Poetry for critics

ByronBy Robert Silvey

National Poetry Month is slipping away, and no poetry yet here at Scholars & Rogues. So here’s a choice bit by George Gordon, Lord Byron, our banner rogue. [Actually, I’m reminded that there’s more good poetry here and here.]

The background: Byron’s publisher, John Murray, had received an execrable play by Dr J. W. Polidori, a would-be author (who today would have been able to circumvent critical publishers by creating his own blog). Murray asked Byron for assistance in letting Polidori down softly. Byron had a more acerbic idea.

Dear Doctor, I have Read your Play

Dear Doctor, I have read your play,
Which is a good one in its way,
Purges the eyes, and moves the bowels,
And drenches handkerchiefs like towels
With tears that, in a flux of grief,
Afford hysterical relief
To shatter’d nerves and quicken’d pulses,
Which your catastrophe convulses.
I like your moral and machinery;
Your plot, too, has such scope for scenery!
Your dialogue is apt and smart;
The play’s concoction full of art;
Your hero raves, your heroine cries,
All stab, and everybody dies;
In short, your tragedy would be
The very thing to hear and see;
And for a piece of publication,
If I decline on this occasion,
It is not that I am not sensible
To merits in themselves ostensible,
But—and I grieve to speak it—plays
Are drugs—mere drugs, Sir, nowadays.
Thus run our time and tongues away;
But, to return, Sir, to your play;
Sorry, Sir, but I cannot deal,
Unless ’twere acted by O’Neill.
My hands are full—my head so busy,
I’m almost dead—and always dizzy;
And so, with endless truth and hurry,
Dear Doctor, I am yours,


Murray chose to write a kinder rejection slip, we presume, but the vain Dr Polidori didn’t deserve it. He later tried to ramp up sales of his novel The Vampyre by advertising it as Byron’s.

Poetry for critics. Poetry for all purposes. Let’s raise a glass to National Poetry Month!

[Cross-posted at Rubicon]

6 replies »

  1. While maybe I didn’t specifically mention National Poetry Month, I did certainly mention poetry right after the VT tragedy:

    As for rejections, try this one from Samuel Johnson to Lord Chesterfield:

    Since Sam stole MacFlecknoe (which I taught him many moons ago, so I’m flattered he remembers, though not surprised), let’s hope this is literary enough to pass muster as a rejection – and it’s of critical help, no less….