The poet Betjeman, Sir John,
Lives on in verse, though he is gone.
He loved old churches, trains and girls' sweet noses,
And wreathed them with poems, like posies.
In the novels of Anthony Powell
(To rhyme not with howl but with whole),
Some characters fall, others climb –
While all dance to the music of time.
King Christian VII, the Dane,
Was exceedingly odd, or insane;
He ignored his young wife, went to bed with his dog,
And played with his page in the cold Danish fog.
CATHERINE THE GREAT CONDENSED
(For those who don’t have the time or inclination to read a whole book)
In the form of clerihews and other verses
Catherine the Great
Never lacked for a date.
It isn’t true, of course,
About the horse.
The Grand Duke and Duchess, though wed,
Never mastered the arts of the bed.
He lay there and played with his toys,
While she played away with the boys.
Sergei Saltykov was a rake,
In it for what he could take:
He taught the Grand Duchess desire –
But left, once he’d set her on fire.
The Empress Elizabeth liked balls
Where lords dressed as ladies, and falls
Were frequent as crinolined men
Got tangled in skirts, again and again.
Hanbury-Williams, Sir C.
Loved light verse, flirting and tea.
He famously addressed to an oyster an ode
While writing to Catherine in code.
Stanislas Poniatowski, the Pole,
Longed to play a romantic role.
To console him for ending their fling,
Catherine turned him into a king.
Peter the Third, Tsar of Russia,
Was entirely devoted to Prussia;
His hero was Frederick the Great,
Disgrace and murder his fate.
Prince Grigory Grigoryevich Orlov
Was no dwarf.
He and his brothers, daring and mighty,
Fetched Catherine to reign in her nightie.
Prince Potemkin, another Grigory,
Was an important part of the story.
Stretched out on his sofa, he made women sigh –
Although he had only one eye.
Little Grand Duke Paul
Was snub-nosed, awkward, small.
He grew up to be much the same.
Such a shame!
Baron Friedrich Melchior Grimm
In correspondence was never prim.
To him the Empress poured out her heart
Which he took in excellent part.
Of favourites Catherine had quite a few
And young men lined up in a queue,
Praying ‘Oh please let the Empress have me!’
Whenever the post fell free.
The gentle Sasha Lanskoy
Was Catherine’s most favoured boy;
He loved paintings and precious stones,
But died young, amidst tears and moans.
Platon Zubov, who came last,
Was bossy, boastful and fast,
He puffed himself up to look big
In breeches, frockcoat and wig.
Catherine the Second did awfully well:
She made the Russian Empire swell,
Won lots of wars, and put on weight,
In short – she was great!