Memorable poems

The Poets at Tea by Barry Pain



I  Macaulay, who made it

Pour, varlet, pour the water,

   The water steaming hot!

A spoonful for each man of us,

   Another for the pot!

We shall not drink from amber,

   No Capuan slave shall mix

For us the snows of Athos

   With port at thirty-six;

Whiter than snow the crystals

   Grown sweet ‘neath tropic fires

More rich the herb of China’s field,

For pasture-lands more fragrance yield;

For ever let Britannia wield

   The teapot of her sires!


II  Tennyson, who took it hot

I think that I am drawing to an end:

For on a sudden came a gasp for breath,

And stretching of the hands, and blinded eyes,

And a great darkness falling on my soul.

O Hallelujah! … Kindly pass the milk.


III  Swinburne, who let it get cold

As the sin that was sweet in the sinning

   Is foul in the ending thereof,

As the heat of the summer’s beginning

   Is past in the winter of love:

O purity, painful and pleading!

   O coldness, ineffably grey!

O hear us, our handmaid unheeding,

   And take it away!


IV  Cowper, who thoroughly enjoyed it

The cosy fire is bright and gay,

The merry kettle boils away

                        And hums a cheerful song.

I sing the saucer and the cup;

Pray, Mary, fill the teapot up,

                        And do not make it strong.


V  Browning, who treated it allegorically

Tst! Bah! We take as another case—

   Pass the pills on the window-sill; notice the capsule

(A sick man’s fancy, no doubt, but I place

   Reliance on trade-marks, Sir)—so perhaps you’ll

Excuse the digression—this cup which I hold

   Light-poised—Bah, its spilt in the bed!—well, let’s on go—

Held Bohea and sugar, Sir; if you were told

   The sugar was salt, would the Bohea be Congo?


VI  Wordsworth, who gave it away

“Come, little cottage girl, you seem

   To want my cup of tea;

And will you take a little cream?

   Now tell the truth to me.”


She had a rustic, woodland grin,

   Her cheek was soft as silk,

And she replied, “Sir, please put in

   A little drop of milk.”


“Why, what put milk into your head?

   ‘Tis cream my cows supply;”

And five times to the child I said,

   “Why, pig-head, tell me, why?”


“You call me pig-head,” she replied;

   “My proper name is Ruth.

“I call that milk”—she blushed with pride—

   “You bade me speak the truth.”


VII  Poe, who got excited over it

Here’s a mellow cup of tea—golden tea!

What a world of rapturous thought its fragrance brings to me!

            Oh, from out the silver cells

            How it wells!

            How it smells!

Keeping tune, tune, tune, tune

To the tintinnabulation of the spoon.

And the kettle on the fire

Boils its spout off with desire,

With a desperate desire

And a crystalline endeavour

Now, now to sit, or never,

On the top of the pale-faced moon,

But he always came home to tea, tea, tea, tea, tea,

                        Tea to the n—th.


VIII  Rossetti, who took six cups of it

  The lilies lie in my lady’s bower

        (O weary mother, drive the cows to roost),

They faintly droop for a little hour;

My lady’s head droops like a flower.


She took the porcelain in her hand

     (O weary mother, drive the cows to roost);

She poured; I drank at her command;

Drank deep, and now—you understand!

     (O weary mother, drive the cows to roost).


IX  Burns, who liked it adulterated

Weel, gin ye speir, I’m no inclined,

Whusky or tay—to state my mind

     For ane or ither;

For, gin I tak the first, I’m fou,

And gin the next, I’m dull as you,

     Mix a’ thegither.


X  Walt Whitman, who didn’t stay more than a minute

One cup for my self-hood,

Many for you. Allons, camerados, we will drink together

O hand-in-hand! That tea-spoon, please, when you’ve done with it.

What butter-colour’d hair you’ve got. I don’t want to be personal.

All right, then, you needn’t—you’re a stale—cadaver.

Eighteen-pence if the bottles are returned,

Allons, from all bat-eyed formules.

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This page last updated: June 29, 2006.