Classic Comic Verse (Selections)

Audio Sample

Classic Comic Verse

Read by John Moffatt, David Timson, Cathy Sara & Roger May


Comedy is totally subjective. What makes one person roar with laughter can fail to elicit even the faintest of smiles from another. But the classics of comic verse have stood the test of time.

Here are the favorites from Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear, Jonathan Swift, Thomas Hood, Hillaire Belloc, W.S. Gilbert, William Shakespeare, Lord Byron, John Keats, C.S. Calverley – all the way through to the masterly pen of our age, John Betjeman. And that is not to forget perhaps the greatest of them all: Anon.

They wrote in couplets, triplets, in quatrains and trochaic dimeters. There are ballads, sonnets, proverbs, and nonsense verse. Poems to inform, divert, satirize, castigate and praise. And then there is the delightfully abused form, the limerick. A collection to make all listeners smile, laugh, remember and discover.

  • Running Time: 2 h 08 m

    More product details
    Digital ISBN:978-1-84379-825-5
    Cat. no.:NA218012
    Produced by:Nicolas Soames
    Edited by:Christine Hardwick and Beth Hammond
    Released:January 1999
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Booklet Notes

The comic encompasses a wide range. Comedy, by its nature, is largely subjective and its parameters always on the change. Taken in its dramatic sense, it came to denote the opposite of tragedy: where the tragic ends in disaster, the comic ends happily. Of course, this is highly simplistic and the comic has come to include a far greater degree of nuance than this.

It is this full palette that is reflected in this collection. Thus, I have included verse, which covers the most serious of subjects, including human and animal. However, the treatment of these subjects is in so light-hearted a manner so as to bring them into the realm of the comic.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, many of the selections cover relationships – either those concerning love or, more poignantly and often more painfully, marriage. Most, though not all of these are written from a male perspective, but may be said to be as relevant today as when they were first penned. In fact, it is a sign of the richness of verse written in another time that it not only provides a valuable insight into contemporary mores, but also often has something very pertinent to say for all time.

Several of the poems tell a story – often, a rather tall story. And it is in this that their comedy lays. Thackeray’s The Lamentable Ballad of the Foundling of Shoreditch is one such yarn, told in Welleresque Cockney. In Hiawatha’s Photographing, Carroll not only paints an unforgettable portrait of a family photograph, but also has a little (or not so little) joke at Longfellow’s expense – all in trochaic dimeter.

Another aspect to underpin several of the poems included here is the apparent unsuitability of the subject for poetic treatment. Fish, cats, dogs, rain and a salad are but a few such unpoetic topics, which are written about with great wit. Of course, the primary joke is their apparent unsuitability as the subject of a poem: the joke is often taken ad extremum, as in Cowper’s lines on a halibut.

Some verse, which appears light-hearted, has an altogether more serious purpose. Byron’s satirical King George III Enters Heaven is probably the best example here, although Rochester provides an altogether more concise appraisal of Charles II.

And then there is nonsense verse, the most noted exponents of which were Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll. Their poems included here will be well-known to most, but of no less value or enjoyment for all that. The miracle of classic comic verse is that it continues to entertain no matter how often it is heard or read.

Notes by Anthony Anderson

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