This week, author and journalist Eugene Byrne brings you a frivolous verse from 1899, written by Jocelyn Henry Clive Graham, a one-time soldier turned writer and lyricist who turned to the craft of writing after witnessing the horrors of the trenches during the First World War
Naughty little Hannah said
She could make her grandma whistle
So, that night, insider her bed
Placed some nettles and a thistle.
Though dear grandma quite inform is,
Heartless Hannah watched her settle,
With her poor old epidermis
Resting up against a nettle.
Suddenly she reached the thistle!
My! You should have heard her whistle!
A successful plan was Hannah’s,
But I cannot praise her manners.
This funny poem comes from Ruthless Rhymes for Heartless Homes, by Harry Graham, first published in 1899. You can download a copy at http://www.archive.org/details/ruthlessrhymesf00grahgoog if you like it.
Jocelyn Henry Clive Graham (1874-1936) was born into a patrician background; went to Eton then Sandhurst and had a distinguished military career in the Coldstream Guards. After a few years as private secretary to former PM Lord Rosebury, he became a full-time writer and lyricist, a career only interrupted by resuming his military duties in the First World War.
Even while witnessing the horrors of trench life he was turning out material for musical comedies. He’s best remembered, though, for his frivolous verse, and particularly the black humour of Ruthless Rhymes and a follow-up More Ruthless Rhymes (1930). Even today, many of us are still familiar with what’s probably his best-known ‘grue’:
Billy in one of his nice new sashes
Fell in the fire and was burned to ashes
Now, although the room grows chilly
I haven’t the heart to poke poor Billy