The new annotated edition of the poems of T.S.Eliot, edited by Christopher Ricks and Jim McCue is a delight and a revelation, and easily the most engrossing book that I have read in the past year. Its voluminous notes illuminate the familiar canonical poems, and it includes a wealth of hitherto unpublished or scattered material, some of which casts Eliot in an unexpected new light.
I shall write a longer blog post soon, extolling the edition’s virtues, but today I shall just raise a small question about a poem published for the first time in this collection.
‘Mr. Pugstyles: The Elegant Pig’ is a minor but amusing poem from 1933, a set of verses in the Practical Cats vein. A village unimpressed by London politicians (‘And they talked and they talked and they talked themselves blue’) decides to elect the local prize pig (‘our Worcestershire heavyweight, Mr Pugstyles’)as M.P., after which
now we live quiet, and leave well alone
And ignore all those parliament folk and their wiles.
Let ’em mind their own business, we’ll manage our own,
While we’re represented by Mr. Pugstyles
You can read the poem, thanks to Google Books, here.
The interesting notes by Ricks and McCue link the poem’s celebration of the pig hero with the style of broadsheet verses written to stir support during elections in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. They also include a fragment of a letter from Eliot to Frank Morley, giving advice on buying a pig:
[T]he way to pick a good pig; the ones that look like Stanley [Baldwin] are better than ones that look like Winston [Churchill]; get one of Stanley’s pigs.
In addition, the editors suggest possible echoes from the works of Shelley, Dickens and Housman.
They seem not to have noticed, however, a small puzzle in the poem.
Mr Pugstyles is four times referred to as ‘our Worcestershire heavyweight’. But while the Berkshire breed is famous, and Gloucester is rightly celebrated for its Old Spots, intensive research (or at least a few minutes on Google) can find no record of a Worcestershire breed of pigs. Even the notable Worcester-based Black Pig company breeds Berkshires.
Is this just a slip on Eliot’s part, in a poem written purely for fun? Or did he choose the word ‘Worcestershire’ merely for its euphonious properties?
Maybe, but when I read the account of Mr Pugstyles’s achievements:
He takes the blue ribbons, he takes the gold medals
At all the stock shows and our grand county fair
I can’t help but be reminded of another heavyweight winner of blue ribbons – the Empress of Blandings.
And since ‘Worcester’ is, of course, pronounced ‘Wooster’, I do wonder whether a tribute to P.G. Wodehouse, or at least a memory of his work, isn’t there in this poem.