Daily Express, Monday, November 9, 1903
(By P. G. Wodehouse)
In the usual Fleet-street garret
Sat a poet; 1 and the Parrot,
Full of quaint misinformation,
Fluttering idly through the door,
Found him dashing off a sonnet.
He was gently musing on it,
When the Parrot broke the silence
With “Your food will cost you more!”
the bard, “Ah, pray be quiet!
What have I to do with diet
When the myst’ries of Parnassus 2
I am trying to explore?
With this aim my soul obsessing
I consider it depressing,
This degrading, fleshly question
Whether Food will cost us more.
“I consume not steak nor chop. I
Take a lily or a poppy, 3
And I gaze on it, enraptured,
Every day from one to four.
Insignificant my bill is
For a day’s supply of lilies.
Now I hope you understand why
Food can never cost me more.”
The image of the poet in his garret (or attic) is an old one. Around 1736 William Hogarth’s oil painting, The Distrest Poet, depicted a poverty-stricken poet working in a dingy attic, and the poet Mary Robinson—who was herself threatened with the debtors’ prison—described a similar scene in her poem “The Poet’s Garret”, published in September 1800, a few months before her death:
Come, sportive Fancy! come with me, and trace
The Poet’s attic home!
The image was reinforced by Henry Wallis’s painting, The Death of Chatterton (1856), which depicted the poet Thomas Chatterton (1752–1770) sprawled lifeless on his bed in an attic in Brook Street, Holborn, where he died of arsenic poisoning (whether by suicide or accident is still debated).2
In Greek mythology, Mount Parnassus, near Delphi, was the home of the Muses, the goddesses who were the embodiment of literature and the arts. The name is used metaphorically in reference to poetry and other creative literature.3
Reminiscent of W. S. Gilbert’s Patience, in which the poet Bunthorne declares that “you will rank as an apostle in the high æsthetic band, If you walk down Piccadilly with a poppy or a lily in your mediæval hand.” [NM]