View from the choir

I am a Catholic layperson and Secular Franciscan with a sense of humor. After years in the back pew watching, I have moved into the choir. It's nice to see faces instead of the backs of heads. But I still maintain God has a sense of humor - and that we are created in God's image.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Chesterton and cheesy poets

I have quoted G. K. Chesterton a couple of times on the matter of cheese: “Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese. “

Although I liked the humor of the quotation, I’ve always sensed it was wrong.

Surely there must have been have been poetic tributes to such a basic food? One can easily imagine a French “Ode de Fromage,” or an English “Canticle of Cheddar.”

So I went on line – a resource not available to Chesterton.

Poets have most certainly not been silent on the subject – including G. K. himself:


Stilton, thou shouldst be living at this hour
And so thou art. Nor losest grace thereby;
England has need of thee, and so have I –
She is a Fen. Far as the eye can scour,
League after grassy league from Lincoln tower
To Stilton in the fields, she is a Fen.
Yet this high cheese, by choice of fenland men,
Like a tall green volcano rose in power.
Plain living and long drinking are no more,
And pure religion reading 'Household Words',
And sturdy manhood sitting still all day
Shrink, like this cheese that crumbles to its core;
While my digestion, like the House of Lords,
The heaviest burdens on herself doth lay.

(Hmm. I think he owes Wordsworth a slice of cheese for this one!)

W. H Auden – a certified poet - penned:

A poet's hope: to be,
like some valley cheese,
local, but prized elsewhere

There are a number of other poems cited. One site I found – Cheesenet ( – has an extensive collection of cheese-themed verse.

The site includes some “Cheese-Ku” by John Mitchell

Open Limburger
This is one odor on which
I can't blame the dog

When cheese makers pray
They don veils of buttercloth
And face Wisconsin

As he burns the Swiss,
"Holy smoke!" the parson yells
Double Entendre

Yes, you're beautiful
Red lips, pink cheeks, yellow hair
But I prefer cheese

As I slice the cheese
I pray that I might grow old
Half as gracefully

Behold, Grasshopper!
It is milk, and yet not milk
More Zen than tofu

I also learned that when it comes to cheese, there is a poet laureate: James McIntyre of Ingersoll, Ontario, Canada.

The transplanted Scotsman died in 1906 after composing a number of verses about his adopted home, including its cheese making.

Indeed, he is often referred to as “The Cheese Poet” and “The Chaucer of Cheese” (and, alas, sometimes as “Canada’s Worst Poet.”)

One of his poetic efforts was the “Oxford Cheese Ode.”

The ancient poets ne'er did dream
That Canada was land of cream,
They ne'er imagined it could flow
In this cold land of ice and snow,
Where everything did solid freeze,
They ne'er hoped or looked for cheese.

A few years since our Oxford farms
Were nearly robbed of all their charms,
O'er cropped the weary land grew poor
And nearly barren as a moor,
But now the owners live at ease
Rejoicing in their crop of cheese.

And since they justly treat the soil,
Are well rewarded for their toil,
The land enriched by goodly cows,
Yie'ds plenty now to fill their mows,
Both wheat and barley, oats and peas
But still their greatest boast is cheese.

And you must careful fill your mows
With good provender for your cows,
And in the winter keep them warm,
Protect them safe all time from harm,
For cows do dearly love their ease,
Which doth insure best grade of cheese.

To us it is a glorious theme
To sing of milk and curds and cream,
Were it collected it could float
On its bosom, small steam boat,
Cows numerous as swarm of bees
Are milked in Oxford to make cheese.

Then there’s this verse:

Ode on the Mammoth Cheese
(weight over seven thousand pounds)

We have seen the Queen of cheese,
Laying quietly at your ease,
Gently fanned by evening breeze –
Thy fair form no flies dare seize.

All gaily dressed soon you'll go
To the great Provincial Show,
To be admired by many a beau
In the city of Toronto.

Cows numerous as a swarm of bees –
Or as the leaves upon the trees –
It did require to make thee please,
And stand unrivalled Queen of Cheese.

May you not receive a scar as
We have heard that Mr. Harris
Intends to send you off as far as
The great World's show at Paris.

Of the youth -- beware of these –
For some of them might rudely squeeze
And bite your cheek; then songs or glees
We could not sing o' Queen of Cheese.

We'rt thou suspended from baloon,
You'd caste a shade, even at noon;
Folks would think it was the moon
About to fall and crush them soon.

He also wrote a “Prophecy of a Ten Ton Cheese,” (Who hath prophetic vision sees/In future times a ten ton cheese,) “Hints to Cheese Makers”, “Father Ranney, the Cheese Pioneer,” “Lines Read at a Dairymen's Supper (And let us all with songs and glees/
Invoke success into the cheese
.), “Fertile Lands and Mammoth Cheese,” “Lines read at a Dairymaids' Social, 1887” (“In this land of cheese and butter,/ But no young man should be afraid/To court a pretty dairymaid.), and “Dairy Ode” (Our muse it doth refuse to sing/Of cheese made early in the spring,/When cows give milk from spring fodder/
You cannot make a good cheddar.

There was apparently an annual cheese poetry contest in his honor for a number of years – though I don’t know if it’s still being run.

Now lest you think Chesterton might, after reading the works of this bard of cheese, qualify his remark to say he meant “good” poets, remember, he also said:

“Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.”


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