Based on the 1967 Film ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’
and a Betjeman Heroine
Winner of the Flamingofeather Long Poem Prize, 2013, published in Long Poem Magazine, 2014, with an Apparatus Criticus:
“… a breathtaking, single–vowelled tour de force: ‘She fells these three fellers, Ms B. Everdene. / Terence weds her, then flees; she tells Peter: “Wed me!” ’ ” — Greg Freeman in Write Out Loud
“Timothy Adès’ ‘The Excellent Wessex Event’ uses the Oulipo univocal lipogram omitting a, i, o and u to produce a narrative poem in rhyming couplets drawing upon the film version of Hardy’s Far From The Madding Crowd. This one hundred line sequence comes with a set of multi–language footnotes all with the same impediment.” — David Caddy blog, Tears in the Fence
Introduction to ‘The Excellent Wessex Event’
This univocalic lipogram won an, um, won a Flamingo–Quill (that’s almost right) award, six months, no, many months ago. It honours two icons of British womanhood, drawing on Thomas Hardy’s book Far From A Madding Crowd, or strictly on a film of that book which was famous in my youth, and on a suburban mini–saga of sport and courtship by an illustrious Old Marlburian, which harks back to my boyhood, south of London. What is a lipogram? It’s a form of writing popular with a Gallic group known as Oulipo, that is to say ‘Writing Possibility Workshop’, although ‘lipo–’ may go back to Plato’s old word for ‘omit’ … not, I might add, to his similar word for ‘fat’. A lipogram is all about having a constraint, such as omitting a basic unit (or two) from a particular composition. If you look at this paragraph, you won’t find any omission of A, I, O or U.
An accompanying apparatus criticus informs of variants found in manuscripts, or thought up by scholars, and will cast light on any occasional obscurity. I did classics as a schoolboy, and sat through any amount of this kind of thing. If at any point you can’t follow my non–local lingo, why not look for a translation on my www.
THE EXCELLENT WESSEX EVENT (When She Wedded Me)
(N.B. PRECEDENCE: THE PEER EXEMPTED)
We exempt the respected Ned Wessex, the peer:
He needn’t feel he’d be the reference here.
Well, he weren’t yet preferred, when these verses were penned!
Ex Egbert the Elder, three brethren descend.
MS B. EVERDENE, MS B. EVERDENE, (5)
Deep–zested, tweed–chested, the Western sweet–teen!
Her best speed exceeded the fleet leveret;
Her feet were the slenderest, tenderest yet.
Wessex! Wells, Mells, the Cheverells, the Kennet, the Test;
There’s Tess Debrett–Deference, there’s Jed the Repressed; (10)
The beech–trees’ green excellence shelters the sheep;
Beetles nestle, well–fed; replete trenchermen sleep.
Let the fevered seethe elsewhere. Remember the scene?
She fells these three fellers, Ms B. Everdene.
Terence weds her, then flees; she tells Peter: ‘Wed me!’ (15)
Peter’s pellet fells Tel; she weds Zebedee Tree.
Let the reckless recede: Wessex needn’t be pestered.
Well, her sheep swelled, blenched, sweltered; her bell–wethers festered;
Her ewes needed helpmeets, the sweet shepherdess!
Bergère légère, sévère détresse. (20)
They freed the pent breezes, they gentled her sheep,
Re–fettled the helpless, defenceless Belle–Peep.
They helped her mend fences, keep bees, sell her fleeces,
Brew beers, wrestle steers, breed red setters, press cheeses.
She entered her jennet, she swept three events: (25)
She wrecked, she sternwheelered the three–decker fence.
When she screen–tested, Elstree’s behests were exceeded:
‘Three cheers!’ Terence yelled: yet she’ll never be needed.
(When she entered the Beckmesser Best Verse Event,
‘We deem ye’re the best’ wheezed the letter they sent. (30)
‘These verses were excellent — best ever seen:
Yet we need seven fewer — ye’ve sent seventeen!’).
