PN Review Print and Online Poetry Magazine
News and Notes
Digital Access to PN Review
Access the latest issues, plus back issues of PN Review with Exact Editions For PN Review subscribers: access the PN Review digital archive via the Exact Editions app Exactly or the Exact Editions website, you will first need to know your PN Review ID number. read more
Poems Articles Interviews Reports Reviews Contributors
Gratis Ad 1
Monthly Carcanet Books
Next Issue New poems by Ange Mlinko Sean O'Brien on Graves, Myth and European War Rebecca Hurst maps the woods Richard Gwyn considers Borders and Crossings Frederic Raphael listens to the Silent Conversations of Anthony Rudolf

This report is taken from PN Review 117, Volume 24 Number 1, September - October 1997.

'Ode to an Expiring Frog' Michael Alexander

In the autumn of 1951 I was entrusted by unbookish parents to a boys' boarding school in Sussex, a prep school. The English master turned my ten-year-old taste from Biggles and Billy Bunter towards more humane letters by reading Pickwick Papers aloud in class. We enjoyed this. Mr Whigham read well; he had been an actor, and was tall and temperamental. He could recite the second chapter of Pickwick Papers by heart, a feat repeated so often that we were soon able to accompany him in chorus through the opening paragraphs. Mr Whigham did not neglect clause-analysis and other such staples of English teaching of that day, but he also introduced us to samples of modern poetry - reading Eliot's 'Preludes' and poems from Pound's Cathay, as well as old standards like Hood's 'I remember, I remember', Belloc's 'Miranda' and Tennyson's 'Lady of Shallott', together with much verse for recitation. With his butter-coloured hair, he somewhat resembled both Mr Augustus Snodgrass, Mr Pickwick's young poet friend, and the loquacious Mr Jingle.

It must have been under Whigham's influence that I read a great deal of Rider Haggard, and also War and Peace. In Whigham's classes we had to keep a Commonplace Book. The first entries in my Commonplace Book were Shakespeare's 'Fear no more the heat o' the sun' and Thomas Hardy's pleasantly gloomy poem 'Afterwards'. I also find in my Commonplace Book a poem by Charles Dickens, 'Ode to an Expiring Frog':

Can ...


Searching, please wait... animated waiting image