Poet’s Pub

Eric Linklater by Stanley Cursiter, 1933.

2 April 2020

By Göran R Buckhorn

Here is another article in The Dry Season Bottom-of-the-Barrel Series: HTBS editor Göran R Buckhorn finds rowing in a novel by Eric Linklater.

Does anyone read Eric Linklater nowadays? Linklater (1899-1974) wrote novels, short-stories, poems, biographies, travel books and children’s books and was very popular, especially in the 1930s and 1940s. He had some rowing in his novel The Men of Ness (see No. 24 in the entry on 29 July 2009), which was translated into Swedish by my favorite author Frans G. Bengtsson, who wrote about the Viking Röde Orm (The Long Ships). Bengtsson also translated Linklater’s Poet’s Pub (1929) into Swedish, Poeten på Pelikanen (1933).

I happened to flip through this novel the other day (actually, I flipped through both the English and the Swedish editions as they were standing next to each other on the bookshelf). The Poet’s Pub is about Saturday Keith who, in the beginning of the novel, is reading an unfavourable review in The Times Literary Supplement about his latest collection of poems.

The reviewer is mocking Keith, comparing his bad poetry to his poor performances as a stroke in three losing Oxford crews in the Boat Race: “Mr. Keith is, as he always was, indomitable. But here he is bucketing badly and a long way from Mortlake – or Parnassus.” We are given an example or two of his meager poetry, and regarding the poem “The Blue Scarf” the reviewer writes how Keith’s “long service with the Oxford University Boat Club finds an echo in lines which apparently reproduce the obedient rhythm of a crew with ears agape for the coach’s next remark. ‘Then through the wood the wind came with a shout,/ And like blue wings her long blue scarf flew out,/’ writes Mr. Keith, and we may pardonably think of such a couplet as the response to an injunction to ‘Give her ten’ – though Mr. Keith exceeds his instructions and give us twenty.”

A career as a poet seems not to be in sight for Saturday Keith, so when his friend Quentin Cotton offers to make him the manager for his mother’s newly purchased pub, The Pelican, Keith jumps at the offer. And how could he fail, after all he is an Old Blue…

This article was first published on HTBS on 22 April 2010. Since then, a film based on Linklater’s novel has been uploaded on YouTube. The titled of the film is also Poet’s Pub, which was made in 1949 and directed by Frederick Wilson. In the film Saturday Keith is played by Derek Bond.

The comedy starts with scenes from a real Boat Race on the Thames. Watch the whole film here while you are self-quarantined.

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