What's on your mind? "A Wolf!" Pig cried.

Every time I log into Facebook, and see this:


my mind straight away replies:

“A Wolf!” Pig cried.

And then I launch into the rest of the poem (just in my mind, you understand – not out loud for everyone to hear).

“What’s on your mind?” “A Wolf!” Pig cried.
“I know you’ve dealt with wolves before,
“And now I’ve got one at my door!”
“My darling Pig,” she said, “my sweet,
“That’s something really up my street,
“I’ve just begun to wash my hair,
“But when it’s dry, I’ll be right there.”

I run out at about that stage, not because I don’t know the rest, but because that’s when I catch up with myself doing it. I know the whole thing off by heart; it’s one of just two poems that I still know in their entirety from my school years when I took speech and drama lessons. I’m sure it would be just the thing for sophisticated soirees.

You will receive the admiration of your peers (your peers being the people who drop by here from time to time, or if everyone else is too mean to offer their admiration, at the very least you will have my admiration) if you can identify the poem and the poet, sans google, of course.

Further admiration available for those who ‘fess up to what their party piece is.


33 comments on “What's on your mind? "A Wolf!" Pig cried.

  1. Carol says:

    Without recourse to Google or any other form of research, it sounds very much like Roald Dahl.
    My party piece is another midly risqué poem by Roald Dahl: his version of The Owl and the Pussycat. I won’t repeat it all here but it begins:

    The Owl and the Pussy-cat went away
    In a beautiful pea-green car.
    At a nearby inn they had some gin
    And a pound of caviar…

  2. harvestbird says:

    It is indeed Roald Dahl: it’s “The Three Little Pigs” from Revolting Rhymes. That book was a childhood favourite of mine, especially Cinderella (I guess you think you know this story./You don’t. The real one’s much more gory) and Goldilocks and the Three Bears (Worse still, upon the heel of one/Was something that a dog had done./I say once more, what would you think/If all this horrid dirt and stink/Was smeared upon your eiderdown/By this revolting little clown?)

  3. Southernrata says:

    One that always crops up in our house is,

    I must go down to the sea again,
    to the lonely sea and the sky.

    I left my vest and pants there,
    I wonder if they’re dry.

    Spike Milligan from John Masefield, I think, but hilarious to us because one daughter confessed that she always thought Vestin pants was some fancy brand name.

  4. Deborah says:

    I was sure that one of my erudite readers would know it. But HB – you had my admiration already!

  5. M-H says:

    I became an instant hit with my pre-teen granddaughters last week with the song that begins “On top of Spaghetti, all covered with cheese, I lost my poor meatball, when somebody sneezed.” I remembered all the verses, and we googled for more information about the song. I think that the revelation that you could put any phrase into google and find stuff was as exciting for them as the actual song. Wicked, subversive granma. 🙂 Luckily, their parents do have netnanny!

  6. Loquacity says:

    Oh, I amazed and entranced my daughter with “On top of spaghetti” only the other day!

    And, of course, “Dirty Beasts” has a permanent spot on our bookshelf. We’re currently reading “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” chapter by chapter as a bedtime story. She’s just gobsmacked by the whole thing.

    Makes me wish I could read all those Dahl books for the first time all over again 🙂


  7. andrew says:

    For this lurker, Jabberwocky, which I memorized from Graeme Base’s picture book. From another picture book ‘you just talking silly talk’ became a catchphrase of my childhood. I hunted that one down on Amazon as a gift for my mother some years ago. Adults need more picture books!

  8. mimbles says:

    I don’t think I can pick just one party piece. I know great swathes of A A Milne and Banjo Patterson off by heart and will start reciting at random as triggered by word associations.

    Biking riding holidays with my cousins at Bundanoon during my childhood were much enhanced by mass recitations of Mulga Bill as we approached particularly steep hills.

    Any mention of rice pudding gets “What is the matter with Mary Jane? She’s perfectly well and she hasn’t a pain…” running through my head.

    And, of course, any visit to a beach must include “Sand between the toes”.

