Tales about Parodies

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This is the time to talk about the tales about Parodies. The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines parody as a humorous, exaggerated imitation of an author, literary work, style, etc. There is also the sense : a feeble imitation, a travesty. It is with the first meaning that I am concerned here.

The Concise Oxford Dictionary definition is a broad one and does not bring out the specific nature of different classes of parodies. Limiting ourselves to poetry (or verse, more generally) we see that a parody is best approached in terms of its attitude to the original.

1. In one class of parodies the writer is not making fun of the original but the subject of his own verse.

Nature and Nature's laws lay hid in Night/God said : let Newton Be/And all was Light.

That is Pope. Now here is Sir John Squire's parody. It did not last/The devil howling 'Ho! Let Einstein Be/Restored the status quo'.

As you can see, Squire is making fun, not of Newton but of Einstein. Einstein's theories of curved space and time are enough to baffle anyone.

None but the brave deserve the Fair said Dryden in Alexander's Feast. (He is describing the court held by Alexander after he had defeated the Persians, with the beautiful Thais sitting next to him).

Now here is Squire's Parody. 'None but the grave deserve the unfair. Squire is not making fun of Alexander but of grave persons.

Finally here is Thomas Gray :

Full many gem of pure stray serene/ The dark unfathomed depths of ocean bear/ Full many a flower is born to blush unseen/And waste its sweetness on the desert air.(Elegy written in a country churchyard : 1750)

And here is a parody of those lines by that inveterate punster, parodist and light verse writer, Kay S Wye. Full many a thug of deftest hand serene/The vast unfathomed crowds of city bear/Full many a victim daily shorn, unseen/With wasted laments rends the city air : The writer is not making fun of Gray. He is making fun of our own city crowds.

2. In a second class of parodies, the parodist slyly makes fun of the original imitating its style and diction. This is Wordsworth :

The world is too much with us, late and soon/ Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers/Little we see in Nature that is ours/We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon.

Here is the parody. The wife is too much with us, late and soon/ Getting and spending, she lays waste our powers/Little she leaves in the pocket that is ours/We have given our purse away. A sordid boon! (Kay S Wye)

Another example.

When I am dead, my dearest/ Sing thou no songs for me/ Plant thou no roses at my head/Nor shady cypress tree/Be the green grass above me/With showers and dew drops wet! And if thou wilt, remember/ And if thou wilt, forget. (c. Rossetti).

And now the parody. When I am fed, my dearest/Sing thou no songs for me/Plant some pillows at my head/Two or even three/Be a clean sheet above me/With flowers and pictures spread/And the hot water, dear /Please don't forget (Kay S Wye).

Just a phrase from the original may be enough to set the parodies off on his mocking trail, Shelley speaks of poets as the unacknowledged legislators of the world (A Defence of Poetry, 1821). But knowing the sad state of poets everywhere, the following lines may give a truer picture of them.

The Unacknowledged Legislator of the world/Was heating his morning coffee/With a sheaf of his own poems.//It is natural remarked a fellow Legislator/Who hopefully dropped in/That the product of intense passion/Should go up in visible combustion! (Kay S Wye)

3. In a third class of parodies there is no attempt to slight or make fun of one or the other. The original may be poetic, emotional and profound.

We look before and after and pine for what is not. Our sincerest laughter with some pain is fraught/our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought. (P B Shelley).

The parody picks up a far less poetic situation. The situation is the mundane daily life.

We look before and after I and consider every jot/But our best endeavour/With some hitch is fraught/Our damnedest slips are those that tell of closest thought (Kay S Wye).

(The lines from Kay S Wye are from his book It couldn't Be Verse-- Or Worse Either! Writer’s workshop : Calcutta : 1988)

NOTE : This is written by Mr. K.S. Yadurajan. Thanks to him.
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