26 July, 2010
I am currently devouring Christopher Hitchens recently-published memoir “Hitch-22”, of which it can truly be said (unlike so many other alleged examples of the characteristic) that there is something to interest or amuse one on every page.
I hope I am permitted by copyright law to quote from the footnote on Page 174, which expands on the tendency of those attending the now-legendary Friday lunches of the late 1970s London literary set (Hitchens, Kingsley Amis , Martin Amis , Robert Conquest, Clive James, Craig Raine, Ian McEwan, Julian Barnes to mention a few) to indulge in word games and compose witty poems.
Insistence upon the capacious subtleties of the limerick was something of a hallmark. Once again [Robert] Conquest takes the palm: his condensation of the “Seven Ages of Man” shows how much force can be packed into the deceptively slight five-line frame. Thus:
- Seven ages: first puking and mewling,
- Then very pissed off with your schooling,
- Then fucks and then fights,
- Then judging chaps’ rights,
- Then sitting in slippers, then drooling.
This is not the only example of Conquest’s genius for compression. The history of the Bolshevik “experiment” in five lines? Barely a problem:
- There once was a Bolshie called Lenin
- Who did one or two million men in.
- That’s a lot to have done in
- But where he did one in
- That old Bolshie Stalin did ten in!
The first Limerick cleverly condenses the “All the world’s a stage” monologue from Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” which can be found in full here.