Mrs Porter

Oh the moon shines bright on Mrs Porter
And on her daughter,
A regular snorter;
She has washed her neck in dirty water
She didn’t oughter,
The dirty cat.

It’s a mild shock when towards the end of that sententious paean to English manhood, Ernest Raymond’s Tell England, one suddenly comes across a reminder of another work of 1922 – less successful in its day, but with a rather longer shelf-life.

Eliot’s version is slightly different, of course:

Oh the moon shone bright on Mrs Porter
And on her daughter
They wash their feet in soda water
Et O ces voix d’enfants, chantant dans la coupole.

The laconic Waste Land note says:

I do not know the origin of the ballad from which these lines are taken; it was reported to me from Sydney, Australia.

This is a way of hinting that it’s an Australian soldier’s song, and connected to Gallipoli – the place where Jean Verdenal died, and the setting for Ernest Raymond’s novel.

The song is a parody of one called Redwing. You can find the lyrics and melody of this at: http://www.mudcat.org/@displaysong.cfm?SongID=4923

I doubt whether Eliot would have read Raymond’s novel. Remarks at the time show that he was fairly allergic to the public school myth of the war. On the other hand, finding the same fragment included in both texts reminds one that

  • Tell England, like The Waste Land, is a collage of texts. It is studded with poems, and snatches of hymn, songs and quotation.
  • Both texts confront the same problem: the dread incurred by a world drained of meaning. In Tell England, the solution, making something positive even of the Gallipoli fiasco, is Anglo- Catholicism – the faith towards which Eliot himself would turn towards a decade later.
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2 Comments

  1. Rose
    Posted June 4, 2009 at 5:46 am | Permalink

    Here are the words me Dad sang to me:
    Oh the moon shines bright on Mrs. Porter
    She is a snorter
    And so’s her dorter
    And they all wash their feet in dirty worter
    And so they orter
    To keep them clean.

    • Alex
      Posted April 29, 2012 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

      My dad always sang:
      Oh the moon shines bright on Mrs Porter
      who had a daughter
      who was a corker
      and the both washed their feet in soapy water
      and so they oughta
      to keep them clean


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