Poeta Fit, Non Nascitur

Original Text: 
Lewis Carroll, Rhyme? and Reason? (London: Macmillan, 1883): 122-30. B-10 6733 Fisher Rare Book Library.
2How shall I write in rhyme?
3You told me once `the very wish
4Partook of the sublime.'
5The tell me how! Don't put me off
6With your `another time'!"
7The old man smiled to see him,
8To hear his sudden sally;
9He liked the lad to speak his mind
11And thought "There's no hum-drum in him,
12Nor any shilly-shally."
13"And would you be a poet
14Before you've been to school?
15Ah, well! I hardly thought you
16So absolute a fool.
18A very simple rule.
19"For first you write a sentence,
20And then you chop it small;
21Then mix the bits, and sort them out
22Just as they chance to fall:
23The order of the phrases makes
24No difference at all.
25"Then, if you'd be impressive,
26Remember what I say,
27That abstract qualities begin
28With capitals alway:
29The True, the Good, the Beautiful --
30Those are the things that pay!
31"Next, when we are describing
32A shape, or sound, or tint;
33Don't state the matter plainly,
34But put it in a hint;
35And learn to look at all things
36With a sort of mental squint."
37"For instance, if I wished, Sir,
38Of mutton-pies to tell,
39Should I say `dreams of fleecy flocks
40Pent in a wheaten cell'?"
41"Why, yes," the old man said: "that phrase
42Would answer very well.
43"Then fourthly, there are epithets
44That suit with any word --
45As well as Harvey's Reading Sauce
46With fish, or flesh, or bird --
47Of these, `wild,' `lonely,' `weary,' `strange,'
48Are much to be preferred."
49"And will it do, O will it do
50To take them in a lump --
51As `the wild man went his weary way
52To a strange and lonely pump'?"
53"Nay, nay! You must not hastily
54To such conclusions jump.
55"Such epithets, like pepper,
56Give zest to what you write;
57And, if you strew them sparely,
58They whet the appetite:
59But if you lay them on too thick,
60You spoil the matter quite!
61"Last, as to the arrangement:
62Your reader, you should show him,
63Must take what information he
64Can get, and look for no im­
65mature disclosure of the drift
66And purpose of your poem.
67"Therefore to test his patience --
68How much he can endure --
69Mention no places, names, or dates,
70And evermore be sure
71Throughout the poem to be found
72Consistently obscure.
73"First fix upon the limit
74To which it shall extend:
75Then fill it up with `Padding'
76(Beg some of any friend)
78You place towards the end."
79"And what is a Sensation,
80Grandfather, tell me, pray?
81I think I never heard the word
82So used before to-day:
83Be kind enough to mention one
85And the old man, looking sadly
86Across the garden-lawn,
87Where here and there a dew-drop
88Yet glittered in the dawn,
90And see the `Colleen Bawn.'
91"The word is due to Boucicault --
92The theory is his,
93Where Life becomes a Spasm,
94And History a Whiz:
95If that is not Sensation,
96I don't know what it is,
97"Now try your hand, ere Fancy
98Have lost its present glow --"
99"And then," his grandson added,
100"We'll publish it, you know:
101Green cloth -- gold-lettered at the back --
103Then proudly smiled that old man
104To see the eager lad
105Rush madly for his pen and ink
106And for his blotting-pad --
107But, when he thought of publishing,
108His face grew stern and sad.


1] The title means "A poet is made, not born" (Latin). Back to Line
17] spasmodic: tending towards emotional fits. Back to Line
84] "An example, if you please" (Latin). Back to Line
89] The Adelphi is a London theatre; and The Coleen Bawn; or the Brides of Garryowen (1860) is a play by Boucicault, i.e., Dionysius Lardner (1822-90). Back to Line
102] duodecimo: twelvemo, that is, a book made up of twelve-page gatherings cut from single sheets. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
RPO 1998.