By and large Halloween is a fun holiday, so as we continue our Halloween series here let’s have some fun with a classic poem of intimated horror — or rather a parody of same.
The man supplying our fun is Louis Untermeyer, an American 20th century poet, critic, and anthologist. And his subject? To stitch together a strange parodic monster using the nursery rhyme “Jack and Jill Went Up the Hill” with De La Mare’s poem “The Listeners.”
If you don’t know De La Mare’s “The Listeners,” you should. Totally by implication and careful elusion it sets up an ambiguous but still dread-filled situation. Maybe you’d like to hear it performed? Here’s how I did it for last Halloween.
Untermeyer figures that if De La Mare’s tactics can make a man on horseback knocking and getting no answer scary, then it just might work to make a children’s poem a thing of considered horror. Well, unanswered doors, if not things of terror, are a matter of disappointment for trick or treaters, so maybe “The Listeners” has a built-in advantage as a Halloween piece? Let’s see what Untermeyer can do with his mashup:
I made an unusual choice for musical variety: the instrument playing lines in the left channel, including the A# G# F# motif at the start of each verse is a Bass VI, not a conventional electric guitar..
I decided to play it straight on my performance of Untermeyer’s parody, as if it’s as bleak a tale as the old murder ballad “Pretty Polly” — only with a water-pail and a dreadful accident instead of homicide. If I was to have Alfred Hitchcock drolly appear at the end of my performance, as he would in his TV show of my youth,* he would explain that local search and rescue units found Jack and that he’s recovering — but during that event they tested the water in the hilltop well and found it subtly yet dangerously poisoned.
Have a good Halloween valued Parlando listeners and readers! There’s a player gadget below for some, but if you don’t see it this highlighted hyperlink will get you the treat of my performance of Untermeyer’s De La Mare parody too.
* Alas, he’s unavailable, so use your grey-scale imagination.
2 thoughts on “Walter De La Mare Tells His Listeners About Jack and Jill”
Thanks! A creepy poem–I’d never come across it before.
I found this in Untermeyer’s “_____ and Other Poets” a 1916 collection of parodies and mash-ups, many of which were of contemporary poets of his era. Of course, it’s a sample of one. but I found it interesting to see what elements a contemporary would take and make satire of with early 20th century poets/poems.
In De La Mare’s case, Untermeyer largely takes what we (who can choose to be Post-Modernist in many ways) might find most attractive in “The Listeners” (the use of external description to evoke a fraught internal emotional moment) and highlights that to the point he thinks his readers will find risible.
So doing Untermeyer’s parody “seriously” is such a Po-Mo move that I can’ tell myself what level of reflected irony I stopped at!