Poems on Jane Austen

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Thanks to the folks on AUSTEN-L for pointing out some of these poems. (Poems by Jane Austen are also available.)

James Austen

Jane Austen's eldest brother James Austen wrote this poem soon after the appearance of her first-published work, Sense and Sensibility, when the knowledge of Jane Austen's authorship of the novel was still confined to her family. He pretended that it was written by an unknown admirer.

To Miss Jane Austen, reputed author of Sense and Sensibility, a Novel lately published

On such Subjects, no Wonder that she should write well
In whom so united those Qualities dwell;
Where "dear Sensibility", Sterne's darling Maid,
With Sense so attemper'd is finely portray'd.
Fair Elinor's self in that Mind is exprest,
And the feelings of Marianne live in that Breast.
Oh then, gentle Lady! continue to write,
And the Sense of your Readers t' amuse and delight.

A Friend

James Edward Austen

James Edward Austen (later Austen-Leigh) wrote this poem in 1813, upon being informed that his Aunt Jane was the author of Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility:

To Miss J. Austen

No words can express, my dear Aunt, my surprise
Or make you conceive how I opened my eyes,
Like a pig Butcher Pile has just struck with his knife,
When I heard for the very first time in my life
That I had the honour to have a relation
Whose works were dispersed throughout the whole of the nation.
I assure you, however, I'm terribly glad;
Oh dear! just to think (and the thought drives me mad)
That you made the Middletons, Dashwoods, and all,
And that you (not young Ferrars) found out that a ball
May be given in cottages never so small.
And though Mr. Collins, so grateful for all,
Will Lady de Bourgh his dear Patroness call,
'Tis to your ingenuity he really owed
His living, his wife, and his humble abode.

George Howard

Published in 1835 by George Howard, Earl of Carlisle. The names mentioned in the first few lines were women novelists of the era (Mrs. Inchbald translated Lovers' Vows, the play referred to in Mansfield Park, and Jane Austen criticized Mary Brunton's 1811 novel Self-Control in a letter of October 11th 1813; go to Callie's "shameless scribblers" page for more information about some of these writers).

The Lady and The Novel

Beats thy quick pulse o'er Inchbald's thrilling leaf,
Brunton's high moral, Opies's deep wrought grief?
Has the mild chaperon claimed thy yielding heart,
Caroll's dark page, Trevelyan's gentle art?
Or is it thou, all perfect Austen? Here
Let one poor wreath adorn thy early bier
That scarce allowed thy youth to claim
Its living portion of thy certain fame

Oh! Mrs. Bennet! Mrs. Norris too!
While memory survives we'll dream of you.
And Mr. Woodhouse, whose abstemious lip
Must thin, but not too thin, his gruel sip.
Miss Bates, our idol, though the village bore;
And Mrs. Elton, ardent to explore.

While the clear style flows on without pretence,
With unstained purity, and unmatched sense.
Or, if a sister e'er approached the throne,
She called the rich `inheritance' her own.

G. K. Chesterton

About 1893, a schoolboy named E. Clerihew Bentley invented the clerihew, a four-line verse biography. (The first clerihew: "Sir Humphrey Davy / Was not fond of gravy. / He lived in the odium / Of having discovered sodium.") G. K. Chesterton contributed the following:

The novels of Jane Austen
Are the ones to get lost in.
I wonder if Labby
Has read Northanger Abbey.

`Labby' was a nickname of Henry Du Pré Labouchere (1831-1912), English journalist and radical, who delighted in attacking Queen Victoria (by the way, whether or not Labby had read Northanger Abbey, Victoria had). Recently on AUSTEN-L, Eugene E. Mcdonnell suggested updating `Labby' to `Dear Abby'.

Poems by Rudyard Kipling in tribute to Jane Austen

"Do you like Kipling?"
"I don't know, you naughty boy, I've never kippled!"

OK, this poem is kind of cheesy, but I've included it because it's cute (not necessarily because of its literary merit, or because it helps to form a valid picture of Jane Austen).

Jane's Marriage

JANE went to Paradise:
That was only fair.
Good Sir Walter met her first,
And led her up the stair.
Henry and Tobias,
And Miguel of Spain,
Stood with Shakespeare at the top
To welcome Jane --

Then the Three Archangels
Offered out of hand,
Anything in Heaven's gift
That she might command.
Azrael's eyes upon her,
Raphael's wings above,
Michael's sword against her heart,
Jane said: "Love."

