- TWO voices are there: one is of the deep;
- It learns the storm-cloud's thunderous melody,
- Now roars, now murmurs with the changing sea,
- Now bird-like pipes, now closes soft in sleep:
- And one is of an old half-witted sheep
- Which bleats articulate monotony,
- And indicates that two and one are three,
- That grass is green, lakes damp, and mountains steep:
- And, Wordsworth, both are thine: at certain times
- Forth from the heart of thy melodious rhymes,
- The form and pressure of high thoughts will burst:
- At other times--good Lord! I'd rather be
- Quite unacquainted with the ABC
- Than write such hopeless rubbish as thy worst.
- J. K. Stephen (1859-1892)
J. K. Stephen born on today's date in 1859, was an English Poetic Parodist, Royal Tutor, and International Law Scholar. If you have the vague feeling that you may be reading something akin to Wordsworth well you're close. Stephen is taking a good poke at Mr. Wordsworth's rather high degree of sonority
on Thoughts of a Briton on the Subjugation of Switzerland
here in jest. Seems to be that Stephen's thoughts about Wordsworth's poetry, the ' hopeless rubbish' expresses his disappointment with Wordsworth knowing full well he was able to create more sublime work. Here is Wordsworth's rather ho hum hokum original:
' Thoughts of a Briton on the Subjugation of Switzerland'
Two Voices are there -one is of the Sea,
-- William Wordsworth
One of the Mountains; each a mighty Voice:
In both from age to age thou didst rejoice;
They were thy chosen music, Liberty!
There came a tyrant, and with holy glee
Thou fought'st against him; but hast vainly striven:
Thou from thy Alpine holds at length art driven
Where not a torrent murmurs heard by thee.
Of one deep bliss thine ear hath been bereft;
Then cleave, O cleave to that which still is left;
For, high-souled Maid, what sorrow would it be
That Mountain floods should thunder as before,
And Ocean bellow from his rocky shore,
And neither awful Voice be heard by Thee!
Inspired during his walking tour of France, Wordsworth expounds even more
about his thoughts:
This was composed while pacing to and fro between the Hall of Coleorton, then rebuilding, and the principal Farm-house of the Estate, in which we lived for nine or ten months. I will here mention that the Song on the Restoration of Lord Clifford, as well as that on the feast of Brougham Castle, were produced on the same ground.
J K Stephen's burlesque of Wordsworth is both witty and pithy and his verse it well worth the giggles it inspires.
A first cousin to Virginia Woolf, J. K. Stephen lived a short and somewhat tragic life. He was a brilliant undergraduate in his studies at Cambridge, many had high hopes for his career and indeed he enjoyed an early success with his poetry, Lapsus Calami - Slips of the Pen. As a Royal Tutor he worked with the Duke of Clarence at Cambridge but in his twenties he began to suffer wild manias and chronic depression. In the end he was confined to a mental hospital where he starved himself to death in 1892. His family accredited his mental illness to a blow he suffered on the head in 1886 and there were allegations that through Stephen's association with the Duke of Clarence that he may have been Jack the Ripper. At least one biographer notes a likeness between Stephen's verse and autograph material sent to the police by the Ripper. Three weeks after the Duke of Clarence died, Stephen passed away and his family suppressed the first edition of his poems that contained a fantasy about killing prostitutes. Most of the evidence is slim at best and has been largely discredited by experts today, however, as you can see by comparing these two poems that Stephen's was qute good at imitating another's style of writings which is what may have led to the speculations about Jack the Ripper.
minstrels, A Sonnet -- JK Stephen:
Public Domain text of the poem taken from the Poet’s Corner: