Those Tent Meetings: A Rhyming Recital, by Malcolm B. Duffie

octavia_cade's review

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lighthearted fast-paced


This is a strange little book, published in 1889. I found it at the Internet Archive, and it's both terrible and wonderful at once. It's a long narrative poem, set in the United States, and it concerns a tent revival come to town, and the subsequent religious debate between the revivalists and the established religious leaders of said town. Every page has a new verse, and every verse is accompanied by one or more Bible quotes which act as not-quite-footnotes. It's apparently based on real life events.

Given the the author, Mr. Duffie, must be very long dead by now, I know that I can't hurt his feelings by saying, with perfect truth, that he is a terrible poet. Oh, he's no William McGonagall, but his earnest attempts don't rise above doggerel. I'll quote a verse in a moment and you can see for yourself. So Octavia, you ask, if this is so dreadful why do you like it? I'll tell you why. Duffie is... limited in his poetry, shall we say, so every poem is of the same exact form. Eight lines, with the rhyme scheme a,b,a,b,a,b,a,b. I started reading, wincing slightly, but before I'd finished the third poem I'd stopped, baffled with familiarity. I couldn't think why, but then it struck me. 


That's what this book is. It's the Ode to Joy; one of the greatest pieces of music ever written. Every single poem here is structured so as to be sung to it. I don't know if Duffie has done this deliberately or not - he certainly never cops to it. I only know that from the third poem on, I couldn't read a single page of this terrible poetry and not sing it in my head as I read. I am simultaneously appalled and delighted, and I defy anyone to be able to read this awful collection and not sing along in the same way. Go on, try it with the deathless prose of page 71 (long out of copyright, so don't bother me):

From the battered, crumbling ramparts
Of tradition's last redoubt,
They are driven in discomfort;
They retreat in hopeless rout!
Thus, the truth will ever triumph,
Though opposed with hoof and fang;
Every missile hurled against it
Only proves a boomerang.

*snickering quietly to myself, Mr. Duffie you shameless hack*