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POETRY FRIDAY: The Limerick Man


Ronald Mansbridge and friend amidst his daffodils.

Ronald Mansbridge and friend amidst his daffodils.

In the winter, a sportsman recalls
A fellow who painted his balls
    Brilliant red, so they’d show
    Against the white snow
On the golf course at Candlewood Falls.

Welcome to Poetry Friday, where every week I’ll feature some of my favorite poetry and poets.

The above limerick is the work of the late Ronald Mansbridge. A gentleman who died in 2006 at the ripe old age of 100. I knew him all too briefly. He gave me a copy of a book he wrote that was never published, called Annotated Limericks. It contains his own poems as well as others he admired. The book is meticulous in detail and even outlines the history of limericks (They date back to the 17th century. No one knows who invented them, but Edward Lear popularized them).

A literary man, Mr. Mansbridge established the American branch of the Cambridge University Press, but he was so much more than a publisher. He had a mind-boggling range of interests.

For example, Mr. Mansbridge was fascinated with daffodils and planted 1,500 of them in a field adjoining his house along the banks of the Saugatuck River. But not just any daffodils. They were Narcissus Pseudo-Narcissus, the very first species of daffodil which originated in Spain, made famous in a poem by William Wordsworth.

He imported the daffodil bulbs from England and personally went from flower to flower with a paintbrush to cross-pollinate each one. After the daffodils bloomed, he put little cloth bags around each flower in order to collect their seeds so he could plant more. A slow process, it took 10 years for new daffodils to bloom from the seeds.

From Mr. Mansbridge I learned that the reward for a labor of love — is the labor. For him, the joy was in the process of creating something he loved.

Here are a few limericks from his collection, including his special and entertaining footnotes.

They are as bawdy as any good limerick should be, but Mr. Mansbridge drew the line at vulgar profanity. You won’t find “the man from Nantucket” here. His footnotes show the care and admiration he had for these little poems. I wish this book was published, it would be a great delight to many an English major.

∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞
(In his footnote, Mr. Mansbridge schooled others who put their spin on this classic limerick. )

There was a young man from St. Johns
Who wanted to fondle¹ the swans;
   When out rushed the porter,
   Said, “Sir take my daughter;
The swans are reserved for the dons.”

1. Norman Douglas and Baring-Gould both use a somewhat more explicit verb here. Baring-Gould begins the fifth line, “Them birds…”  This seems to me to show an ignorance of the dignity, deportment and aplomb of College Porters at Cambridge, besides missing the pleasing internal rhyme.

∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞
(Mr. Mansbridge added a helpful footnote to this old limerick.)

The breasts of a barmaid of Crale
Were tattooed with the price of brown ale
   While on her behind
   For the sake of the blind
Was the same information in Braille.¹

¹    **  *  **    *     *    **    *
*   **   **  *    *  *          *     *   **
* *   *   *               * * *

∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞
A girl at our school in Kilkenny¹
Let you kiss both her tits for a penny.²
   For half of that sum
   You could fondle her bum,³
Which proved a great saving to many.

1. Kilkenny, a town in Ireland. The statute of Kilkenny, 1366, forbade marriage between the Irish population and the English settlers. The quarrels between rival factions were so intense and self-destructive that they gave rise to the legend of the Kilkenny cats, who fought so long and so hard that they ate each other up. The Protestant School was attended by Jonathan Swift, Bishop Berkely, and William Congreve; but that was before the time of our heroine, B*****t O’S*********y; any of you chaps remember her?
2. And as you know, this was a time when 4d would buy a pint of the best brown ale.
3. But never at the same time. B*****t was very firm about this. She didn’t want to get us too excited.

∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞
(Leicester is pronounced LESTER)

There was a young lady from Leicester¹
Who said, when the man had undreicester,
   “My good man, when you said,
   ‘Let’s go up to bed,’
I thought you meant just a sieicester.” ²

1.  Leicester, A town in the English midlands, famous for many sheep, a couple of earls, and one Square.
2.  Siesta. Originally the sixth hour (Spanish), i.e. noon, when in Spain and other hot countries it is customary to take a short — or long — nap. Immortalized by Noel Coward in “Mad Dogs and Englishmen:” But Englishmen detest a Siesta.

∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞
An unfortunate fellow called Rex¹
Was accused of exposing his sex.
   When he showed it in court,
   The judge cut things short:
“De minimis non curat lex.”²

1. Not Harrison.
2. The law does not concern itself with very little things.

∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞

Mr. Mansbridge dedicated Annotated Limericks to fellow members of his Tuesday lunch group, which were called “The Deplorers’ Club,” because the gentlemen deplored everything.

How I miss Ronald Mansbridge. I would have loved to have watched Downton Abbey with him.

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2 thoughts on “POETRY FRIDAY: The Limerick Man

  1. Ellen M. on said:

    Aye, experienced, aren’tcha?!?

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