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Monday 19 March 2018

Poetry - Ulick O'Connor: Alaric's alphabetic arsenal

Ulick O'Connor
Ulick O'Connor

Ulick O'Connor

Word music is a term to describe literary devices which can be used by poets to heighten the sound of the words and make a poem delicious to the ear. Yeats's goings on with 'The Lake Isle of Innisfree' is a perfect example.

"I hear Lake water Lapping with Low sounds by the shore."

You do hear the lake water which he talks about when you say the lines.

Then take Shakespeare's ­"after life's fitful fever he sleeps well".

This is from Macbeth. In seven words you almost feel the purr of sleep coming on.

Alaric Alexander Watts, a minor English poet of the 19th century, stretched this literary device to its extreme when he wrote a poem about the Austrian army of all things.

It was a special poem which took in the entire alphabet and achieves, I think, something which is hilarious, as well as unique.

Each line of the poem is dedicated to a different letter of the alphabet which is repeated throughout the line.

You need to say the lines out loud, to find yourself getting into a chant which at least will titivate the ear even if it doesn't quite satisfy the mind.

Your man, Alaric, was rewarded with a Civil Service pension by Queen Victoria.


An Austrian army awfully array'd,

Boldly by battery besieged Belgrade.

Cossack commanders cannonading come

Dealing destruction's devastating doom:

Every endeavour engineers ess-ay,

For fame, for fortune fighting-furious fray!

Generals 'gainst generals grapple, gracious God!

How Heaven honours heroic hardihood!

….. ….. ….. ….. ….. …..

Unwise, unjust, unmerciful Ukraine!

Vanish, vain victory! Vanish, victory vain!

Why wish we warfare? Wherefore welcome were

Xerxes, Ximenes, Xanthus, Xavier?

Yield, yield, ye youths, ye yeomen, yield your yell:

Zeno's Zimmermann's, Zoroaster's zeal.

Alaric Alexander Watts 1797-1864

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