She revered the Berserkers, kept her épées well flexed:
She peppered the mêlée, mere nerds were de–sexed!
When she vented her spleen, the events were extreme…! (35)
She fenced well; she effected the deeds we esteem.
She led her eleven (three sevens less ten):
We felt her svelte vehemence, we keen Wessex men.
She served — the bets lengthened — she swept the next set:
‘Twelve–twelve: even stevens! They’ll strengthen the net.’ (40)
Deep red were the tresses her green eyes reflected;
Red–eyed, tremble–cheeked the wet men she’d rejected.
She jested, she bested me, 17–3!
Strength, speed, perfect deftness, Ms Everdene B.
(he’s her begetter: he engendered her.)
Mr Everdene’s seedbeds: well–weeded, well–dressed! (45)
He’s served me the genever, fresh–peeled the zest.
‘Seven bells!’ bleeps the ether. The Beeb tells the News:
Kew’s new helter–skelter. Pelé meets Henley crews.
We’ve smelt, these few weeks, Mr Everdene’s herbs:
We’ve spell–checked (he’s the expert!) Perec’s e–less French verbs. (50)
He’s helped her ‘self–reference,’ yet nevertheless
Kept secret the preference she’ll never express.
He ‘respects’ Bells Yew Green, he ‘prefers’ Peterlee,
Where the tenement–dwellers resettled, felt free.
‘Remember’, he stressed, ‘the best verses extend, (55)
Yet resemble, the precedents better men penned.’
He’s the Verderers’ Verger, he re–elmed The Glebe,
Re–nested the egret, re–crested the grebe.
He re–elvered the Exe, when her nether emergence
Went eel–less. ‘We need fresher, greener detergents!’ (60)
The week when dense kex–weed enfeebled the Trent,
(Even newts were perplexed!) he’s the geezer they sent.
He metered the elements, tested the presence,
Tended reed–beds, dredged trenches, expelled the excrescence.
He let eels beget elvers: they revelled, went legless! (65)
Wrens, tree–creepers, greylegs, he never left eggless.
He preserved the West Erg, where the Ténéré tree
Met her Meddler. Meseemed he’d preserve even Me.
THE PLEDGE [Sennet.]
The Evercreech Levée! Green–belted her dress;
Sheer–selvedged, her neckleted red–freckledness. (70)
We went there; the fenderless Edsel relented;
She seemed pre–selected, her cheeks smelled sweet–scented.
Well–heeled Wessex vespers! The well–tempered keys!
The nerveless resplendence! The strength next the knees!
We’ll let Messrs Sleepeezee pre–test the bed, (75)
The pelmet, the tester, the sheets, WHEN WE WED!
The deckle–edged letters, the speech, the set jest,
The new, well–hedged nest–egg (she’s pledged me the nest!);
The leek–green Welsh dresser, the cleverest shelves
Where the bent Penney’s rejects re–centre themselves. (80)
The SwebCentre’s deep–freezer–chest sets the scene;
Crested Berkertex bed–sheets, we’ll sleep strewn between.
There’ll be Everest fenêtres: the bevel’s recessed:
Le vent ne pénètre, when the lever’s depressed.
HERE’S THE STEEPLE [Enter the celeste, etc. Sweet glees]
Yestereven the Western defenders were here: (85)
St Keverne, St Erney, St Clether, St Cleer.
We feel we’ve repented whenever we’ve erred;
They’ll bless the deep bed, get the sentence deferred.
Presents! Here’s The Red Desert, Steele, Sterne, Stephen Spender,
Ted Dexter, Pete Seeger, The Creep, The Pretender. (90)
Let’s get the blend perfect! The Reverend, the bells! …
Elder Dempster! Three Weeks! Bêches de Mer! The Seychelles!
WE NEVER EXPECTED THE EVENT’S REPELLENT END…
She SPEWED crème de menthe, MESSED her velveteen breeches,
She DRENCHED her three nephews, prevented the speeches.
