'Chard Whitlow'

(Mr. Eliot's Sunday Evening Postscript)

As we get older we do not get any younger.
Seasons return, and to-day I am fifty-five,
And this time last year I was fifty-four
And this time next year I shall be sixty-two.
And I cannot say I should like (to speak for myself)
To see my time over again - if you can call it time:
Fidgeting uneasily under a draughty stair,
Or counting sleepless nights in the crowded tube.


There are certain precautions - though none of them very reliable -
Against the blast from bombs and the flying splinter,
But not against the blast from heaven, vento dei venti,
The wind within a wind unable to speak for wind;
And the frigid burnings of purgatory will not be touched
By any emollient.
                                                 I think you will find this put,
Better than I could ever hope to express it,
In the words of Kharma: 'It is, we believe,
Idle to hope that the simple stirrup-pump
Will extinguish hell.'
                                                 Oh, listeners,
And you especially who have turned off the wireless,
And sit in Stoke or Basingstoke listening appreciatively to
the silence,
(Which is also the silence of hell) pray, not for your skins,
but for your souls.


And pray for me also under the draughty stair.
As we get older we do not get any younger.
And pray for Kharma under the holy mountain.


-- Henry Reed
It's often been said that a good parody must first of all be a good poem. ``Idle to hope that the simple stirrup pump will extinguish hell". A lovely line, that. So Eliot: sounds marvellous and profound but what does it actually mean? Indeed Eliot apparently liked this poem. "Most parodies of one's own work strike one as very poor. In fact, one is apt to think one could parody oneself much better. (As a matter of fact, some critics have said that I have done so.) But there is one which deserves the success it has had, Henry Reed's Chard Whitlow''

`Chard Whitlow' is clearly a reference to the village names in the titles of the poems Eliot was writing at that time. The title is actually the weakest part of this little gem, for English village names are fatally easy to parody; Private Eye have been doing it for years. Sir Herbert Gussett writes from Loose Chippings and from Milton Friedman. I've been guilty of a few myself: Gunghoe is obviously somewhere in the Chilterns, Flimsea and Outreach are of course in the Fens, Frisby is a pit village in the East Midlands (now sadly down on its luck); Duffcar is up-country from Newcastle, and Pol Pot must be a Cornish fishing village [or perhaps the site of an abandoned tin mine?]....but where is Long Natter? One day I am going to write a prolix Trollopean novel set in the Cathedral city of Heominster. (Yes, it does rhyme with `Leominster', of course). In this connection the New Zealanders among us should also remember the small North Island lakeside town of Waiwhakakiwi. I have friends who estivate on the Greek island of Seroxat. I am not alone in having a weakness for made-up names. Stephen Leacock gave us Lake Owatawetness and Bill Bryson the New England settlement of Squashaninsect. Nor should we forget that only the other day Radio 4 revealed to an astonished world the goings-on in the little English village of Bickering. Thank God there are still people around who love language.


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