Well, wuddaya know

Here's a poem in blank verse:

Oh, moralists, who treat of happiness
And self-respect, innate in every sphere
Of life, and shedding light on every grain
Of dust in God's highway, so smooth below
Your carriage-wheels, so rough beneath the tread
   Of naked feet, bethink yourselves
   In looking on the swift descent
Of men who have lived in their own esteem,
That there are scores of thousands breathing now,
And breathing thick with painful toil, who in
That high respect have never lived at all
Nor had a chance of life! Go ye, who rest
So placidly upon the sacred Bard
Who had been young, and when he strung his harp
Was old...

Go, Teachers of content and honest pride,
   Into the mine, the mill, the forge,
The squalid depths of deepest ignorance,
And uttermost abyss of man's neglect,
And say can any hopeful plant spring up
In air so foul that it extinguishes
The soul's bright torch as fast as it is kindled!

Who wrote it? Well, Charles Dickens, in Martin Chuzzlewit. What's that? You didn't know Dickens was a poet? Well, the above passage appears, printed as prose, in Chapter 13, with the additional words "and had never seen the righteous forsaken, or his seed begging their bread" between the two stanzas, quoted from Ps. 37:25. Such things can prose writers fall into when they are trying to be high-flown and not watching themselves carefully.

Kudos to H. W. Fowler for spotting this example.


clarence said...

I assume Fowler had arranged the verse. Shakespeare comes to mind, as someone whose blank verse was sometimes prose-like. Milton's was far too full of poetry. Wordsworth's was too plodding. I think Johnson, in his Preface to Shakespeare, spoke of the great degree in which Shakespeare's language reflects the language of men speaking, and we can extend that hypothesis to how blank verse is often the natural language of writers speaking. Is this relevant to your post? Not entirely.

John Cowan said...

Fowler printed it in The King's English with slashes between the "lines". I arranged it in the conventional style for verse.