Steven A. Jent
Keats and Chapman
From 1940 until he died in 1966 Brian O'Nolan, under the nom de plume Myles na Gopaleen (Myles of the Ponies), wrote a column in the Irish Times entitled "Cruiskeen Lawn" (brimming jug). He also wrote several novels as Flann O'Brien. In his column he applied his satirical wit to topics that included Irish and world politics, the eccentricities of Irish culture, and the prevalence of banal writing.
The converse of this latter subject was his own manic love of colorful language and word play. One form in which he occasionally indulged this was brief stories of two characters named Keats and Chapman. One was ostensibly John Keats, the Romantic poet; the other was George Chapman, the Elizabethan poet and translator of the Iliad and the Odyssey, of whom Keats wrote with admiration in his sonnet "On First Looking Into Chapman's Homer". This was somewhat puzzling in that Chapman died more than 150 years before Keats was born. Nevertheless the duo appeared in dozens of little fables, each of which concluded with a wretched pun based on a familiar expression or a literary quotation. Copyright forbids me to reproduce the stories here, but I will risk citing a few of the punch lines: "Foals rush in where Engels feared to tread", "There's a nip in the heir", "A fête worse than debt", "F. Huehl and his Monet are soon parted".
A number of the original Keats and Chapman tales are included in The Best of Myles, a generous sampler from the column. After reading these I am convinced that they ended too soon. There is more, much more, left for Keats and Chapman to do. Therefore I have reanimated the pair for my own little stories, which exhibit the most despicable wordplay of which I am capable. Complaints from defenders of literary standards and threats from public morals committees notwithstanding, I have compiled 150 of these into a book. Herewith a sample:
You see, there's an old song called "The Last Time I Saw Paris", and the story takes place in Paris, and Keats was sawing parrots, so he says "That's the last time I saw parrots", and, well… Yes, they're all like that.
Copyright © 2012 Steven A. Jent