Sunday Poetry – A A Milne

I’m still reading A A Milne, even though the 1924 Club has just ended. I do love Sir Brian Botany. Does anyone else hear Brian Blessed’s voice when they read it? Maybe it’s because the other day I listened to the audio sample for Blessed’s new memoir, Absolute Pandemonium, & his voice is in my head, or maybe it’s just memories of the first series of Blackadder.

Sir Brian had a battleaxe with great big knobs on.
He went among the villagers and blipped them on the head.
On Wednesday and on Saturday,
Especially on the latter day,
He called on all the cottages and this is what he said:

“I am Sir Brian!” (Ting-ling!)
“I am Sir Brian!” (Rat-tat!)
“I am Sir Brian,
“As bold as a lion!
“Take that, and that, and that!”

Sir Brian had a pair of boots with great big spurs on;.
A fighting pair of which he was particularly fond.
On Tuesday and on Friday,
Just to make the street look tidy,
He’d collect the passing villagers and kick them in the pond.

“I am Sir Brian!” (Sper-lash!)
“I am Sir Brian!” (Sper-losh!)
“I am Sir Brian,
“As bold as a Lion!
“Is anyone else for a wash?”

Sir Brian woke one morning and he couldn’t find his battleaxe.
He walked into the village in his second pair of boots.
He had gone a hundred paces
When the street was full of faces
And the villagers were round him with ironical salutes.

“You are Sir Brian? My, my.
“You are Sir Brian? Dear, dear.
“You are Sir Brian
“As bold as a lion?
“Delighted to meet you here!”

Sir Brian went a journey and he found a lot of duckweed.
They pulled him out and dried him and they blipped him on the head.
They took him by the breeches
And they hurled him into ditches
And they pushed him under waterfalls and this is what they said:

“You are Sir Brian — don’t laugh!
“You are Sir Brian — don’t cry!
“You are Sir Brian
“As bold as a lion —
“Sir Brian the Lion, goodbye!”

Sir Brian struggled home again and chopped up his battleaxe.
Sir Brian took his fighting boots and threw them in the fire.
He is quite a different person
Now he hasn’t got his spurs on,
And he goes about the village as B. Botany, Esquire.

“I am Sir Brian? Oh, no!
“I am Sir Brian? Who’s he?
“I haven’t any title, I’m Botany;
“Plain Mr. Botany (B.)”

Sunday Poetry – A A Milne

As I’m still living in 1924, thanks to Simon & Karen’s 1924 Club, I thought a little more Milne would be appropriate. I know that a lion, elephant, goat & snail would never be friends, let alone have names like Ernest & Leonard but I love this poem & Shepard’s illustrations,

especially James on his brick.

Ernest was an elephant, a great big fellow,
Leonard was a lion with a six foot tail,
George was a goat, and his beard was yellow,
And James was a very small snail.

Leonard had a stall, and a great big strong one,
Ernest had a manger, and its walls were thick,
George found a pen, but I think it was the wrong one,
And James sat down on a brick

Ernest started trumpeting, and cracked his manger,
Leonard started roaring, and shivered his stall,
James gave a huffle of a snail in danger
And nobody heard him at all.

Ernest started trumpeting and raised such a rumpus,
Leonard started roaring and trying to kick,
James went on a journey with the goats new compass
And he reached the end of his brick.

Ernest was an elephant and very well-intentioned,
Leonard was a lion with a brave new tail,
George was a goat, as I think I have mentioned,
but James was only a snail.

Sunday Poetry – A A Milne

I know the 1924 Club doesn’t begin until tomorrow but I couldn’t resist a poem from a collection published in 1924, especially as this is one of my favourite poems. Buckingham Palace by A A Milne is from the collection, When We Were Very Young &, as A A Milne is one of Simon’s favourite authors, I know he won’t object. What is it about the line Says Alice at the end of every verse that is so endearing? Maybe it’s the idea that everything Alice says must be right, to Christopher Robin at least. It’s that complete trust that a child feels for a loved adult. The King’s Breakfast is another favourite poem from this collection.

I’ve been reading John Buchan & Baroness Orczy for the 1924 Club & I can’t wait to see what everyone else has been reading.

They’re changing guard at Buckingham Palace –
Christopher Robin went down with Alice.
Alice is marrying one of the guard.
“A soldier’s life is terrible hard,”
Says Alice.

They’re changing guard at Buckingham Palace –
Christopher Robin went down with Alice.
We saw a guard in a sentry-box.
“One of the sergeants looks after their socks,”
Says Alice.

They’re changing guard at Buckingham Palace –
Christopher Robin went down with Alice.
We looked for the King, but he never came.
“Well, God take care of him, all the same,”
Says Alice.

