Monday, April 16, 2012

Marie R Randle’s 1887 NZ cricket-related poem

This year a friend Rowan Gibbs produced an excellent bio-bibliography of the early New Zealand and Otago songstress Marie R Randle (1856-1947). Randle is not very well known, seemingly missed by anthologists, but proves to be a fascinating source for biography and for understanding the lives of our early 19th century poets and settlers.
Rowans booklet enticed me to look her up further and read her only published collection, Lilts and Lyrics of New Zealand (1893), introduced by Canterbury cricketer, poet and politician William Pember Reeves. The Poetry Archive of NZ Aotearoa had a copy of it.
Randle (like Reeves) seems to know about cricket. One of her comic poems An Awkard Manpublished in the Otago Witness, 24 June 1887, under the pseudonym of Witch Elmis a very good portrait of a man growing up in the colony who doesnt quite fit in with the society around him. Naturally, proficiency at cricket (and other sports) is a common forte for young men in the 19th century as much as it is today. The poem remains timeless. Readers can still enjoy it today as much as they did in the 19th century.
Ill share the poem with you here:


The Awkward Man

Ye soft and sympathising hearts, wherever you may be,
That deign to feel for trifling ills and petty misery –
(Compassion of the “tuneful Nine” I shall not dare invite;
My pinions are too feeble far to scar Olympus’ height), –
I pray you listen to my lay, and pity, if you can,
The sorrows of that wretched being styl’d an “awkward man!”

From earliest infancy my limbs were always in the way,
And how I ever learn’d to walk I know not to this day;
For sundry scars, the sight of which would wring a tender heart,
Still testify my sufferings in practising the art.
My nurse, in tears and trembling, would my clumsy movements scan,
And say. “The awkward child is father of the awkward Man!”

My boyhood was a hideous dream – a nightmare of disaster;
At school I always was in scrapes, alike with boys and master.
I smash’d the windows with my ball, I bruis’d my shins at cricket,
The football bounc’d into my face whene’er I tried to kick it.
An evil fate pursu’d me from the time my life began;
It haunts me still. I’m doom’d to live and die an awkward man!

My books were always dog-ear’d, and fam’d for soil and smutch –
The jugs and basins chipp’d and crack’d beneath my magic touch;
The boys, in racing, tripp’d me up and left me in the lurch;
I’d choking fits at dinner-time and sneezing fits in church,
I trod upon my master’s corn with weight of Pickford’s van;
He had no mercy on me; he was not an awkward man!

My riper years have brought me even greater ills than these:
My clumsiness gives dire offence whene’er I try to please;
The cats and dogs of maiden aunts view my approach with dread,
For on their inoffensive tails I’m pretty sure to tread,
’Tis perfect martyrdom to me to hold a lady’s fan;
Its fate is seal’d when in the hands of such an awkward man!

I went last Winter to a ball in pumps and palpitation,
And by my clumsy antics there created a sensation.
By supper-time I had become so nervous and so fluster’d,
I sat upon a pigeon pie and overturn’d the mustard
Into a lady’s satin lap. Imagine, if you can,
The with’ring look of wrath she turn’d upon the awkward man!

My friends are few and far between, and seem to be in fear
Of some explosion taking place whenever I appear.
I’m getting quite a human owl; but stay – ’twill not avail
To tire your patience any more with this lugubrious tale –
So let me make my shuffling bow, and end, as I began,
By asking you to pity – not condemn – the awkward man!

For those interested in finding out more on Randle and her publication history, Rowan has produced a limited edition of 50 copies for sale titled “A Bird of Our Clime”: Otago’s Songstress: Marie R Randle (“Wych Elm”): A Bio-bibliography. Cultural and Political Booklets in Wellington, New Zealand, published the 72-page booklet in A5 format. Price $NZ20.00. You can purchase copies direct from Rowan at

Article © Mark Pirie 2012

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