A Fable (After William Cowper’s “The Poet, the Oyster and the Sensitive Plant”)

Although best known for his more serious work, William Cowper was also a master of comic verse. His most famous comic poem was the hilarious tale, based on a true story, of John Gilpin – well worth a read if you don’t know it already. However, he wrote a number of very clever minor poems too. To reflect the diversity of his work, I’ve chosen to base my fourth and final Cowper-inspired poem on one of his lesser-known poems, the bizarrely titled “The Poet, the Oyster and the Sensitive Plant“. I’ve followed the spirit and style of the original quite closely, but have tried to turn it around to make a bit more fun of poets than Cowper’s poem did. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

A Fable
(After “The Poet, the Oyster and the Sensitive Plant”)
 
A rock lay weeping on the shore
Where waves would thrash and breakers roar,
Eroding slowly, pock-marked, bare,
Defenseless in the sea and air.
“It hurts,” he said, “to be so beat.
I cannot think; I cannot eat.
My pores are always full of salt;
I think – I fear – it is my fault.
These waves: they laugh and hurl at me;
I sigh and wish I were a tree.”
A tree nearby heard what he cried
And, feeling vomitous inside,
(Not knowing that he quoted Herbert)
Called out to him, unperturbéd:
“What are you going on about?
You are a fool, without a doubt.
So you think trees have all the fun?
Well, let’s see how you find the sun
When it burns down on your poor trunk,
Or when the bluebirds leave their junk
Entangled in your precious leaves –”
So airing years and years of griefs,
The tree hurled spleen upon the rock
Which, pock-marked all the more from shock,
Decided that it might be prudent
To be silent like the student
Who knows too well the warning signs
Of teachers threatening lunch-times,
And so he let the tree then finish,
Hoping that this might diminish
All his arboreal rage.
But then a poet, from backstage,
Emerged, with pen in hand, a flower
In his hair. Inside the bower
Of the writhing, angry tree,
He sat and moaned in poetry.
He moaned about the scars of man;
He moaned in lines that didn’t scan;
He moaned about his love’s defeat;
He moaned in anapestic feet,
In trochees and in iambs too,
In meters wilder than a zoo;
He moaned so loud and so dramatic
That the tree, always emphatic,
Dropped a branch onto his head
And, wishing every poet dead,
Said, “Shut up, won’t you? You try being
Inanimate and always breathing
All the hot air people speak.
And did you know that poets reek?
Why can’t you wash once for a change?”
The rock, watching this frank exchange
(Or monologue, the poet would
Correct us, as all poets should),
Decided it was not so bad,
This oceanic life he had,
And thought it best to just ignore
Their fight and sit upon the shore.

6 thoughts on “A Fable (After William Cowper’s “The Poet, the Oyster and the Sensitive Plant”)

  1. Excellent work. I laughed out loud.

    As a friend once said when he heard a writer complaining about his lot, “Stop complaining. At least you don’t have to dig ditches.”

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