Ms JEZEBEL Everdene’s never been wed:  She’s rendered me REDELESS — the new ETHELRED!
Yes, she wended, went west, she bereft me, defected,
She schlepped, de–selected, she left me dejected,
Yes, she expleted, reverted, depleted, DESERTED THE BED!
She dwells where the Menderes enters the Med. THE END. (100)
(We’ve deepened the legend! Skewered cheerlessness! — Ed.)
THE TEXT Le Texte Der Text
Cette épenthèse sent le népenthès… et ce texte “se désenténèbre lentement” — de l’enfer!
1. THE MSS. Peter the Exegete remembers…
The Ellesmere Ms emerged embedded between bergs; the ‘Leyden en Deventer’ Mss (they spend three weeks here, three there) were wedged between cheeses, where the gentle effervescence (the senescent whey) preserved them.
2. LE TEXTE RÉCEMMENT RECENSÉ.
Recensent tres expertes: Greer, Bentley, Greenberg.
4 Egbert the Elder je préfère de le prétendre; en effet les frères descendèrent, entre trente–sept–cent trente–sept décédés et décédées, d’Éthelrède ‘the Redeless’. nec rex est, there’s never been, ‘Egbert the Elder’. Ethelbert de Kent certe rex est, sed egens, ne reges generet.
15 Les mecs de l’Éverdène: Térence déserte les tentes (regrets!); Peter s’emmêle (je répète: regrets!); elle se sert de l’excellent Lechêne.
19 her ewes needed helpmeets Exegetes; she needed ten shepherds Mss; shepherdesses Greer
20 Bergère: shepherdess, the French term.
21 they gentled Bentley; vented (skewered) Mss
25–46 she tests herself 29 reserved verse serves 39 reversed serve swerves!
29 Beckmesser: der Etepetete, den der Lerchenschmetternwettbewerb sehr, sehr ekelte.
30 wheezed/breezed/sneezed spelled went kvetched preened préférèrent les élèves
31 excellent — best Mss; peerless — the best ‘verbessert’ Werther
33 her épées: she’s the best fencer, she’s meddled: her level best resembles the peerless Beth Tweddle’s. These entered the event: sex bene vel septem se selegere merentes, / sed temere, gentes (entre elles les grecs et les ndébélé): deesse necesse gregem.
48 Twelve Regent Street temptresses fleeced Henley crews Mss: nec repetere nec vere credere decet. Westchester temptresses Greenberg; Nettlebed (près de Henley) Bentley; Benenden (ses élèves femelles!) Greer; Tennessee temptresses Dewey; serpent–necked nem.
52 ‘The perfect gent!’ — Ps.–Psell.
53 Bells Yew Green: neben der Grenze des Kent. Where’s Kent, then?
Kent’s left leg nestles Essex, / The sweet remembered scene:
The Chelmer, yes, the SX Press, / Well–tempered, well serene.
The dexter leg: here’s Lewes, / Smeeth, Beckley, Bells Yew Green,
The Seven She’s. Yes, Pevensey’s / Where Frenchmen steeled the scene.
Well, Kent ferments elevenses, / She brews her beers, between.
Ethelbert’s men were Kent men,
(Newenden, Benenden, Tenterden, Bethersden):
brewed the best beers, left fewest weeds.
Yet Sheppey’s shepherds weep! They keep
the blest Redeemer’s Beth–El creed,
the ‘Feed these sheep’:
Bethlehem feeds these men. The reckless,
feckless Ethelbert never heeds.
The Ebbsfleet sleeper speeds, he needs Sheerness,
he gets defencelessness…
Where Pegwell’s clement edge
the next recess,
where the French vessels, et les belges, precede,
rejects the pledge:
the lengthened cheerless pebble–yells regress,
the fleet creed ebbs, the lessened creed recedes.
