Category Archives: Illustration

Variations on an Air

King Cole.


Variations on an Air

G.K. Chesterton


Old King Cole was a merry old soul,

And a merry old soul was he;

He called for his pipe,

and he called for his bowl,

and he called for his fiddlers three.


Ater Lord Tennyson.

Cole, that unwearied prince of Colchester,

Growing more gay with age and with long days

Deeper in laughter and desire of life

As that Virginian climber on our walls

Flames scarlet with the fading of the year;

Called for his wassail and that other weed

Virginian also, from the western woods

Where English Raleigh checked the boast of Spain,

And lighting joy with joy, and piling up

Pleasure as crown for pleasure, bade me bring

Those three, the minstrels whose emblazoned coats

Shone with the oyster-shells of Colchester;

And these three played, and playing grew more fain

Of mirth and music; till the heathen came

And the King slept beside the northern sea.


After W.B. Yeats.

Of an old King in a story

From the grey sea-folk I have heard

Whose heart was no more broken

Than the wings of a bird.


As soon as the moon was silver

And the thin stars began,

He took his pipe and his tankard,

Like an old peasant man.


And three tall shadows were with him

And came at his command;

And played before him for ever

The fiddles of fairyland.


And he died in the young summer

Of the world’s desire;

Before our hearts were broken

Like sticks in a fire.


After Robert Browning.

Who smoke-snorts toasts o’ My Lady Nicotine,

Kicks stuffing out of Pussyfoot, bids his trio

Stick up their Stradivarii (that’s the plural

Or near enough, my fatheads, nimium

Vicina Cremonæ; that’s a bit too near.)

Is there some stockfish fails to understand?

Catch hold o’ the notion, bellow and blurt back “Cole”?

Must I bawl lessons from a hornbook, howl,

Cat-call the cat-gut “fiddles”? Fiddlestick!


After Walt Whitman.

Me clairvoyant,

Me conscious of you, old camarado,

Needing no telescope, lorgnette, field-glass, opera-glass, myopic pince-nez,

Me piercing two thousand years with eye naked and not ashamed;

The crown cannot hide you from me,

Musty old feudal-heraldic trappings cannot hide you from me,

I perceive that you drink.

(I am drinking with you. I am as drunk as you are.)

I see you are inhaling tobacco, puffing, smoking, spitting

(I do not object to your spitting),

You prophetic of American largeness,

You anticipating the broad masculine manners of these States;

I see in you also there are movements, tremors, tears, desire for the melodious,

I salute your three violinists, endlessly making vibrations,

Rigid, relentless, capable of going on for ever;

They play my accompaniment; but I shall take no notice of any accompaniment;

I myself am a complete orchestra.

So long.


After Swinburne.

In the time of old sin without sadness

And golden with wastage of gold

Like the gods that grow old in their gladness

Was the king that was glad, growing old:

And with sound of loud lyres from his palace

The voice of his oracles spoke,

And the lips that were red from his chalice

Were splendid with smoke.


When the weed was as flame for a token

And the wine was as blood for a sign;

And upheld in his hands and unbroken

The fountains of fire and of wine.

And a song without speech, without singer,

Stung the soul of a thousand in three

As the flesh of the earth has to sting her,

The soul of the sea.


Chesterton notes this series was “Composed on Having to Appear in a Pageant as Old King Cole.” The familiar, solid simplicity of the original rhyme is reworked in the styles of five popular poets. Chesterton’s parodies are devastatingly humorous in their imitation of each poet’s style, perspective, and ego. This irreverent exercise reminds me of Chesterton’s remark about “higher culture”: “It means taking literature seriously, a very amateurish thing to do.”

A Little Girl’s Thoughts

Bedtime in Summer. Jessie Wilcox Smith.


A Little Girl’s Thoughts

Alice van Leer Carrick


Why does the wind lie down at night

When all the sky is red,

Why does the moon begin to shine

When I am put to bed,

And all the little stars come out

And twinkle overhead?


I see the sun shine all day,

I gather daisies in my play,

But oh, I truly wish that I

Could see the stars bloom in the sky!

I’d love to see the moon shine down,

And silver all the roofs in town,

But always off to sleep I go

Just as the sun is getting low.

The Bells

Bells. Edmund Dulac. 1912.