Instantly the under-
standing Seraphim
Laid their fingers on their lips
And went to look for him.
Stole across the Zodiac,
Harnessed Charles's Wain,
And whispered round the Nebulae
"Who loved Jane?"

In a private limbo
Where none had thought to look,
Sat a Hampshire gentleman
Reading of a book.
It was called Persuasion,
And it told the plain
Story of the love between
Him and Jane.

He heard the question
Circle Heaven through --
Closed the book and answered:
"I did -- and do!"
Quietly but speedily
(As Captain Wentworth moved)
Entered into Paradise
The man Jane loved!

Epigraph to "The Janeites"

Jane lies in Winchester -- blessed be her shade!
Praise the Lord for making her, and her for all she made!
And while the stones of Winchester, or Milsom Street, remain,
Glory, love, and honour unto England's Jane!

This poem heads the story The Janeites in which "the Pass-word of the First Degree of the Society of Janeites" is "Tilneys and trap-doors". (Milsom Street is where Anne Elliot first sees Captain Wentworth in Bath, in Persuasion -- see the map of Bath.)

W. H. Auden

Extracts from Letter to Lord Byron, one of his long poems, first published in 1936.

Letter to Lord Byron

There is one other author in my pack:
For some time I debated which to write to.
Which would be least likely to send my letter back?
But I decided I'd give a fright to
Jane Austen if I wrote when I had no right to,
and share in her contempt the dreadful fates
Of Crawford, Musgrave, and Mr. Yates.

You could not shock her more than she shocks me;
Besides her Joyce seems innocent as grass.
It makes me uncomfortable to see
An English spinster of the middle class
Describe the amorous effects of `brass',
Reveal so frankly and with such sobriety
The economic basis of society.

Anne Stevenson

This poem refers to the memorial to Jane Austen in Winchester Cathedral.

Re-Reading Jane

To women in contemporary voice and dislocation
she is closely invisible, almost an annoyance.
Why do we turn to her sampler squares for solace?
Nothing she saw was free of snobbery or class.
Yet the needlework of these needle eyes...
We are pricked to tears by the justice of her violence:
Emma on Box Hill, rude to poor Miss Bates,
by Mr Knightley's Were she your equal in situation --
but consider how far this is from being the case

shamed into compassion, and in shame, a grace.

Or wicked Wickham and selfish pretty Willoughby,
their vice, pure avarice which, displacing love,
defiled the honour marriages should be made of.
She punished them with very silly wives.
Novels of manners? Hymenal theology!
Six little circles of hell with attendant humours.
For what do we live but to make sport of our neighbours
And laugh at them in our turn?
The philosophy
paused at the door of Mr. Bennet's century;
The Garden of Eden's still there in the grounds of Pemberley.

The amazing epitaph's "benevolence of heart"
precedes "the extraordinary endowments of her mind"
and would have pleased her, who was not unkind.
Dear votary of order, sense, clear art,
and irresistible fun, please pitch our lives
outside self-pity we have wrapped them in,
and show us how absurd we'd look to you.
You know the mischief poetry could do.
Yet when Anne Elliot spoke of its misfortune
to be seldom safely enjoyed by those who
enjoyed it completely
, she spoke for you.

Mary Holtby

From How to Become Ridiculously Well-Read in One Evening, compiled by E. O. Parrott (Viking, Penguin Books, 1985)

Pride and Prejudice

``Marry well'', is Bennet tenet: Bingley singly must remain
Since classy Darcy (Lizzy-dizzy) thinks he's far too good for Jane.
Rummy mummy, jaunty aunty, these would drag both gallants down --
Plus the younger siblings' dribblings over officers in town.
See the specious Wickham trick 'em with his tales of birthright gloom,
See how hideous Lydia's ruin looms before she gets her groom;
Glassy Darcy saves the bacon, shaken out of former pride:
Is he Lizzy's destined love, to shove her prejudice aside?
Has she clout to flout that matron, patroness of priestly coz
(He whose ludicrous proposing Rosings rules -- like all he does)?
Darcy oughter court her daughter, destined his through two decades...

``Mulish, foolish girl, remember Pemberley's polluted shades!''
Dare she share his great estate, or can't Aunt Catherine be defied?
Yes! and ere the bells ring jingly, Bingley too shall claim his bride.

[Note that this works best when read with a British accent, and that "ludicrous proposing" is the object of the verb "rules".]

Katha Pollitt

Rereading Jane Austen's Novels

This time round, they didn't seem so comic.
Mama is foolish, dim or dead. Papa's
a sort of genial, pampered lunatic.
No one thinks of anything but class.

