steepholm (steepholm) wrote,

The Menagerie of Hudibras

An end-of-term squib. I'd wanted to do something in the spirit of Samuel Butler, but ended up writing fourteeners...

To the palace of Sophia the scholar made his way,
To plead his case before the throne where wisdom’s queen held sway.
He did not lack companions as he came to take the stand,
But brought his learned friends with him, a furred and feathered band.

His horse was hired from Hobson, sole carrier of the town,
Who furnished Cambridge scholars clad in tippet, cap and gown.
(You may see them any Sunday, while the common folk relax,
Riding hobbyhorses ragged, up and down the Backs.)
This jade, weighed down with learned volumes, listed to one side,
As hobbyhorses tend to do that scholars like to ride.
They move in vast ellipses just like planetary gods,
But deiseal-wise or widdershins makes very little odds.

Of this obscure trajectory the queen took quick account:
“Your hobbyhorse is hobbled, and I’ll thank you to dismount.”

The hobbyhorse was soon forgot; but still he had his ass –
He’d borrowed it from Buridan, far-sighted Hudibras!
A starving, mangy creature, it swayed from side to side;
It carried all his goods and wares – but where, could not decide.

Sophia looked impatient, and made her feelings clear:
“Why did you bring a donkey that so plainly needs a steer?”

Now, Hudibras had brought an owl to help him plead his cause,
That coughed up half-chewed pellets of old apothegms and saws.
It had fluttered round the Parthenon when Plato was a chick
And well remembered Socrates’s favourite party trick.
“Quoth Cicero,” the bird began, “and wise Demosthenes—”

“This owl is just a parrot! Can’t you keep him quiet, please?”

But still he had an elephant, quite unremarked till now,
The volume of whose brainpan would accommodate a cow.
No fact escaped its memory, once it was safely stored,
Its mind was like a prison with perpetual room and board.
There was no end to what it knew, nor start to what it said.
Without the power of speech, alas, ‘twas all trapped in its head.

This Queen Sophia sighing saw, and sadly gave her doom:
“Your elephant’s irrelevant: remove it from the room.”

And so at last, his beasts all gone, and sweat upon his brow,
Stands uncompanioned Hudibras, a bare forked creature now.

The Queen pronounced: “I fear your wit is surplus to my store.
I don’t need to explain things that made perfect sense before.
Who reads the Book of Nature just to give the end away?
Who cares to hear predicted what would happen anyway?
Who wants to play the gooseberry while Love and Psyche spoon?
Or count celestial riches in a dingy attic room?
I scoff at all your split-end hairs, your scurfy ambiguities:
Nature abhors a vacuum, true, but I hate superfluities.”
With that the queen passed sentence. From the pocket of her coat,
She took out Occam’s razor, and slit the wretch’s throat.

Weep not for luckless Hudibras, who took his chance and lost:
He forgot both price and value, and now he's learned the cost.
He travels as a traveller whence no traveller returns,
Rolled round in earth’s funereal course, with coffins, pyres and urns.
Tags: my writing
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