Friday, May 30, 2008

Friday Garter Poetry blogging and The Bulletin

Louise, one of my collaborators on the "Medievalism in Australian Cultural Memory" project, found this wonderful poem in The Bulletin, from August 24, 1901. I'm attaching the pdf she sent me, which is fun for the advertisements that surround the poem, but thought it worth transcribing. This poem seems to me to tap into one of the deep secrets of the Garter myth: that it is really, in the end, about sex and scandal.

Juliet Vale suggests that another of Edward III's mottos, "It is as it is" ... “is the kind of phrase that might have provided the refrain in some forms of contemporary lyric”. The Garter motto — Honi soit qui mal y pense — is easy to imagine being attached as a refrain or a chorus to lots of situations, and that's certainly how it's often used today. "Pagan"'s poem in the Bulletin seems to me of this order (pun!), especially with its emphasis on the act of saying, or singing the motto. Apologies for lack of line indentations: too hard for Blogger, I think.

To Mollie — A Flirt

Once, when our first King Edward sat
An hour apart with some fair lady,
And no one knew what they were at,
Well hidden in an arbour shady,
When they appeared, the courtiers skipped
All ways at once to hide their laughter,
For down her knees her hose had slipped
And Ned himself had donned her garter.

The gallant monarch saw at once
The reason of their titillation,
And "Honi soit qui mal y pense!"
He cried, and saved the situation.

I know a girl who's not a prude,
And hardly takes her life sedately,
But who is willing to be wooed,
And finds her fun commensurately;
So when upon a verse I start,
To drive away my melancholy,
'Tis natural that the rhymer's art
Should seek a sound to echo— "Mollie."

What power have all of Slander's tongues
To wound you, Mollie, or to hurt you?
Sing "Honi soit qui mal y pense,"
And show your dainty heels to Virtue.

Though such as she no chances give
To even the wittiest Faith's Defenders,
(For modern girls, as I believe,
Secure their hose with silk "suspenders")—
Still does that naughty spirit wake
Which spurred a king to sport so shocking;
And should a silken ribbon break,
You may find Cupid in the stocking.

Here let me mention sans offense
A fact empirically shown, dear;
(Sing "Honi soit qui mal y pense")
My chaussure fits you like your own, dear.

Dear Mollie! when you settle down,
The moon of some suburban heaven,
And twice a week go into town
Instead of every day in seven;
When Something in a pinafore
Has taught you what it is to marry,
Yet strangers think the darling more
Like neighbor Ned than husband Harry;

And, once outside your gate, commence
To hint untruths about your figure
(Oh, Honi soit qui mal y pense!) —
I'll hid behind my hedge and snigger.




Thanks, Louise! I would never have found this, and it's a beauty! And ... er ... dear readers, I would love to hear of any allusions or usages of this motto you come across. I have a fairish collection, but would love more. I will immediately put your name in my acknowledgements page (one of the best parts of the book to write!).

2 comments:

Pavlov's Cat said...

This post has brought on an extraordinarily vivid memory that I'm not going to describe except that it involved a pair of black lace knickers and was very funny and very, um, you know. I'm sure they understood the galvanic power of that kind of cross-dressing moment very well in Australia in 1901, as in other times and places, but I'm thrilled to see it being naughtily written about in The Bulletin.

Suse said...

That was better than cod liver oil.