Posted by: Tom Triumph | September 3, 2011

155. Book 7, Epigram: De senectute & iuuentute: Thomas Bastard

Okay, I clicked the link to this poem because of the guy’s last name. It was from a list of poems about youth, most of which were older people looking back at their “loss of innocence” moment, and much too sexy for the twelve-year-olds in my class. I figured Mr. Bastard might be hip and young, and also clean. The name–the name of a punk rocker who has reformed–reminded me of a Henry Rollins or John Doe. It rolls off of the tongue.

No, he’s not a punk rocker. Bastard is a clergyman from the sixteenth century–a contemporary of Shakespeare and Marlowe! What a name!

Here’s what the Poetry Foundation has to say about him.

Thomas Bastard: 1566–1618: Elizabethan epigrammatist and clergyman Thomas Bastard was born in Blandford, Dorchester, and educated at Winchester College and New College, Oxford, where he earned a BA and MA and was made a perpetual Fellow in 1588. The fellowship was retracted on charges of libel in 1601, after Bastard was suspected of authoring the anonymous tract An Admonition to the City of Oxford, or Marprelates Basterdine, which noted the sexual misdeeds of well-known members of the community.

Bastard’s poetry collection, Chrestoleros: Seven Books of Epigrames (1598), contains almost 300 of his epigrams. These brief poems, ranging in length from two to 16 lines, are primarily concerned with the events and people of his time and balance lively satire against bitter reflections of poverty. Bastard also published the three-volume Magna Britannia: A Latin Poem (1605).

Bastard served as a chaplain and vicar for the Church of England and in 1615 published two collections of tracts: Five Sermons and Twelve Sermons. After a mental breakdown, he died at the age of 52 in debtor’s prison in Dorchester and was buried in a churchyard there.

This poem is short: Two lines: Evidence that a great thought not be drawn out. In fact, in looking over some of his other works, I like this best because it does not attempt to be clever or witty or say more than a single idea. It works.

You can also talk to students about how literature–real literature, as opposed to mere writing–tends to have more there there. (As Gertrude Stein once said, “There is no there there” as a criticism). What that “more” is, exactly, is open to discussion, but that’s for your students to fill in. Poems are not just cute, or simple quotes, but ideas with layers. Compare this to another favorite; “Red Wheelbarrow” or something that is simple, yet contains the world. You can’t make a living with haikus.

Book 7, Epigram 9: De senectute & iuuentute. 
Thomas Bastard

Age is deformed, youth unkind,
We scorn their bodies, they our mind.

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