59 The eldest texts prefer re–elvered…went eel–less; the newest, re–brent–geesed… went geeseless. Je schwerer der Text, dementsprechend verehrenswerter! These verses were never deleted.
61 the Trent: Le célèbre “Trent” fend le centre de l’Engleterre (bêtement épelée) et démêle nettement les évêchés. Certes ce Trent décéléré de M. Éverdène semble être dementgegen der sehr enge Trent des Westens, dessen Nennen der Mensch der Gegend stets verdreht, stets verpestet!
67 The desert’s extremest depths sheltered the blessed Ténéré Tree, between Fez, Meknès, et Le Bel Erg de l’Est… Elsewhere, the desert tree sees her desert tree brethren. Here, she never sees them! She’s — they’re — deserted. Well, then, yer feckless French feller necked seven treble beers, belched, held the wheel, pressed the self–server, de–clenched, re–belched, reversed well heedless, then WHEEP! the berk felled the defenceless tree. See Credere Rem Velles, Nec Rem Bene Credere Velles (New–Jerseyer Lehrheft Des Sehr Selten Erlebten).
71 fenderless Edsel. Edsel, bzw. Etzel: verwester Feldherr; bemerkter Esel des Verkehrs, Fehler des Werbewesens. hell–bent Mercedes Greenberg; self–centred Bentley Bentley
80 Penney’s: where the lesser spenders went: they spent fewer cents.
80a +Helen Vendler sent sentences, peer–refereed;
Her pensées were jewels, the deemsters decreed.+
(Yes, well these presents were never presented.)
83 Everest der hehrste Berg der Welt; Fensterhersteller
92 Elder Dempster: they sent well–keeled, well–crewed vessels wherever the breezes blew.
Weren’t the well–heeled well–served — well–stewed, even. Here, Shtewerd!!
92 Bêches the Exegetes; Bêtes Bentley; Belles Ellesmere; Shells Leyden en Deventer
95a degenerem recte rem delevere decentes.
95b +Hell’s bells! Even Ellen Degeneres fled!+ verehrenswerter!
96 Ethelred “regem hebetem et segnem, segetem nec mente ferentem,
mel de melle merens flet edens de felle fel heres.”
98 messed yes; skewed x bleeped y speckled z.
100 Menderes : le Mendérès erre et serpente (c’est célèbre: c’est le verbe même, exprès, des hellènes) et se déverse vers l’est de l’Égée, belle mer, près de ces mêmes hellènes. Cette mer Égéenne! — scène des événements de légende! Ces événements embêtèrent l’excellent Énée et le père d’Énée et même l’élève–éphèbe (eh ben, le bébé) né d’Énée. Entendez–le, cet Énée désespéré! — « Mère! Chère mère! Très belle et céleste déesse! Entends, entends! Sèche mes vedettes trempées! Remets les vents, défends les tempêtes! Je cherche les belles terres, les belles femmes et les Mécènes. »
“Gegen entgegengesetzte Sterne
strebt der edelste Held
LE CENTRE BELGE DE RECHERCHES ENTRE LES BELLES–LETTRES, DEMESNE DE SENEFFE.
NEC DEBES CREDERE
Translations for the Apparatus Criticus to ‘The Excellent Wessex Event’
This appendage smells of the Homeric drug that banishes grief … and this text ‘slowly disentenebrates’ — from hell! (The one–vowel phrase is from a poem of Jean Cassou: my translation in the book 33 Sonnets … runs: ‘From hollow pools of gloom so slow to go’.)
1 ‘Leyden and Deventer’
2 The text recently redacted. Three experts redacted it. Bentley: the 18th–century scholar. Greer, Clement Greenberg: modern pundits.
4 Egbert the Elder So I prefer to claim; in fact the brothers descended, among 3,737 deceased persons male and female, from Ethelred the Unready. Nor is there such a king as Egbert the Elder. Ethelbert of Kent is certainly a king, but seems to have had few royal descendants.
