Ok- this week we’re going to the Boss, the Top Banana, the Mensch- we’re going to look at something by William Shakespeare.
Arrgh ! No ! Not Shakespeare thingy ! He’s old fashioned and boring and you can’t understand him and he’s like…just dull !
Silence oik ! And listen to this:
What do you think ? Lovely reading but isn’t the poem a bit olde worlde ? A bit twee ?
A bit chocolate box ? Think again
Line 1 OK- I concede- an average opening line for a winter poem. We’ve all seen icicles
Line 2. Dick the shepherd tells us this a rural poem. Why is he blowing on his nail ? Because he hasn’t got any gloves ! Because he’s poor and cold and his finger ends hurt like hell.
Line 3. We get the first hints of a household here. There’s Dick the shepherd and Tom the servant- and Tom is carrying logs in because they’re going to be needed on the fire.
Line 4. It’s so cold the milk is solid. We’re starting to get a Breughel winter scene here.
Line 5. Key words are “nipped” -you feel as though the blood is freezing in your veins. And “foul” – the roads are impassable
Line 6. The owl. Not the most cheerful of birds- then why “ merry” ? Are we getting the feeling that The Boss is being a bit ironic here?
I won’t do a full line-by-line run through of the next verse. I’d only point out (a) the breathless use of “ and” throughout the poem. He can’t wait to tell the story of our house. (b) there’s a cast of characters here- the parson who can’t be heard because of the coughing, Marian, and greasy Joan- who’s probably the kitchen maid. And why is she keeling (scraping) the pot ? Because she’s hungry and she’s scraping out the last bit of meat or dried on gravy, that’s why.
So the “merry note” of the owl isn’t so merry after all.
Far from being a jolly, rilly-me-dilly-me-and-a raspberry -o song, this is a harsh portrayal of a household on the breadline, in the middle of a filthy, cold winter.
Difficult ? Not really. Bland ? Certainly not.Powerful ? I think so.
There, that didn’t hurt, did it ?