display | more...

When Edgar Allan Poe penned The Raven (1845) it was extremely popular in America, becoming a overnight sensation -- and incidentally giving Poe a massively swollen head. In the next few years various parodies of The Raven made the rounds, including The Pole-Cat, written by Marmaduke Mar-Rhyme (a pseudonym, possibly one of Andrew Johnson's pen names; regardless, there is no record of this author ever publishing again).

It is not a particularly interesting poem. The Pole-Cat is mostly remembered today -- if at all -- because of a passing anecdote containing a famous personage. Somehow Abraham Lincoln missed all the furor over The Raven, and reported having greatly enjoyed the The Pole-Cat, despite never haven read the original; as he put it, "It is true that I have never seen Poe's Raven; and I very well know that a parody is almost entirely dependent for its interest upon the reader's acquaintance with the original. Still there is enough in the polecat, self-considered, to afford one several hearty laughs. I think four or five of the last stanzas are decidedly funny, particularly where Jeremiah 'scrubbed and washed, and prayed and fasted.'"

And that's all there is to it. That's the anecdote, and some padding to boot.

Anyway, I was curious enough to look up the The Pole-Cat, and found comparatively few instances on-line; it appears to have made it to the internet only thrice, with highly variable formatting. The poem as presented here is taken entirely from The Abraham Lincoln Association's Bulletin (Vol. 58, no. 1), as preserved by the University of Michigan. The introductory letter I found belatedly on Murray Ewing's blog. As far as I can determine, these are true to the original publication, found in a weekly newspaper known as the Quincy Whig, March 18, 1846.

Mr. Editor — I should probably never have published the enclosed poem, did I not feel it a duty I owe to the republic of letters, to expose a culprit, who disregards its laws. Mr. Edgar A. Poe, to whom is was shown in confidence, has, in his parody called “The Raven,” most shamefully plagiarised both my stanza and my subject, with such silly alteration in both, as, in his feeble cunning, he thought would disguise the theft. Such, for instance, is the perpetual repetition of the rhymes, “Evermore” and “Nevermore” — a wretched shift to conceal the poverty of his invention: and such his transformation of the formidable pole-cat into a dull jackdaw, whose vocabulary is as monotonous as his own. Less I could not say in justice to my own pretensions, and more I cannot add, without doing violence to the proverbial modesty of

Your obedient servant,

Marmaduke Mar-Rhyme.

Quincy, Illinois, March 3rd, 1846.

The Pole-cat

By the fire-side I was sitting, and my wife she was knitting,
And a new heel she was fitting, to a stocking half worn out:
Joe was in the chimney corner, spelling how young Jacky Horner
Ate the plum, which from the pie his greedy fingers had torn out
Plum, from out the Christmas pie, by him so greedily torn out:
This our Josey was about.

Joe huge lots of fun was quaffing, loud and long the lad was laughing,
Wife and I were more than half inclined to join him in his glee;
Till the urchin, silent grinning, ceased the roar of his beginning,
Only chuckling, shuffling, shinning, smiling often on his knee
Smiting hard upon the patch-the gray cloth patch, upon his knee,
As he looked at wife and me.

'Twas on Saturday, at night, and the fire was burning bright,
And my heart was glad and light, for my weekly toil was o'er;
All my Sunday chores were done up, and "I swon," says I, "till sun up
I will lie a-bed and sleep, and if so be as I should snore,
If, in sleeping long and deep in bed, I happen for to snore,
'Tis what I have done before."

Presently I thought I heard a cackling, as of barnyard bird,
Suddenly alarmed or stirred, by some stealthy enemy;
But methinks "It is a rustle, of Dame Bunty with her bustle,
Crowding closer, just to jostle other hens from off the tree
Crowding on the rival hens to jostle them from off the tree
The old black locust roosting tree."

Therefore quietly I sot, and the noise I heeded not,
Till at last my old wife got up with her new stocking heel,
And she says, "Now Jeremiah!" (and her voice was getting higher,)
"Get up, sir, and leave that fire, and go out, right off the reel
Quit the fire, and go out-doors; straight away, right off the reel,
And see what makes the chickens squeal!"

I am very peaceable, and in all things feasible
I submit-for she's able for to judge what's best for both:
Quickly to my feet I rose--only stopped to blow my nose,
And, with staff in hand, I goes, albeit I was very loath;
Out of doors, with staff in hand, goes I, albeit very loth,
Thinking-something like an oath.

Stoutly strode I towards the tree, grumbling, growling sullenly,
"For," says I, "I'll only see what at first I understood:"
But full soon I stood aghast,-ere to that old tree I past,
Old Dame Bunty breathed her last, fluttering in a pool of blood
At my feet old Bunty lay, flutt'ring, flapping, in her blood
Dying-where aghast I stood.

Savagely I looked around, up the tree and on the ground,
If the villain might be found, who had done my hen to death:
"'Tis some thievish, murderous owl, in midnight darkness prone to fowling,
Or some bloody weasel prowling, that has stopped poor Bunty's breath
Some assassin, vile and bloody, choked the poor old lady's breath;
May he die a felon's death!"

This in grief and anger spoken, in the grass I went a-poking,
Lest per chance it might be cloaking the foul rogue I wished to seize:
Reckless was I of his biting, all my soul was bent on fighting,
And-my fierce, insane, delight in,-down I went upon my knees
Through the grass, my wild delight in, scrambling on upon my knees,
"Gad!" says I, "I'll raise a breeze!"

Groping in the hazel bushes, eager here and there I pushes;
Suddenly the caitiff rushes right before me, straight ahead:
Madly on his tracks I pitches, scuffling through the hazel switches,
Naught care I for ragged breeches, so I strike the murderer dead
Burn my breeches! tear my shirt! only strike the murderer dead,
I'll go home without a thread!

Fast the felon fled, but faster followed fierce and fell disaster,
Naught avails, "The Poor Man's Plaster" for such blows as then I dealt:
But while I thus swung my flail, in haste the devil tucked his tail in,
Flung it out with his last failing breath Oh! scissors! how it smelt!
That last flourish, in my nose, eyes, ears, mouth, stomach, it was felth!
Jemima! how it smelt!

Back I staggered, poison-tainted-how I wished that I had fainted
Ne'er from bones of martyrs sainted, such ethereal essence flows:
And though relics may convert you, by their power to heal or hurt you,
None have such immortal virtue, as that ether in my nose,
No such deathless, deadly, odor, as the horrid steam that rose,
From that pole-cat to my nose.

All that night I washed and scrubbed me, long with soap and sand I rubbed me,
Still next day my dear wife snubbed me, "Jeremiah! how you stink!"
Once more to the creek I hasted; scrubbed and washed, prayed, and fasted;
All, alas! was labor wasted, by that fair stream's flowery brink,
Vain were soap, sand, prayer, and fasting, by that fair stream's flowery brink,
"Jeremiah! how you stink!"

And this odour, to my thinking, still is stinking, still is stinking,
Deeper in my flesh 'tis sinking, daily it is striking in,
Rotten noisome imp of evil! Ruthless and relentless devil!
Quit thy foul and horrid revel, take thy stench from out my skin!
Take thy foul, intolerable, charnel stench from out my skin!
'Tis too bad to rub it in!

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.