A Vignette in Verse

by John MacBeath Watkins

I've been re-reading some P.G. Wodehouse, specifically the Mr. Mulliner stories, and I happened by one of my favorites, Unpleasantness at Bludleigh Court, which contains a rare bit of verse by Wodehouse. In the story, two delicate souls, Charlotte Mulliner and Aubrey Bassinger, meet at the Crushed Pansy, an eatery serving a clientele of rather wet poets. Instantly, they fall in love, but then they must travel to the Bassinger ancestral home, Bludleigh Court, where everyone is strangely affected by the place, becoming bloodthirsty sportsmen.

Charlotte, who writes Vignettes in Verse for the less profitable literary magazines, has been asked to contribute one for The Animal Lover's Gazette. Unaware that she has been changed by the spell of Bludleigh Hall, she pens the following:

Good Gnus
 (A Vignette in Verse)

 When cares attack and life seems black,
 How sweet it is to pot a yak,
       Or puncture hares and grizzly bears,
          And others I could mention;
 But in my Animals "Who's Who"
 No name stands higher than the Gnu;
       And each new gnu that comes in view
          Receives my prompt attention.

 When Afric's sun is sinking low,
 And shadows wander to and fro,
       And everywhere there's in the air
          A hush that's deep and solemn;
 Then is the time good men and true
 With View Halloo pursue the gnu;
       (The safest spot to put your shot
          is through the spinal column).

 To take the creature by surprise
 We must adopt some rude disguise,
       Although deceit is never sweet,
          And falsehoods don't attract us;
 So, as with gun in hand you wait,
 Remember to impersonate
       A tuft of grass, a mountain-pass,
          A kopje or a cactus.

 A brief suspense, and then at last
 The waiting's o'er, the vigil past;
       A careful aim. A spurt of flame.
         It's done. You've pulled the trigger,
 And one more gnu, so fair and frail,
 Has handed in its dinner-pail;
       (The females all are rather small,
          The males are somewhat bigger).

You can tell that Wodehouse was at one time a librettist for musical comedies, with Jerome Kern writing the music. I'm particularly fond of the lines: So, as with gun in hand you wait,/ Remember to impersonate/A tuft of grass, a mountain-pass,/A kopje or a cactus.

And now I leave you, to practice my impersonation of a mountain-pass.

(A Wodehouse Bestiary is probably the collection containing this story that is easiest to find.)


  1. Read ir aloud on Youtube.com! Love it.

  2. Youtube is an undiscovered country for me, alas! O I know, how hard can it be, but you know, I haven't done a public reading since I was 17, at Cornish.


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