Thursday, 15 February 2018

If Those Old Pens Could Talk

I confess, I rarely read poetry. However, I have always been intrigued by poets, songwriters, and others who can creatively conjure up amazing imagery, and invoke our emotions, in spite of the enforced constraints and frugal use of words demanded by their craft.

Until recently, if I were to try and think of a poem or song that had some relevance to writing back in the day when pen and ink were actually used, the best I'd be able to come up with would be - The Ink is Black, The Page is White, and other than the title I'd have to hum the rest. Three Dog Night brought the song to the top of the charts in 1972 but it was originally written in 1954 in celebration of the US Supreme Court's decision outlawing racial segregation of public schools. So, it turns out it wasn't really about writing at all...

Then, a few months ago, while sleuthing about, searching for possible additions to my collections, I came across this very clever "conversation" between a 3 year old pen and a diary, written in the middle of the 19th century by William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863).

As a collector, I've often wondered about the life led by each item in my collection - who owned it and once held it in their hand?; where had it travelled?; what interesting history had it recorded during its time?; and so on. Here, finally, was an actual pen from the Victorian era (named "Mordan" no less!) that was willing to share all of that and more ...

The Pen and the Album

‘I am Miss Catherine’s book,' the album speaks;
‘I’ve lain among your tomes these many weeks;
I’m tired of their old coats and yellow cheeks.

‘Quick, Pen! and write a line with a good grace:
Come! draw me off a funny little face;
And, prithee, send me back to Chesham Place.’


‘I am my master’s faithful old Gold Pen;
I’ve served him three long years, and drawn since then
Thousands of funny women and droll men.

‘O Album! could I tell you all his ways
And thoughts, since I am his, these thousand days,
Lord, how your pretty pages I’d amaze!’


‘His ways? his thoughts? Just whisper me a few;
Tell me a curious anecdote or two,
And write ’em quickly off, good Mordan, do!’


‘Since he my faithful service did engage
To follow him through his queer pilgrimage,
I’ve drawn and written many a line and page.

‘Caricatures I scribbled have, and rhymes,
And dinner-cards, and picture pantomimes;
And merry little children’s books at times.

‘I’ve writ the foolish fancy of his brain;
The aimless jest that, striking, hath caused pain;
The idle word that he’d wish back again.

. . . . . .

‘I’ve help’d him to pen many a line for bread;
To joke with sorrow aching in his head;
And make your laughter when his own heart bled.

‘I’ve spoke with men of all degree and sort—
Peers of the land, and ladies of the Court;
Oh, but I’ve chronicled a deal of sport!

‘Feasts that were ate a thousand days ago,
Biddings to wine that long hath ceased to flow,
Gay meetings with good fellows long laid low;

’Summons to bridal, banquet, burial, ball,
Tradesman’s polite reminders of his small
Account due Christmas last—I’ve answered all.

‘Poor Diddler’s tenth petition for a half–
Guinea; Miss Bunyan’s for an autograph;
So I refuse, accept, lament, or laugh,

‘Condole, congratulate, invite, praise, scoff.
Day after day still dipping in my trough,
And scribbling pages after pages off.

’Day after day the labor’s to be done,
And sure as comes the postman and the sun,
The indefatigable ink must run.

. . . . .

‘Go back, my pretty little gilded tome,
To a fair mistress and a pleasant home,
Where soft hearts greet us whensoe’er we come!

‘Dear, friendly eyes, with constant kindness lit,
However rude my verse, or poor my wit,
Or sad or gay my mood, you welcome it.

’Kind lady! till my last of lines is penn’d,
My master’s love, grief, laughter, at an end,
Whene’er I write your name, may I write friend!

‘Not all are so that were so in past years;
Voices, familiar once, no more he hears;
Names, often writ, are blotted out in tears.

’So be it:—joys will end and tears will dry—
Album! my master bids me wish good-by,
He’ll send you to your mistress presently.

‘And thus with thankful heart he closes you;
Blessing the happy hour when a friend he knew
So gentle, and so generous, and so true.

’Nor pass the words as idle phrases by;
Stranger! I never writ a flattery,
Nor sign’d the page that register’d a lie.’

No comments:

Post a Comment