Friday, June 22, 2012



Thanks to Eric Thomson for drawing my attention to this screed by Roy Campbell, directed against Vita Sackville-West, who had won the Hawthornden Prize in 1927 for her poem The Land. Campbell's verses come from The Georgiad: A Satirical Fantasy in Verse (London: Boriswood Limited, 1931), reprinted in his Collected Works, Vol. 1, edited by Peter Alexander, Michael Chapman and Marcia Leveson (Craighall: A.D. Donker, 1985), these lines on pp. 205-206:
Sing but of country joys and you will rise,
Praised by the world, from prize to golden prize:
Now to the soil address your bumpkin Muse,
To some old rick declaim your billets-doux:
Or drive, slow trudging down some boggy road
Your Clydesdale Pegasus with creaking load:
When by your bower some nightingale complains,
Sing but like him and with as little brains:
Or, like the brooklet, with as small pretense
To style, to wit, to poetry, or sense –
Squire will accord a fellow Georgian's praise,
And Gosse, though deader than his own dead lays,
Out of his tomb will sprout a sprig of bays:
Seek some old farm (the image of your mind)
Where in some farmer's ledger you may find
Fodder to please the ruminative mind,
Which, thrice-digested, into cud refined,
May clatter down in cantos from behind:
There, safe sequestered in some rustic glen,
Write with your spade, and garden with your pen,
Shovel your couplets to their long repose
And type your turnips down the field in rows.
Equal your skill, no matter which is which,
To dig an ode, or to indite a ditch,
With lumbering cantos to upload a cart
Or with a pitch-fork to unload your heart,
Or with your fountain-pen to spray the flowers,
The hosepipe of your literary hours.
There, while in rhyme you keep the farmer's books,
Your soulful face will scare away the rooks,
While wondering yokels all around you sit,
Relieved of every labour by your wit,
Which, while it fetches, carries, ploughs, or digs,
Or trickles into hogwash for the pigs,
At the same time will leave your talents free
To make each strophe a catastrophe...
Campbell had other reasons to hate Sackville-West, besides her poetry.

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