London’s Docklands, Pre-Gentrification

from a sonnet by Wordsworth

Earth has not anything to show more foul
Unless it be the same neath fog and rain;
But no, for like Rasputin’s reechy mane
This horror craves occulting in a cowl:
Abandoned buildings, cheek by scabrous jowl,
Eyes boarded shut or peering all in vain
Through dirt and bird-slime’s cataractal skein,
Each oblong mouth a rotting, splintered scowl;

And see below the wharf, where brownish flows
The Thames, between whose banks in days of old
To trumpet flourish, every schoolchild knows
Rode king and consort, caped in cloth of gold.
Today, a rusting toaster seaward goes,
A toilet seat, a sandwich robed in mould.



Hope Without Work

from a sonnet by Coleridge

All Nature seems at work. Slugs leave their lair:
The bees are stirring, birds are on the wing
And, on his smiling face a dream of spring,
Winter is dozing in the open air,
While I, sole idle thing, who ought to care,
Nor honey make, nor pair, nor build, nor sing,
Being—for shame!—the sole unbusy thing,
At least from my perspective, anywhere.

But, somehow, care I don’t, for I’m retired
(Forty-odd years’ of sweat already spent)
And, but for the dentures that I’ve acquired,
The rocky knees, the back (painfully bent),
The flagging sex-drive (soon to be expired)
And hemorrhoidal itching, I’m content!



Old Age

from a sonnet by Chambers Baird

Old age, I harbour you, a welcome guest,
Who count no fretting hopes yet unfulfilled
But know, with ardent youth’s wild tremor stilled,
The lulling cadences of measured rest.
My children’s children someone else has dressed;
Their diapers, ere what lies within be spilled,
Are readily renewed by one more skilled,
Who feeds them at her ever-willing breast.

All would be well, but for my troublous knee
(Arthritis-racked), my false teeth (ill of fit),
My bladder’s habit unannounced to wee,
Whilst I—vile irony!—must strive to shit.
Elsewise (barring under-denture debris),
Life had been sweet as a banana split.



Peter Austin is a retired Professor of English who lives in Toronto with his younger two daughters.

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15 Responses

  1. Joe Tessitore

    If a poem is in its ending, has there been three better poems writ?

    What rhymes compare to wee and debris, to shit and banana split?

    What a way to start a Sunday!

    • Peter Austin


      I’m glad I helped your Sunday get off to a good start (if that’s what you meant!).


  2. Peter Hartley

    Peter – These are all brilliant, particularly the first with its recherché vocabulary: bird-slime’s cataractal skein, rotting splintered scowl etc. For a few moments I was transformed into a Victorian mud lark but quite glad, in a way, to be quickly teleported back to the present. I’m only sorry you managed to use the word reechy in these pages before I did.

    • Peter Austin


      All I can say is sorry, and that I haven’t taken out a copyright on ‘reechy’.

      Thanks for the comments,


    • Peter Austin


      Thank you: I’m always glad when my stuff tickles the funny bone.


  3. Mike Bryant

    I found these takedowns of these few classics hilarious. Wonderful imaginative work.

  4. Margaret Coats

    The Docklands sonnet does a fine job of personifying the old buildings with the eye-and-mouth images. Also impressive is how the “king and consort, robed in cloth of gold” parallel the “sandwich robed in mould.”
    Like most of us, probably, I had not heard of Chambers Baird, so I looked for his Old Age sonnet, which turns out to have “After Many Years” as title, and found that the poet describes himself as a “silt-fraught stream,” thus recalling the Thames in your Docklands–although with nineteenth-century hope for the fertile silt bearing some fruit in retirement. Thanks both for your own work, Peter, and for the nod to this competent Ohio poet of yore.

    • Peter Austin


      You are very welcome, and thank you very much for the thoughtful feedback.


  5. C.B. Anderson

    All three were exquisite, Peter Austin, slightly funny as only lines with somewhat horrifying images can be. And, of course, the technical elements were handled masterfully. You never disappoint.

    • Peter Austin


      Many thanks for the encouraging feedback. Yes, of course, the humor is meant to be wafted on a chilling wind.


  6. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Peter, I love these! I will never be able to read “Upon Westminster Bridge” without a snigger having read the closing couplet of “London’s Docklands, Pre-Gentrification”. “Today, a rusting toaster seaward goes,/A toilet seat, a sandwich robed in mould.” is hilarious. And, from the deft alteration of word order in the title of “Hope Without Work” to the “hemorrhoidal itching” line, this poem is a triumph. But, you saved the best till last, and it should come with a warning… my sides are banana splitting! LOL

    • Peter Austin


      Thanks for the feedback. I’m sorry I spoiled Wordsworth’s sonnet for you, and I hope your sides have mended by now!


  7. Jeff Eardley

    Peter, I am not familiar with the original sonnets but these are highly amusing. I love the Cloth of Gold/ Sandwich mould thing and I am sure that Old Age is for you, nowhere near as bad as you describe. You must be an ex-Brit to write such wonderful, self deprecating and highly amusing stuff.


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