Strange Metemorphoses

Tonight we’re drinking Strawberry Rhubarb Parfait, which has the distinction of tasting shockingly pink.

When we lived in hall, there was a pink doughnut-type thing that used to appear regularly as pudding. Retrospectively we think it was some sort of Aussie creation, because the middle was full of jam. We forget the name, but this is always what we think of when we drink Strawberry Rhubarb Parfait by David’s Tea.

It’s astonishingly pink and incredibly sweet. We left it to steep while we mucked about poem-hunting and that was an error, because while not actually cloying, the flavours distinctly flirt with that possibility.

Mind, as long as you have a sweet tooth that shouldn’t be an issue. And the saving grace of this tea is the rhubarb. Even now it pulls it back from the edge of being overly-sweet with a long-in-the-mouth tartness. You don’t notice until you’ve swallowed, and it’s the perfect antidote to all that strawberry and sugar.

It’s one of our favourite teas, and comes at just the right time, because we’ve had a longer than normal day. To lighten the whole thing we went hunting for verses for you by John Godfrey-Saxe. He’s obscure and overlooked. Candidly, if Lemony Snicket hadn’t devoted a whole exegesis to his poem on six men and an elephant, we wouldn’t know him.

Truth be told, ‘The Blind Men and the Elephant’ is probably our favourite Godfrey-Saxe. But we’ve used it here before and we do try to give you variety. So, here’s a playful retelling of Ovid. We’re not at all sure what Ovid would make of it, but it’s Saxe at his irreverent best, which is how we like him.

How the Raven Became Black
John Godfrey Saxe

There’s a clever classic story,
Such as poets used to write,
(You may find the tale in Ovid),
That the Raven once was white.

White as yonder swan a-sailing
At this moment in the moat,
Till the bird, for misbehavior,
Lost, one day, his snowy coat.

‘Raven-white’ was once the saying,
Till an accident, alack!
Spoiled its meaning, and thereafter
It was changed to ‘Raven-black.’

Shall I tell you how it happened
That the change was brought about?
List the story of CORONIS,
And you’ll find the secret out.

Young CORONIS, fairest maiden
Of Thessalia’s girlish train,
Whom Apollo loved and courted,
Loved and courted not in vain,

Flirted with another lover
(So at least the story goes)
And was wont to meet him slyly,
Underneath the blushing rose.

Whereupon the bird of Phoebus,
Who their meetings chanced to view,
Went in haste unto his master,
Went and told him all he knew;

Told him how his dear CORONIS,
False and faithless as could be,
Plainly loved another fellow-
If he doubted, come and see!

Whereupon Apollo, angry
Thus to find himself betrayed,
With his silver bow-and-arrow
Went and shot the wretched maid!

Now when he perceived her dying,
He was stricken to the heart,
And to stop her mortal bleeding,
Tried his famous healing art!

But in vain; the god of Physic
Had no antidote; alack!
He who took her off so deftly
Couldn’t bring the maiden back!

Angry with himself, Apollo,
Yet more angry with his bird,
For a moment stood in silence-
Impotent to speak a word.

Then he turned upon the Raven,
‘Wanton babbler! see thy fate!
Messenger of mine no longer,
Go to Hades with thy prate!

‘Weary Pluto with thy tattle!
Hither, monster, come not back;
And- to match thy disposition-
Henceforth be thy plumage black!’
When you’re tempted to make mischief,
It is wisest to refuse;
People are not apt to fancy
Bearers of unwelcome news.
Something of the pitch you handle,
On your fingers will remain;
As the Raven’s tale of darkness
Gave the bird a lasting stain!

That sounds like Ovid, doesn’t it?  All right, it sounds like a thoroughly vexed Classicist’s rendering of Ovid in English. But you can see the Ovidian shape behind the light verse, can’t you?


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