The Song of the Penny-whistle

(notes by Naren Menon)


The Author

This poem comes from Rather Like, Some Endeavours to Assume the Mantles of the Great, (Herbert Jenkins, 1920) by Jules Castier (1888-1957)  M.Castier .was a French engineer, poet, writer and translator. In 1912 he published  Parisianités, a collection of poems about Paris.

Rather Like is available in a modern reprint from Amazon. In the foreword Jules Castier writes:

On December 2nd, 1914, I had the misfortune to be captured by the Germans in Alsace, and remained a prisoner till after the Armistice was signed. After a few uneventful months at Heidelberg, I came into collision with the authorities, and remained so till the end, passing through a series of imprisonments, court-martials, more imprisonments, reprisals and the like: I was even tried once (and sentenced) for high treason. My greatest solace lay in reading whenever I was allowed books; and I hit upon the idea of attempting to parody some of the authors for amusement’s sake. When next in a period of comparative liberty, I read some of my stuff to some English comrades, who were kind enough to express their satisfaction, and to advise me to seek publication which I did.

My publisher tells me I should explain this (which I do a mon corps defendant), also that I am a Frenchman, and that not so much as a comma in my M.S. has been altered since it left my hands. He no doubt has his own very good reasons for imposing upon me the irksome task of endeavouring to explain myself. For this explanation and for the parodies themselves, I beg to tender my apologies to all concerned.

The publisher’s note

Herbert Jenkins (the publisher of many P G Wodehouse classics) writes:

When M. Castier’s manuscript was introduced to me as the work of one writing in an alien tongue, and furthermore with the avowed object of parodying the most famous British writers of the day, I confess I was not enthusiastic. A glance at a page here and there, however, aroused my interest, and later I read it with keen enjoyment.

Having dealt with the rapacities of M. Castier’s literary representatives, I felt that such an unusual book should be introduced to the public in a somewhat different manner from that usually adopted. I therefore determined to send a proof of each parody to the author parodied. This I did with the following letter.

” I am approaching you on rather an unusual subject. Some time ago I had submitted to me, as the work of a young Frenchman, a series of parodies on the work of leading English writers, which had been written whilst he was a prisoner in Germany. They were so remarkable that I became keenly interested, with the result that I accepted the book for publication. “

The poem captures the jaunty style and mood of Kipling’s “The Song of the Banjo” with remarkable skill.  Unhappily Kipling did not respond.