15 Everdene’s blokes: Terence quits the tent (sadly); Peter gets into a mess (again, sadly); she is well–served by the excellent Oak. Terence Stamp (Sergeant Troy), Peter Finch (Squire Boldwood), Alan Bates (Gabriel Oak).
29 Beckmesser: the fusspot who was deeply irritated by the larks’ warbling contest. From the opera Die Meistersinger.
30 the pupils preferred
32 Werther’s ‘improvement’. Young man in novel by Goethe.
33 a good six or seven peoples came forward, daringly, yet with merit, among them the Greeks and the Ndebele: such a crowd has had to be omitted. (Latin elegiac couplet.)
48 it is not decent to repeat this, nor indeed to believe it. Nettlebed near Henley. Benenden (its female pupils!) nem. = nemo, no–one.
52 Ps.–Psell. Pseudo–Psellus, a commentator who might have been Psellus, but was not. Psellus: an eminent Byzantine.
53 Bells Yew Green, in East Sussex: near the Kent boundary. The poem ‘Ethelbert’s Men’ contrasts the devout shepherds of Sheppey (‘sheep–isle’) with the pagan Ethelbert, whose queen was St Bertha. She supported St Augustine, who landed at Ebbsfleet. Pegwell Bay, famously painted by Dyce, is near the ferry–port of Ramsgate; Dover Beach is where Matthew Arnold noted ‘the melancholy, long, withdrawing roar’ of faith.
59 ‘The harder the text, so much the more worthy of respect.’ The scholars’ principle, when manuscripts disagree: difficilior lectio potior, the more difficult reading should prevail: inferring from the confusion that the original, correct, text must have been something peculiar. This idea has led to some very peculiar conjectures.
61 The famous Trent splits the middle of England (stupidly spelt) and neatly separates the bishoprics. Certainly, this slowed–down Trent of Mr Everdene‘s seems to be, in contrast, the very narrow Trent of the West Country [‘the Piddle’], whose name the local people are forever plaguing and perverting!
67 ‘Ripley’s Believe It Or Not’ tells of the world’s loneliest tree, knocked down by a French truck–driver. Déclencher, to release, let go; débrayer, to de–clutch. ‘You might wish to believe the matter, and you might not’ (Latin hexameter). New Jersey Primer of the Very Rarely Experienced.
71 Edsel variously Etzel: long–dead warlord (Attila); notorious ass of the traffic, marketing blunder. An unsuccessful Ford car named after Henry Ford’s son Edsel.
83 Everest the world’s most exalted mountain; window manufacturer.
95a Something degenerate which decent folk have rightly deleted. (Latin hexameter.)
95b more deserving of honour.
96 Ethelred “A king dull and sluggish, no brain-bran at all, whose heir in despair deserves sugar’s sugars, devours gall of gall.” (Two Latin hexameters.)
100 The Menderes wanders and snakes (it’s famous: it’s the very word of the Greeks, explicitly, the Meander) and pours out on the east of the Aegean, lovely sea, close to those same Greeks. That Aegean Sea! — scene of legendary events! Those events annoyed the excellent Aeneas and the father of Aeneas and even the teenage schoolboy, OK the little son of Aeneas. Hark at him, the despairing Aeneas! — “Mother! dear mother! Most beautiful, heavenly goddess! Hear, o hear! Dry out my waterlogged pinnaces! Put away the winds, prohibit the tempests! I’m searching for lovely lands, lovely women and wealthy patrons!”
“Against contrary stars even the noblest hero strives in vain.”
Schiller: ‘Mit der Dummheit kämpfen Götter selbst vergebens’:
Against stupidity even gods fight in vain. (From Joan of Arc.)
THE BELGIAN CENTRE FOR RESEARCH AMONG BELLES–LETTRES, MANOR OF SENEFFE.
(In reality: The European Centre for Literary Translation, at Seneffe, Belgium)
AND YOU NEEDN’T BELIEVE IT