Welcome back to Douglas Murray’s Sunday column, Things Worth Remembering, where he presents passages from great poets he has committed to memory—and explains why you should, too. To listen to Douglas read two great limericks by Robert Conquest, click below:
I’m well aware that most of the poems I have summoned by heart are not amusing—far from it. In this series, we’ve explored the horrors of World War I and the Gulag, man’s confrontation with mortality, and many of the great philosophical questions—like Why am I here? and Will it matter that I lived?
I have never been drawn to light verse. In fact, I was given a book of light verse years ago, and even though it was edited by the wonderful writer Kingsley Amis, I still look at it with a slight contempt.
Of course, there are funny poems. Take, for example, P.G. Wodehouse’s poem that curses sloppy publishers, “Printers Error,” in which the subject of the poem, a writer, contemplates murder after spotting a now that has been transformed into a not.
Or the Australian critic Clive James’s “The Book of My Enemy Has Been Remaindered,” which I wrote about earlier. (For some reason, quite a lot of the funniest poems, or at least quite a lot of the funniest poems that stick in my head, are literary inside jokes, like James’s.)
The modern master of the comic poem was Robert Conquest—who was born in the monumentally consequential year of 1917, the year of the Russian Revolution, and died nearly a century later in 2015.