Parlour Poetry – go on, cheer me up!

Parlour Poetry TheBigForestThe by-line of this book is ‘101 improving gems’ and it celebrates poetry that ‘generations of well-bought-up children recited to admiring elders in front parlour from Peckham, London to Pekin, Illinois’. It’s all boisterous high drama stuff re-presented, as the book dates from 1967 at the height of swinging London’s hunger for Victoriana, with a knowing wink and seen through a haze of joss stick and psychedelia.

Not Lost, but Gone Before

By the Hon. Mrs. Norton

How mournful seems, in broken dream,

The memory of the day,

When icy Death has sealed the breadth

Of some dear form of clay.

When pale, unmoved, the face we loved,

The face we thought so fair,

And the hand lied cold, whose fervent hold

Once charmed away despair


It continues in a similar vein for another nine verses. So if you weren’t depressed before you certainly see the gloom gathering around your day!


The old arm-chair

By Eliza Cook

I love it! I love it! And who shall dare

To chide me for loving that old arm-chair?

I’ve treasured it long as a sainted prize;

I’ve bedewed it with tears, and embalmed it with signs.

‘Tis bound by a thousand bands to my heart;

Not a tie will break, not a link will start.

Would ye learn the spell? A mother sat there;

And a sacred thing is that old arm chair.


I sat and watched her many a day,

When her eyes grew dim, and her locks were grey;

And I almost worshipped her when she smiled.

And turned from her Bible to bless her child.

Years rolled on; but the last one sped-

My idol was shattered; my earth-start fled.

I learnt how much the heart can bear,

When I saw her die in that old arm-chair.


And that poem, dear reader, was the outcome of me searching for a cheery example to demonstrate that Victorian parlour verse wasn’t all bleak and melodramatic!

We have been considering how some of these parlour poems – the happier ones with a strong narrative – could be used as inspiration for our tableau animals on bases. We haven’t got there yet but we are exploring some strong ideas. Watch this space (and this blog of course)!


PS: My spell check is determined to turn psychedelia into Psychic Delia!

About TheBigForest

TheBigForest. A silly artist maker creating in felt and paper construction. Like us on Facebook: TheBigForest. Find us at Twitter : twitter/TheBigForestuk


  1. ps wouldn’t Psychic Delia be an excellent title for a children’s book…

  2. Delightful…what a treat to start the day. Reciting a few of those poems daily and gloom WILL fly out of the window. Since it is for well brought up children, I will buy both my sons a copy for Christmas;0)

    Cannot wait to see this all translated to your work.

    • I once read an autobiography where the children in a grand house had been encouraged to learn a poem a week by their governess. The author said that he now had a repetoire of enhancing poems to recite when he was bored, going for a long walk or was feeling gloomy. The idea of doing this with some of these parlour poetry verses appeals. Although Im not sure either Benjamin or I would have the dicipline to see it through 🙂

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