Talk about rural idiocy! Imagine
a life of teas with Mrs. and Miss Bates,
of fancywork and Mr. Elton's sermons!
No wonder lively girls get into states --

No school! no friends! A man might dash to town
just to have his hair cut in the fashion,
while she can't walk five miles on her own.
Past twenty, she conceives a modest crush on

some local stuffed shirt in a riding cloak
who's twice her age and maybe half as bright.
At least he's got some land and gets a joke --
but will her jokes survive the wedding night?

The happy end ends all. Beneath the blotter
the author slides her page
, and shakes her head,
and goes to supper -- Sunday's joint warmed over,
followed by whist, and family prayers, and bed.

This poem was published in The New Republic, August 7 & 14, 1989. Note that some of this actually only applies to Emma Woodhouse; for example, Anne Elliot of Persuasion did go to a boarding school (as Jane Austen herself did). On the AUSTEN-L list, John O'Neill pointed out that "Frank Churchill doesn't really go to London to get his hair cut; he goes to Broadwood's to order the pianoforte for Jane Fairfax -- and Knightley rightly condemns him for his purported motive. And Elizabeth Bennet walks five miles on her own and is much appreciated for it by Bingley (and secretly by Darcy)"; only Bingley's sisters take advantage of this slight violation of propriety to criticize her.

Patricia Shepherd

Said on AUSTEN-L to be from her Come Into the Garden, Cassandra.

Mr. Bingley's Friend

I have never understood
Quite how Mr. Darcy could
Tolerate the sisters Bingley --
As a pair, or even singly.
Much for friendship he endured;
For he often was immured
All those evenings with the boring
Elder sister's husband snoring.

Limericks from AUSTEN-L

Some more or less spur-of-the-moment limericks by members of AUSTEN-L (Diane R. Welch, Dr. Bowman, and John Hopfner).


Miss Austen sat down at her journal
To try yet again for life's kernel.
But though sometimes satirical
She often waxed lyrical
And concluded that love reigns eternal.


Then added she, archly, to spoof:
"From gay-ness I stay all aloof
So was I? Can't say,
For my sis', in her day,
Came after and burnt all the proof!"

Limericks by Irene Dias

These were read at the the 1996 JASNA conference.

Elton thought our Emma so fair;
Thus rejected, he looked elsewhere.
In-sip-id Bozo,
Now, "caro sposo"
The two of them make a fine pair!

Dear Edward had chosen his wife,
Yet soon was embroiled in strife.
Though pledged to Miss Steele,
Our reluctant heel
At last found the love of his life.

Flitting from flower to flower,
Destroying the entire bower,
Woo and deceive 'em
Love 'em and leave 'em,
Wickham's now stripped of his power.

John Willoughby -- or so it seemed --
Was the stuff of which maidens dreamed;
So quick to desert,
Cared not whom he hurt,
At last he's no longer esteemed.

Henry Crawford put forth his best
For the hand of Miss Price (his quest),
William's promotion
Was his love potion --
He's refused, as you might have guessed.

When Knightley asked for his "jewel,"
Mr. Woodhouse thought it cruel.
His anger vented,
He soon relented
And then sought solace in gruel.


Laurence Sterne, author of Tristram Shandy.
Actually, Jane Austen was 41 when she died.
Refers to The Inheritance, an 1824 novel by one Susan Ferrier.
"Jane's Marriage":
In the New Testament there actually is to be no "marrying or giving in marriage" in heaven: Matthew 22:30, Mark 12:25.
Henry and Tobias:
Apparently Henry Fielding 1707-1754 (author of Tom Jones) and Tobias Smollet 1721-1771 (author of Humphry Clinker).
"Miguel of Spain":
Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra 1547-1616, author of Don Quixote.
"Charles's Wain":
Or "wagon", i.e. the Big Dipper.
"Quietly but speedily":
The manner in which Captain Wentworth removed the child from Anne Elliot's back at Uppercross, in Persuasion.
"Crawford, Musgrave, and Mr. Yates":
Henry Crawford and John Yates of Mansfield Park; Tom Musgrave of The Watsons.
Actually, versions of Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Northanger Abbey were all written before Jane Austen was 24, and The Three Sisters, which casts as cold a light on the "marriage market" as anything Jane Austen ever wrote, was probably written before she was eighteen.
"The amorous effects of `brass'":
Jane Austen wrote a poem of her own on this subject.

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