The Devil and John Milton in Chalfont St. Giles: did my residency inspire a poem?


Was R.S. Gwynn was with us in Chalfont St. Giles, in spirit at least? He sent a short poem, “Near Milton Cottage,” obviously inspired by the recent posts on my all-too-brief stay at the only extant Milton residence in Britain.

Sam denies it: “Actually, I’ve never been to Chalfont St. Giles. This was inspired by a trip to a Marks & Spencer (my first) near Salisbury. There’s really nothing in the U.S. like these stores – a sort of cross between Trader Joe’s and Macy’s, but on a smaller scale. I could have spent half a day in this one, sitting on sofas, trying on jackets, eating free cubes of cheese. I saw at least a dozen kinds of sausage I’d like to have tried. How Satan got in there, God only knows, but he does seem to prefer hanging with the upper middle class.” Marks & Spencer upper middle class? We think not. Try Harrods for that.

Sam Gwynn

He continued: “I did use the meter of ‘L’Allegro,’ by the way. It alternates full trochaic tetrameters with catalectic ones. The rhymes on the odd lines were fun, especially pitchfork and which pork. I’ve rarely used trochaic. It has a tendency to be lead-footed if you’re not careful.”  Wish I had his breezy facility. 

Here goes:


Near the Milton Cottage

Satan shops at Marks & Spencer
With a trolley heaped with cake,
Shedding, like a swinging censer,
Whiffs of brimstone in His wake.

Everything there sports one label
(At a fair though upscale price).
Swarthy stockboys shout in Babel,
Keeping picnic things on ice.

Stabbing goodies with His pitchfork
— Capons, capers, casual clothes—
He slows down to ponder which pork
Sausage most excites His nose.

Loosed upon their shops by Milton,
Now, midst sprats and Mozart tinned,
He unveils a putrid Stilton
To remind them how they’ve sinned.

He wolfs down endangered species,
Grills with Amazonian wood,
Chips the poles for ice with ease;
He’s got a credit line. It’s good.

Satan, consummate consumer,
Thrives in both the boom and bust.
See Him give a housewife room!
Herself ahead, He swells with lust.

Is He Tory? Is He Labour?
Are His economics planned?
Do thy best to do thy neighbour
In this green and pleasant land.

“Paper? Plastic?” croons the checkout.
Satan smiles and answers, “Both.”
Mrs. Bean now sticks her neck out
From a slow queue bagged by Sloth:

“Sinful Satan,” cries the woman,
“Are Your actions ever Green?”
Satan nods and smirks to someone,
“Let’s recycle … Mrs. Bean.”

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