Bathos, a sudden and incongruous change of mood, is probably the funniest thing there is. Robert Southey shows us how it's done.
To a goose
by Robert Southey
Bathos, a sudden and incongruous change of mood, is probably the funniest thing there is. If you do it well, the audience will laugh with you; if you do it accidentally, they'll laugh at you. Robert Southey, an early nineteenth-century poet laureate, shows us how it's done in the last two lines of this poem.
If thou didst feed on western plains of yore,
or waddle wide with flat and flabby feet
over some Cambrian mountain's plashy moor,
or find in farmer's yard a safe retreat
from gipsy thieves, and foxes sly and fleet;
if thy grey quills, by lawyer guided, trace
deeds big with ruin to some wretched race,
or love-sick poet's sonnet, sad and sweet,
wailing the rigour of his lady fair;
or if, the drudge of housemaid's daily toil,
cobwebs and dust thy pinions white besoil,
departed goose! I neither know nor care.
But this I know, that thou wert very fine
seasoned with sage and onions, and port wine.
"Cambrian" means Welsh. Note also the casual racism in the fifth line, unremarkable in Southey's time, and be glad we notice it now.