  9. Carol says:

    It’s very fatuous, but it’s hard to get AA Milne out my head sometimes:

    James James
    Morrison Morrison
    Weatherby George Du Pree

    Took good care of his mother
    Though he was only three

    James James
    Said to his mother
    “Mother”, he said, said he

    “You must never go down to the end of the town If you don’t go down with me!”

    And so on. My sympathies are entirely with JJMM’s mother.

  10. Carol says:

    .. who ran off to the end of the town in her golden gown, and ‘hasn’t been heard of since’.

  11. merc says:

    I don’t go out at night anymore but i did manage to get this out at work today…

    I heard there was a secret chord
    that David played and it pleased the Lord
    but you don’t really care for music, do you
    well it goes like this the fourth, the fifth
    the minor fall and the major lift
    the baffled king composing hallelujah


    well your faith was strong but you needed proof
    you saw her bathing on the roof
    her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you
    she tied you to her kitchen chair
    she broke your throne and she cut your hair
    and from your lips she drew the hallelujah


    baby I’ve been here before
    I’ve seen this room and I’ve walked this floor
    i used to live alone before I knew you
    I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch
    but love is not a victory march
    it’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah


    well there was a time when you let me know
    what’s really going on below
    but now you never show that to me do you
    but remember when I moved in you
    and the holy dove was moving too
    and every breath we drew was hallelujah

    well, maybe there’s a God above
    but all I’ve ever learned from love
    was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you
    it’s not a cry that you hear at night
    it’s not somebody who’s seen the light
    it’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah


    Leonard Cohen (I prefer the Jeff Buckley version)

    It’s OK, they know me at work…

  12. homepaddock says:

    From another A.A. Milne fan:
    The King asked
    The Queen, and
    The Queen asked
    The Dairy Maid
    “Could we have some butter for
    The Royal slice of bread?’ . . .

    I especially like when it gets to
    “Nobody,” he said . . .
    Could call me
    A fussy man – . . .

  13. Deborah says:

    merc, I sing that song sometimes. Mr Strange Land plays it for me on the guitar.

    Of course, it’s hard to go past the original singer, but I do like k.d.lang’s version.

    This clip of her singing it at the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame induction of Leonard Cohen in 2006.

  14. Deborah says:

    s’amazing what encourages people to delurk! I do admire your party pieces.

    @mimbles and homepaddock – I’m very dubious about A.A.Milne. I think I mostly buy into Dorothy Parker’s fabulous one-liner in her “Constant Reader” review of The House at Pooh Corner:

    It is that word ‘hummy,’ my darlings, that marks the first place in The House at Pooh Corner at which Tonstant Weader fwowed up.

    ‘Though I recall one lovely history lecturer who used to invite entire classes to his house for pot-luck dinners, followed by readings from Pooh. People took various parts, and hammed it up beautifully, or not so beautifully, depending on how much cheap plonk we had been drinking. The best readings were those where someone had the Latin version.

  15. Adele Villemez says:

    I am another A. A. Milne fan, but if I had to pick one “party piece” it would be “The Cremation of Sam McGee” by Robert Service.

    There are strange things done in the midnight sun
    By the men who moil for gold.
    The artic trails have their secret tales
    That would make your blood run cold.
    The Northern Lights have seen strange sights,
    But the strangest they ever did see,
    Was that night on the marge of Lake LeBarge
    I cremated Sam McGee.

    Now Sam McGee was from Tennesee
    Where the cotton blooms and blows . . .

    . . . and so on and so on for stanzas and stanzas. 🙂

  16. merc says:

    The great thing about Leonard Cohen is that children seem to like his songs. Mind you my children also like Patti Smith, in a dark teen way.
    They especially like the lines,
    …she tied you to her kitchen chair
    she broke your throne and she cut your hair,
    I don’t really know why, but it is highly evocative and children seem to like that. Then there’s the Q&A…why did she cut his hair?
    Talented he is that Mr Strange Land.

