Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Thomas Hood: minor early Victorian poet

Thomas Hood (1799-1845) is better known than Wade. He’s still anthologized, and in reference books. Hood was an early Keatsian, but made his living as a magazine writer, where he developed his gift for satire and light verse. Example:

On the Death of a Giraffe

They say, God wot!
She died upon the spot;
But then in spots she was so rich, -
I wonder which?

Hood was notorious for puns. In “The Waterloo Ballad”, Patty Head searches the battlefield for her feller Peter Stone. When she finds him, dying, he goes on at length – at great length - like this:

‘Alas! A splinter of a shell
Right in my stomach sticks;
French mortars don’t agree so well
With stomachs as French bricks.*

‘This very night a merry dance
At Brussels was to be; -
Instead of opening a ball,
A ball has open’d me’

Etc. I think this is pretty funny, but the taste for puns can vary.

Many of his best poems are stories. “The Last Man” is a last-man-on-earth fantasy, “The Dream of Eugene Aram, the Murderer” is a grisly thing, “The Bridge if Sighs” is about a suicide. All are worth reading.

His most famous poem now seems to be his last, not such light verse:


Farewell, Life! My senses swim:
And the world is growing dim;
Thronging shadows cloud the light,
Like the advent of the night, -
Colder, colder, colder still
Upward steals a vapor chill -
Strong the earthy odor grows
I smell the Mould above the Rose!

Welcome, Life! The spirit strives!
Strength returns, and hope revives;
Cloudy fears and shapes forlorn
Fly like shadows of the morn, -
O’er the earth there comes a bloom -
Sunny light for sullen gloom,
Warm perfume for vapour cold -
I smell the Rose above the Mould!

Besides some topical references, Hood is easy to read. Clever, funny, that sort of thing. Victorian England was unusual for having a real mass audience for poetry. The genial, delightful Thomas Hood did as much to create that audience as anyone.

* I did not know what a French brick was until I ate one in Normandy last fall. It's a meat or cheese or vegetable pie in a fillo-like dough.


  1. It reminds me of that great poetess, Emmeline Grangerford.

    from the Ode to Stephen Dowling Botts:

    O no. Then list with tearful eye,
    Whilst I his fate do tell.
    His soul did from this cold world fly
    By falling down a well.
    They got him out and emptied him;
    Alas it was too late;
    His spirit was gone for to sport aloft
    In the realms of the good and great.

    Man, they don't write 'em like they used to. Or at least, they don't write 'em like Mark Twain used to.

  2. Also the great Mrs. Leo Hunter:

    Can I view thee panting, lying.
    On thy stomach, without sighing;
    Can I unmoved see thee dying
    On a log
    Expiring frog!

    Say, have fiends in shape of boys,
    With wild halloo, and brutal noise,
    Hunted thee from marshy joys,
    With a dog,
    Expiring frog!