Last week these venerable pixels displayed a pithy anecdote concerning William Butler Yeats. But alas, and with all due etc to my erstwhile what-have-you, he never even attempted to discuss the most pressing question about that great poet – why did he have two surnames ? The easily cynical amongst you might be tempted to answer ‘because he was a Victorian, dur !”, but here in the Archive on a ling Friday afternoon when the sun is out but we alas are very much stuck in, this is precisely the sort of question whose lack of answer has driven poetry to its current lamentable state. As T S Eliot once commented, nobody names their child ‘Stearns’ out of love. We might add that poor Gerard Hopkins’ parents seemed determined to encourage him to be suitably macho, and one suspects that poor Percy Shelley’s parents were really taking the Bysshe.
Anyway, no silly names at this week’s workshop: Anne Furneaux came closest, but produced an impeccable family tree to prove her fully justified right to end her name with a silent ‘x’. She also read to us a rather fine tale of one thousand bombers and one excitable little boy. Alan Chambers next jogged upto his poem about running down that hill, and Michael Harris has been finding his inner voice to the liking of his inner ear. The state of the -isms have been exercising John Hurley of late, but at least he’s still got his star sign to fall back on, while Nick Barth has been finding the oncoming Summer far too interesting for his liking. Then followed some griping about nuts by Martin Choules, who subsequently won’t ever be offered a slice of Bakewell tart again, and Owen Gallagher told us how he almost became the last human alive in rural Donegal, before Daphne Gloag gave us an exclusive when she interviewed the Sun, which had us worried, until it turned out she meant the star, not the rag.
Anyway, a search through the Archives revealed perhaps the most be-saddled poet of all: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Now before we are accused of sniggering at his twice-entendered last-name, let us assure you that we consider it a fine, upstanding moniker. Likewise, Wadsworth by itself is perfectly dignified and would rouse no further interest except possibly making the denizens of middle-Wiltshire a little thirsty. No, the problems begin when his parents decided that poor dear little Harry needed every help he could get, whether he wanted it or no.
Now, it should be noted that Wadsworth was his mother’s maiden name, and why should it only be the father who gets to wave his handle in the air ? And once that decision was made, why not also slip the Wadsworth in there for company ? And this would have been fine had they also loaded up the christening certificate with plenty of good solid Johns and Edwards until the Wadsworth was very much the middle-name of last resort. But no, just three names was all they could afford. Ah, if only they had had more confidence, they would have realised that any son simply named Henry Longfellow was always going to stand out.