Friday, February 21, 2014

Mr. Punch in the Arts: “Sonnet to Punch,” circa 1796

One of Bryan Clarke's
exquisite hand-made
Mr. Punch figures based on
the designs of Piccini as
illustrated by
George Cruikshank.
Sonnet to Punch
Triumphant Punch! with joy I follow thee
   Thro’ the glad progress of thy wanton course;
   Where life is painted with such truth and force,
It’s equal on our stage we never see.
Whether thou kill’st thy wife with jolly glee,
   Hurl’st thy sweet babe away without remorse,
   Mount’st, and art quickly thrown from thy horse,
Or dance with “pretty Poll,” so fair and free;
   Having first slain with just disdain her sire,
   Deaf to music of thy sheep-bell lyre:
Who loves not music, is not fit to live!
   Then, when the hangman comes, who can refuse
   To laugh, when thou his head into the noose
Hast nimbly thrust, while he gets no reprieve?
             Who feigns to grieve
Though goest unpunish’d in the fiend’s despite,
And slay’st him too, is but a hypocrite.
             ‘Tis such a delight
To see thee cudgel his black carcase antique,
For very rapture I am almost frantic.

Scholars of literature, theatre and puppetry have long debated the author of this sonnet which appeared for the first time circa 1796. Though some disagree, it is believed to have been written—in the Italian style—by Lord Byron (George Gordon Byron). Regardless of the author, it’s a very clever poem and one that neatly summarizes the character of our dear Mr. Punch.

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