The Bells

Edgar Allan Poe, 1849


Hear the sledges with the bells,

Silver bells!

What a world of merriment their melody foretells!

How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,

In the icy air of night!

While the stars, that oversprinkle

All the heavens, seem to twinkle

With a crystalline delight;

     Keeping time, time, time,

     In a sort of Runic rhyme,

To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells

From the bells, bells, bells, bells,

Bells, bells, bells—

From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells.


Hear the mellow wedding bells,

Golden bells!

What a world of happiness their harmony foretells!

Through the balmy air of night

How they ring out their delight!

     From the molten-golden notes,

And all in tune,

     What a liquid ditty floats

To the turtle-dove that listens, while she gloats

On the moon!

     Oh, from the sounding cells,

What a gush of euphony voluminously wells!

How it swells!

How it dwells

     On the Future! how it tells

     Of the rapture that impels

     To the swinging and the ringing

Of the bells, bells, bells,

     Of the bells, bells, bells, bells,

Bells, bells, bells—

     To the rhyming and the chiming of the bells!


Hear the loud alarum bells,

Brazen bells!

What a tale of terror, now, their turbulency tells!

In the startled ear of night

How they scream out their affright!

Too much horrified to speak,

They can only shriek, shriek,

Out of tune.

In a clamorous appealing to the mercy of the fire,

In a mad expostulation with the deaf and frantic fire,

Leaping higher, higher, higher,

With a desperate desire,

     And a resolute endeavor

     Now—now to sit or never,

     By the side of the pale-faced moon.

Oh, the bells, bells, bells!

What a tale their terror tells

Of Despair!

How they clang, and clash, and roar!

What a horror they outpour

On the bosom of the palpitating air!

Yet the ear it fully knows,

By the twanging

And the clanging,

How the danger ebbs and flows;

Yet the ear distinctly tells,

In the jangling

And the wrangling,

How the danger sinks and swells,—

By the sinking or the swelling in the anger of the bells,

Of the bells,

Of the bells, bells, bells, bells,

Bells, bells, bells—

In the clamor and the clangor of the bells!


Hear the tolling of the bells,

Iron bells!

What a world of solemn thought their monody compels!

In the silence of the night

How we shiver with affright

     At the melancholy menace of their tone!

For every sound that floats

From the rust within their throats

Is a groan.

And the people—ah, the people,

They that dwell up in the steeple,

All alone,

And who tolling, tolling, tolling,

     In that muffled monotone,

Feel a glory in so rolling

     On the human heart a stone—

They are neither man nor woman,

They are neither brute nor human,

They are Ghouls:

     And their king it is who tolls;

     And he rolls, rolls, rolls,


     A pæan from the bells;

     And his merry bosom swells

With the pæan from the bells,

     And he dances, and he yells:

     Keeping time, time, time,

     In a sort of Rhunic rhyme,

To the pæan of the bells,

     Of the bells:

Keeping time, time, time,

In a sort of Rhunic rhyme,

To the throbbing of the bells,

Of the bells, bells, bells,—

     To the sobbing of the bells;

Keeping time, time, time,

     As he knells, knells, knells,

In a happy Rhunic rhyme,

To the rolling of the bells,

     Of the bells, bells, bells:

    To the tolling of the bells,

Of the bells, bells, bells, bells,

Bells, bells, bells—

To the moaning and the groaning of the bells.


This poem by Poe, published after his death, is one of my own favorites by the American poet. The lines are full of repetition, onomatopoeia, and alliteration that contribute to the masterful rhythm.

‘Sonnets Are Full of Love’

Mother and Child. Jessie Wilcox Smith. 1908.


Christina Rossetti, 1881


Sonnets are full of love, and this my tome

Has many sonnets: so here now shall be

One sonnet more, a love sonnet, from me

To her whose heart is my heart’s quiet home.

To my first Love, my mother, on whose knee

I learnt love-lore that is not troublesome;

Whose service is my special dignity,

And she my loadstar while I go and come

And so because you love me, and because

I love you, Mother, I have woven a wreath

Of rhymes wherewith to crown your honored name:

In you no fourscore years can dim the flame

Of love, whose blessed grow transcends the laws

Of time and change and mortal life and death.


This is the dedicatory sonnet that prefaces “my tome”—Rosetti’s fourth collection, A Pageant and Other Poems.