestion
40Got on without it, is a startling question.
41Had they digestions? and an actual body
46    Some say the Gaelic mixture, I the Saxon:
47I think a strict adherence to the latter
48Might make some Scots less pigheaded, and fatter.
50    That the real beverage for feasting gods on
51Is a soft compound, grateful to the nose
52    And also to the palate, known as "Hodgson."
53I know a man -- a tailor's son -- who rose
54    To be a peer: and this I would lay odds on,
55(Though in his Memoirs it may not appear,)
56That that man owed his rise to copious Beer.
58    Names that should be on every infant's tongue!
59Shall days and months and years and centuries pass,
60    And still your merits be unrecked, unsung?
61Oh! I have gazed into my foaming glass,
62    And wished that lyre could yet again be strung
63Which once rang prophet-like through Greece, and taught her
64Misguided sons that the best drink was water.
65How would he now recant that wild opinion,
66    And sing -- as would that I could sing -- of you!
67I was not born (alas!) the "Muses' minion,"
70    Whoe'er he is that entertains the view
72Sponsor at last to some now nameless sea.
74    With all the lustre of the dying day,
76    (Humming, of course, in his delightful way,
78    The Nymphs were when they saw his lifeless clay;
79And how rock told to rock the dreadful story
80That poor young Lycidas was gone to glory:)
81What would that lone and labouring soul have given,
82    At that soft moment for a pewter pot!
83How had the mists that dimmed his eye been riven,
84    And Lycidas and sorrow all forgot!
85If his own grandmother had died unshriven,
86    In two short seconds he'd have recked it not;
87Such power hath Beer. The heart which Grief hath cankered
88Hath one unfailing remedy -- the Tankard.
89Coffee is good, and so no doubt is cocoa;
95The Prima Donna, smiling herself out,
96Recruits her flagging powers with bottled stout.
97But what is coffee, but a noxious berry,
98    Born to keep used-up Londoners awake?
99What is Falernian, what is Port or Sherry,
100    But vile concoctions to make dull heads ache?
101Nay stout itself -- (though good with oysters, very) --
102    Is not a thing your reading man should take.
103He that would shine, and petrify his tutor,
105But hark! a sound is stealing on my ear --
106    A soft and silvery sound -- I know it well.
107Its tinkling tells me that a time is near
108    Precious to me -- it is the Dinner Bell.
109O blessed Bell! Thou bringest beef and beer,
110    Thou bringest good things more than tongue may tell:
112Is, and shall be, my appetite for food.
113I go. Untaught and feeble is my pen:
114    But on one statement I may safely venture:
115That few of our most highly gifted men
116    Have more appreciation of their trencher.
117I go. One pound of British beef, and then
119That home-returning, I may "soothly say,"
120"Fate cannot touch me: I have dined to-day."

Notes

7] Pan: goatlike Greek god of shepherds and hunters, inventor of the syrinx (seven-reed flute).
Bacchus: the Greek god of wine and fertility, Dionysus, often imagined as being in a tiger-drawn chariot. Back to Line
11] Mayfair: London's sophisticated neighbourhood in the 19th century, found north of Piccadilly, and named after an annual fair held there from the 17th to the early 19th centuries. Back to Line
14] Ceres: Roman goddess of the harvest, also known as Demeter to the Greeks.
John Barleycorn: personification of barley grain, from which malt liquors are made. Back to Line
18] "wayward fancy roams": no source identified. Back to Line
20] At-homes: times at which someone is prepared to receive one at their residence as a guest. Back to Line
23] Brighton: English seaside resort. Back to Line
26] Gilpin: William Gilpin (1724-1804), a vicar famous for his tour books of British landscapes. This quotation is from William Cowper's poem, The Life of John Gilpin (London, 1785), lines 155-56. Back to Line
32] Cowper: William Cowper (1731-1800), English poet and translator of Homer, who generally began in the middle. Back to Line
37] Attic: Greek. Back to Line
42] dyspepsia: indigestion. Back to Line
43] Tom Noddy: name for a type of person, one not very bright, someone who "nods" or makes errors. Back to Line
44] Mr. Briggs: one of Cecilia Beverley's potential guardians in Fanny Burney's Cecilia, or Memoirs of an Heiress (1782), a man characterized by extreme greed and vulgarity.
Jones and Jackson: presumably, commonplace names. Back to Line
45] whisky-toddy: whiskey in hot sugared and spiced water. Back to Line
49] Bon Gaultier: the pseudonym used by Sir Theodore Martin (1816-1909), who with W. E. Aytoun (1813-1865) wrote the so-called Bon Gaultier ballads (The Book of Ballads [London: W. S. Orr, 1845]; B-10 9329 Fisher Rare Book Library). The name comes from Rabelais and means "good fellow." Back to Line
57] All of these are commercial names for brands of beers and stouts in England. Back to Line
68] blue: a "blue stocking" or "blue blood"? Back to Line
69] waxen pinion: alluding to the myth of Daedalus and his son Icarus, who flew too high so that his wax wings (or pinions) were melted by the sun and he fell to his death in the sea (hence Calverley's remark about sponsoring, that is, naming, a sea yet unnamed). Back to Line
71] Pindar: Greek lyric poet (522-442 B.C.), who devised the form of the ode. Back to Line
73] Arcadia: Greek mountainous region supposed to be the home of Pan, a place of happiness. Back to Line
75] Cithæron: the harper? Back to Line
77] Lycidas: John Milton's poem of the same name, lamenting the death of his friend Edward King. Back to Line
90] Johnson: Samuel Johnson (1709-84). Back to Line
91] "Dulce est desipere in loco", Horace to Virgil, on the need for wisdom to lighten up once in a while (Odes, IV, xii. 28):
verum pone moras et studium lucri
nigrorumque memor, dum licet, ignium
misce stultitiam consiliis brevem:
dulce est desipere in loco.
(ed. Paul Shorey and Gordon Lang [1919], from the online version by Perseus Project at Tufts University). Edward George Earle Bulwer-Lytton translates this as follows:
But put aside delays and care of gain,
Warned, while yet time, by the dark death-fires; mix
With thought brief thoughtlessness; in fitting place
'Tis sweet to be unwise.
(from Michael Gilleland's edition). Back to Line
92] Falernian: district in Campagnia celebrated by the Romans for excellent wine. Back to Line
93] "Fra Poco": literally, "brother little," a baritone aria by love-sick, suicidal Edgardo in Act III of Gaetano Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor (1835). Back to Line
94] "Casta Diva": literally "chaste goddess," the exquisite soprano aria from Vincenzo Bellini's Norma (1831), sung by the Druid high priestess Norma to the moon. Back to Line
104] draught: beer on "draft" comes from the keg rather than the bottle. Back to Line
111] Seared: withered (perhaps an allusion to Milton's "Lycidas," line 2). Back to Line
118] Mr. Swiveller: Dick Swiveller, a disreputable character from Charles Dickens' The Old Curiosity Shop. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
1861
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
RPO 1998.
Rhyme: