Monday, 28 September 2015


Usually the notion of ‘schools’ of writers is a mere hermeneutic construct, invented by critics, who bunch together a load of writers who have probably never met each other or even read their stuff. The ‘Oulipo’ bunch however is self-consciously a school: they meet — usually in France, the home of pretentious intellectual bullshit — compare notes, and invent difficulties for themselves, like those other loonies who, say, decide to carry a refrigerator to every pub in Ireland and then write a book about it. Oulipians (if that’s the word) typically like to write texts that leave out a particular letter of the alphabet. In many European languages, ‘e’ is the most common letter, so writing a text that avoids that letter is a virtuoso Oulipian work. There are even translators who take such texts and put them into other languages, following the same arbitrary and artificial constraints.

It’s all frightfully clever, pointless, and above all modern. So how about the following, published anonymously and without fanfare in, I think, about 1883?


A jovial swain should not complain

Of any buxom fair

Who mocks his pain and thinks it gain
To quiz his awkward air.

Quixotic boys who look for joys,

Quixotic hazards run;

A lass annoys with trivial toys,

Opposing man for fun.

A jovial swain may rack his brain,

And tax his fancy's might;

To quiz is vain, for 'tis most plain

That what I say is right.


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