  17. M-H says:

    OMG, AA Milne in Latin – I remember that: “Burr, burr, burr, quae est causa cur?” (Or something phonetically close!)

    I’m enjoying this discussion!

  18. M-H says:

    Merc, she cut his hair to take his strength (Delilah the cutter, Samson the cutee). But you probably knew that.

  19. merc says:

    Yes, i loved attempting to explain the lyrics to my children. Children just get symbolism. Explaining Patti Smith was interesting, especially the song Horses.
    Then there’s the great line,
    Jesus died for somebodies sins, but not mine…

  20. Carol says:

    Adele, I’m very fond of Robert Service too. Magnificent poet. I also like ‘The Shooting of Dan McGrew’, which starts off as:

    A bunch of the boys were whooping it up in the Malamute saloon;
    The kid that handles the music-box was hitting a jag-time tune;
    Back of the bar, in a solo game, sat Dangerous Dan McGrew;
    And watching his luck was his light-o’-love, the lady that’s known as Lou.

    I have a book of his poems with evocative woodcuts of timber wolves and whisky bottles and lonely cabins.

  21. Adele Villemez says:

    Hey, Carol! It’s nice to meet another Robert Service fan. I also like “The Shooting of Dan McGrew”. Are you familiar with “The Telegraph Operator”? My mother always liked that creepy repeated “Alone, alone, alone!” in that poem. And for total creepiness and depression “Death in the Arctic” is incredible. I feel bad for Robert though. I get the feeling he was extremely depressed himself and probably an alcoholic. I wrote a paper on him my freshman year in college.

  22. […] King’s Breakfast Over at In a Strange Land, Deborah is asking people for their party piece poems – those they can recite by […]

  23. Paul says:

    Yes I remember Adlestrop, the name, because one afternoon of heat the express train drew up there unwontedly – it was late June…

  24. artandmylife says:

    At school I leanred Jabbocky and can still recite it off pat. My mother (of the old school) taught me Wordsworth’s “Daffodils”, Kingsley’s “The Sands of Dee” and Tennyson’s “Charge of the Light brigade” and “The Lady of Shallott” as well as many Banjo PAtterson poems. I don’t have much opportunity to reel them out though

  25. Rob Hosking says:

    I used to be able to do Tennyson’s ‘Ulysses’ but now only recall a few bits towards the end about “T’is not too late to seek a better world….one equal temper of heroic hearts…to strive to seek to find and not to yield.”

    Whole lot of stuff in between.

    There’s a few comic ones I can recall: the favourite is, like Southern Rata’s, a Spike Milligan one:

    Barrington Higgs
    Cared not two figs
    Whether he lived or he died

    But when he was dead
    He laid on his bed
    And he cried and he cried and he cried…”

  26. Frankie says:

    I’ve got so many of them- but the last one I actually busted out at an actual party was

    The sky was bright as a new milk token
    Bill the Bookie and Shellshock Hogan
    Waited outside for the pub to open

    It’s a James K Baxter fragment- prompted by a discussion of milk tokens!

  27. Paul says:

    T o start I must declare that I am Deborah’s brother and therefore the subversive uncle to the strangelings. They hate peas so I recite this one to them at family dinner parties.

    I eat my peas with honey
    I’ve done it all my life
    It does taste kind of funny
    but it keeps them on the knife.

    I think it’s AA Milne but I’m not positive. Also from AA and trotted out at six year olds birthday parties is.

    When I was one
    I was just begun
    When I was two
    I was nearly new
    When I was three
    I was hardly me
    When I was four
    I was not much more
    When I was five
    I was just alive
    But now I’m six I’m as clever as clever
    I think I’ll be six for ever and ever.

    It goes down a treat with the adults but I don’t think the kids care…

    I am a builder (and usually work with people who are more comfortable with the sort of ditty and limerick that I choose not to repeat) and had an amazing moment on site one day. I was working on a pump shed at a local sports ground. Also there was a drainage contractor who is a great guy but more of a good old boy than an intellectual, and a plumber who specialises in irrigation systems. The plumber is in his late 50’s and drinks like a fish consequently he has a huge gut and it is a race to see if his heart or liver gives out first. These guys are dirty hands, expletive, digger and water cannon people. The following conversation nearly floored me.