They’re changing guard at Buckingham Palace –
Christopher Robin went down with Alice.
They’ve great big parties inside the grounds.
“I wouldn’t be King for a hundred pounds,”
Says Alice.

They’re changing guard at Buckingham Palace –
Christopher Robin went down with Alice.
A face looked out, but it wasn’t the King’s.
“He’s much too busy a-signing things,”
Says Alice.

They’re changing guard at Buckingham Palace –
Christopher Robin went down with Alice.
“Do you think the King knows all about me?”
“Sure to, dear, but it’s time for tea,”
Says Alice.

Two people – A A Milne

This is the story of a marriage told almost entirely through the husband’s viewpoint. Reginald Wellard lives in the country, in a lovely house called Westaways with his beautiful, much younger wife, Sylvia. Walking in his garden one day, he has an idea for a novel. He writes the book, gets it published &, after a favourable review in a tabloid paper, it’s a great success. The book isn’t really about that, though. There are some very funny scenes satirizing the publishing & newspaper industries. Wellard finds himself feeling obliged to buy copies of his novel at railway station bookstalls because the vendors praise it to him. Then, he feels embarrassed to be seen carrying his own novel around & leaves it in the train or at his club. The novel, Bindweed, is made into a play & Milne enjoys poking fun at the pretensions of producers & actors alike.

But, as I said, Two people isn’t about the success of a novelist. It’s almost a stream of consciousness novel. The reader is with Reginald & his thoughts almost all the time. I’m afraid this was my main problem with the book because I found Reginald to be pompous, self-centred, condescending & very annoying. The Wellards have nothing in common except their love for each other. There are several breakfast scenes where Reginald hopes for a particular response from Sylvia – over a review in the paper for instance – & Sylvia is just oblivious. She makes some irrelevant comment which secretly infuriates Reginald. Yet he continually reaffirms his love for her.

One of the characters, Lady Edgemoor, describes marriages as being on one of two levels. They begin on a very high level of love being enough, nothing more practical or mundane ever needs to interfere. Most marriages though descend to a lower level of companionship where the emotional & physical aspects of love aren’t all-consuming. The Wellards have never descended to this lower level. But is love without companionship & intellectual compatibility enough? I wanted to know how Sylvia felt. She’s portrayed by Reginald as fluffy, very beautiful but nothing more than that. She does an awful lot of gazing up at him, blushing faintly at every demonstration of affection. Her beauty defines her & limits her in his eyes. Sylvia, however, does many things better than her husband. She runs their home perfectly, the servants respect her; she drives much better than him, reversing perfectly, accelerating smoothly. She has a talent for making friends, putting people at their ease. She moves through life with grace. Reginald does have moments of self-awareness, as when he’s comparing Sylvia unfavourably with one of the more intellectual women he enjoys talking to,

‘Damn,’ said Reginald to himself. ‘Why do I keep thinking these things? And what does Sylvia think about me? What a hell this world would be, if we knew each other’s thoughts?’

Well, I wanted to know what Sylvia thought! Reginald & Sylvia take a house in London so that he can be at the centre of literary life. He meets Lady Edgemoor, who, in her previous life as the actress Coral Bell, Reginald had been infatuated with 25 years before. He runs into her one day & takes her with him to his tailors for a fitting & then out to tea. He immediately feels guilty because he’s enjoyed the afternoon so much & because buying clothes was always a special outing for himself & Sylvia. He agonises about telling Sylvia & later discovers that she knew all about it & didn’t mind at all. This is one of the scenes where we see more of Sylvia & Reginald realises that she has a life of her own apart from him. Something he’s not too happy about,

He wondered suddenly if Sylvia compared him with all the other people, as he compared her. The thought was rather disturbing.

The London scenes are fascinating because we learn more about Sylvia. At Westaways, Reginald goes up to town & the reader goes with him & listens to his thoughts all day. When they’re living in London, there are several scenes of Sylvia without Reginald which is rather a relief. Reginald is disturbed by this & eventually they go back to Westaways & it seems they will carry on living their old life. Reginald is planning another book & it seems life will return to its old rhythms.

A A Milne is best-known, of course, as the author of Winnie the Pooh. He was a prolific writer of adult novels & plays, but nearly everything else he wrote is now out of print. His one detective story, The Red House Mystery, was reprinted a couple of years ago & now Capuchin have reprinted Two People. Although I thought Reginald an unsympathetic & at times infuriatingly childish character & I wished Sylvia had narrated alternate chapters so I could have discovered a bit more about her, I did enjoy this novel. The satirical scenes of literary & theatre life were fascinating & obviously written from Milne’s personal experience. This portrait of the marriage of two people very much in love but with nothing in common was an interesting study.