An Acrostic Poem
Gyp goes with me everywhere:
You’ll find him in church on a Sunday
Pillowed upon clean straw, to the east of the altar
Muffling his whiffles, reserving grunts of pleasure,
Yeasty eructations, for the noisier hymns and carols.
Lively and contented, wiggling his quirky tail
Over coombes and valleys, he trots behind the
Vicar as he visits his parishioners —
In house, in cot, in glebe and pasture,
Never once despoiling a humble hearth-stone.
Glad to be sociable, he jiggles his globular testes.
Brushing a floppy ear means he wants a good scratching.
In storm, in sun, the elements ne’er dissuade him:
Gloriously he wallows in the finest muck-holes
Believing he is in Paradise, awash in tarry ichor.
Later I must scrub him and oil his hide with suet.
After that we’ll take our tea with good Dorothy Dinglett.
Coarse he is outside ’tis true, but within he’s all refinement.
Know, ye cynics, and be warned: and model your own deportment
Pig-wise, Gyp-wise. You’ll surely feel an improvement
In manners as well as morals. And when you next devour pork
Grant a special whiff of thanks to Black Gyp and his tribe.
© Robert Peters, Hawker, Unicorn Press, 1984. Used by permission.
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‘Hawker kept as a pet a black Berkshire pig called ‘Gyp.’ Gyp was well-groomed and intelligent, and followed him like a dog in his parochial visitations. When Mrs. Kingdon, his sister at Whitstone, objected to Gyp coming into her house, Robert would retort, “He’s as well-behaved as any of your family.“‘
From The Life and Letters (p.35)
The above remark has long been one of my favourite Hawkerisms, and the poet Robert Peters clearly liked it too. His 1984 collection, Hawker, is one of a number of ‘voice portraits’ – other subjects include Ludwig of Bavaria, Lord Byron, and the artist and friend of Keats, Benjamin Robert Haydon. Peters was born in an impoverished rural area of northern Wisconsin in 1924. A prolific poet and critic, his field of study has been Victorian literature, and in addition to publishing numerous articles and monographs, he edited, with Herbert Schueller, the letters of John Addington Symonds. After the publication of the Hawker poems he created a monologue play version in which two actors at different times performed Hawker.
Hawker is divided into six parts – ‘Bucolics’, ‘Hawker’s Church: His Love, His Joy’, ‘Holy Saint Morwenna’, ‘Poor Drowned Sailors’, ‘Witches, Warlocks, and Characters’, and ‘Opium’. These are bracketed by an introductory poem ‘Hawker to Peters in a Dream’ and ‘A Last Word’ – some prose admonitions from Hawker to the poet. In his introduction Peters describes Hawker as ‘one of the most complex humans I have ever encountered’. He clearly relished the time he spent in Morwenstow and Hawker is a generous and inventive tribute to both person and place.
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Thanks to Paul Trachtenberg for providing information and encouragement during the writing of this piece, and to Al Brilliant of Unicorn Press for permission to republish two of Robert Peters’ poems on the website.