    The drainage contractor said

    “To be, or not to be: that is the question:”

    I pitched in the next bit

    “Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
    The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,”

    Then the plumber stunned us all with

    “Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
    And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
    No more; and by a sleep to say we end
    The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
    That flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation
    Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep;
    To sleep: perchance to dream”

    Poetry sneaks up in the strangest places

  28. Giovanni says:

    Ah, wonderful. I am compelled to report that in Tuscany there is a very lively tradition of oral poetry, featuring some truly amazing impromptu rhyming contests, and often the participants are barely literate. Some of these folks have kept reciting the divine comedy over the centuries, carrying it in their heads.

  29. Daleaway says:

    Mr Daleaway and I are incorrigible reciters who usually have to be stopped with bribes or threats.

    He favours great rolling monologues like “Brown Boots” and “Three Ha’pence a Foot” but is usually asked for “Albert and the Lion”, and as a Londoner he has a splendid way with the Pommie regional accents such narratives call for.

    I favour the quipping type of poem for those of a shorter attention span, such as Roger McGough’s “Cousin Daisy”:

    Cousin Daisy’s favourite sport
    Was standing on street corners
    She contracted with ease
    A funny disease

    Also Stevie Smith’s:

    They killed a poet by neglect
    And treating him worse than an insect.
    They said what he wrote was feeble
    And should never be read by serious people.
    Serious people
    Serious people
    I should say it was serious
    To be such people!

  30. Carol says:

    How about this from Carol Ann Duffy? (from The World’s Wife)

    Mrs Darwin

    7 April 1852.

    Went to the Zoo.
    I said to Him —
    Something about that Chimpanzee over there reminds me of

  31. homepaddock says:

    Paul – How lucky the strangelings are to have a subversive unlce.

    I’m almost positive the peas with honey is by Ogden Nash.

    The version I was taught was:

    I eat my peas with honey,
    I’ve done it all my life.
    It makes the peas taste funny
    But it keeps them on my knife.

  32. TimT says:

    I like the way poetry remembered morphs in your memory and becomes something subtly different to the original.

    Some years ago I read this, by Dorothy Parker:

    I like to have a Martini
    Two at the very most
    Three and I’m under the table
    Four and I’m under my host.

    Standard quatrain structure, in other words – with an ABCB rhyme scheme. But later I modified it in my memory to this:

    I like to have a drink if I’m able
    Two at the very most
    Three and I’m under the table
    Four and I’m under my host.

    I found it more pleasing. And I honestly don’t think Dorothy Parker would have minded at all.

    Another example: my favourite Yeats poem, ‘An Irish Airman Foresees his death’:

    My country is Kiltartan’s cross,
    My countrymen Kiltartan’s poor:
    No likely end could bring them loss,
    Nor leave them luckier than before.

    I am never certain whether Yeats said ‘luckier’ or ‘happier’. Would he mind? The meaning is quite different, but the song and the tone is more or less the same, and the kind of lofty indifference affected by the speaker is the same in either case (the Irish airman). And isn’t that the point of the poem? (You could go on for ages in this way.)

    Of course, the safest poet to misquote is always yourself. Maybe that’s why I write poems – so I can have the privilege of misquoting myself.

    Just one example, that I wrote as a send up of that Yeats poem:

    An Irish groundsman foreesees his death, or rather, he doesn’t
    I know that I shall meet my fate
    Somewhere below the clouds above.
    (I’ll say more at a later date.)

    (Although, of course, you never know
    Perhaps I’ll cark it on a plane,
    Somewhere above the clouds below!)

  33. […] – poems you could recite by heart – prompted last Friday’s poem and subsequent comments on her post reminded me that in the dark recesses of my memory there were some poems, learned by rote at high […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s