This poem was found in the residue of crumpled papers, coke cans and chocolate covered peanuts that was the remains of Ethan Talbert’s estate. Scholars were impressed when they found it (the poem that is–not the crumpled papers or the peanuts) as it represents a piece never seen by the public until now. Ever ready for a work from the master’s hand, we publish this poem with great joy. Included below are footnotes to better explain its intricacies.
A Narrative Poem in the style commonly called “satiric” in which the author, with dubious and somewhat incoherent sense attempts to explain how it is that students are required to read never ending poems that they care about almost as much as the gross national product of Bohemia in the early 12th century—a poem that having been written in free verse of ten lines, thence proceeds to rhyme for four, thence going back to ten again. (1)
It seems if the lays of old
Told much that better lies forgotten
Sometimes they lasted hours long
Had words that perplexed the students brains
For what did students, innocent, (2)
Do to deserve this kind of torture?
It seems a poker of hot steel
Would do the job more efficiently
Than wasting hours of one’s time
To write a poem that is so long (3)
Oh why must students suffer so?
Oh why must they forbear?
It makes them fits of temper throw
And pull out all their hair. (4)
When my mother of many years
Told me I had to read Beowulf,
I then opened my book to it.
Like Ulysses (not Grant, t’other)
Stood gazing at the walls of Troy
And saw those tall impregnable
Battlements could scarce be taken
He went instead to an ice cream shop
And spent his time eating sundaes. (5)
My Mom allowed no such joy to me.
To look upon that poem long
Made all my braincells groan. (6)
My concentration not so strong
Away my mind had flown.
It seems all students have a right
When facing such a longish poem
To allow their minds some wandering
For all the “Thees” and “thys” and “thous”
Could drive even a great genius mad.
The poet even though he is
(despite all common belief) brilliant (7)
could hardly stand this din of words. (8)
Oh why is it considered wise
To fill a poor young mind with dread
The heartiest, despite their size
Cry out and wish that they were dead.
Simplicity I now believe
Is a virtue of barbarians
For not one of the great poets
Said in’word what could be said in nine.
Now Edmund Spencer is the Worst
No Student should ever get the whip
When Spencer could be forced on him.
‘Twould be a punishment more awful
And one he would never forget. (9)
That student would be good from then on.
To make this poem like the rest
It should be thirty pages more
And yet I find (e’en at my best)
A couple sheets too much a bore.
1. It’s a poem, and it’s by Ethan
2. This is a relative term.
3. This is saying that the poker could do a better job punishing students, not writing the poem.
4. It is doubtful that Talbert literally meant ALL their hair. This would be an example of synecdoche in which the part is used to stand for the whole.
5. Scholars have searched in vain for this account of Ulysses’ siege of Troy. It is more likely that, like all great writers, Talbert devised his own version, and hence this is not part of the original legend.
6. Strictly speaking of course, brain cells do not groan. This is an example of personification in which a non-human object (in this case objects) is/are given the quality of a human being/s.
7. The sad fact is that few in Talbert’s day understood him for the great genius he truly was.
8. Many scholars have noted that this stanza is only 8 lines long while the rest are 10. Some suggest this is because as 7 is the number of perfection, 8 must be the number of near perfection, and Talbert was humbly admitting that his poem was good (great in fact) but not perfect. More modern scholarship has discovered that when Talbert was a boy he had difficulty distinguishing between the numbers 8 and 10. This is undoubtedly a touching tribute to his mother, who finally taught him the difference.
9. Modern readers may be offended by the assumption the student would necessarily be a boy. But we must remember that Talbert’s day was one of extreme chauvinism, and Talbert was the most chauvinistic of them all.