Steven A. Jent



  Keats and Chapman











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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:

Keats and Chapman rarely allude to their brief career as stage magicians. Their first and last Continental tour climaxed with an engagement at a cabaret on the Champs-Élysées. Their act always ended with the classic routine in which Keats sawed Chapman in half, and after weeks of nightly performances Keats had grown bored with the same old thing. So he was looking for some new element to liven it up. He had the brainstorm that he could replace Chapman with a live animal, which would make it more convincing because the creature would obviously not be a party to the trick. And what animal could add more color to the show than the dazzling plumage of an exotic tropical bird?


Keats went to a pet store and brought back a stunning pair of Scarlet Macaws. Then he built a smaller version of the box in which he used to bisect Chapman. To test it he gently laid the birds in the two ends of the box, with the head of one and the tail of the other visible: The illusion that it contained a single bird was perfect. Now he could hardly wait to debut the act with his two new stars.


But that night's performance ended in chaos. The macaws were docile enough when he placed them in the box as before. But the second he began to saw it in two the harsh noise startled them and they started screeching as if in agony. Keats briefly hoped this would only make the effect more lifelike, but the audience began to boo in protest. Outraged by his perceived cruelty to animals, dozens of them stormed the stage. To escape the mob Keats and Chapman fled not just the club but the city, thus ending their tour and their short-lived dalliance with show business. "And that", Keats will say when importuned into telling the story, "is the last time I saw parrots."

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.


Keats and Chapman Wryed Again is available from Amazon in print or in Kindle format and from Barnes & Noble for the Nook.


Copyright © 2012 Steven A. Jent