James McIntyre: the Cheese Poet

Though never attaining the heights of William Topaz McGonagall (they are unattainable), James McIntyre has a decent claim to being one of the English language’s greatest bad poets.

A Scottish-born Canadian furniture-manufacturer, what McIntyre lacked in poetic talent he made up for in narrow specialisation: odes to cheese. He just loved the stuff.

This is from Oxford Cheese Ode…

The ancient poets ne’er did dream
That Canada was land of cream,
They ne’er imagined it could flow
In this cold land of ice and snow,
Where everything did solid freeze
They ne’er hoped or looked for cheese.

…while in Dairy Ode we receive this warning about cheese made too early in the year:

Our muse it doth refuse to sing
Of cheese made early in the spring,
When cows give milk from spring fodder
You cannot make a good cheddar.

The quality is often vile
Of cheese that is made in April,
Therefore we think for that reason
You should make later in the season.

But McIntyre was a dreamer. Behold his vision in Prophecy of a Ten Ton Cheese

Who hath prophetic vision sees 
In future times a ten ton cheese…

Such a massive cheese, claims McIntyre, would be “the greatest honour to our land”, with “power to move British empire.” In fact, he predicts that the ten ton cheese would be so great a human achievement that…

… we shall see it at world’s fair.
And view the people all agog, so
Excited o’er it in Chicago,
To seek fresh conquests queen of cheese
She may sail across the seas,
Where she would meet reception grand
From the warm hearts in old England.

Gratifyingly, McIntyre was to glimpse something like his dream of a ten ton cheese. This he eulogised in his most famous poem, Ode on the Mammoth Cheese (Weight over seven thousand pounds) which I replicate in full below. This poem has everything: a relentless rhythm, the genius rhyme sequence ‘scar as/Harris/far as/Paris”, and, in the final stanza, surreal beauty and a perfect closing line….

Ode on the Mammoth Cheese
Weight over seven thousand pounds.

We have seen thee, queen of cheese,
Lying quietly at your ease,
Gently fanned by evening breeze,
Thy fair form no flies dare seize.

All gaily dressed soon you’ll go
To the great Provincial show,
To be admired by many a beau
In the city of Toronto.

Cows numerous as a swarm of bees,
Or as the leaves upon the trees,
It did require to make thee please.
And stand unrivalled, queen of cheese.

May you not receive a scar as
We have heard that Mr. Harris
Intends to to send you off as far as
The great world’s show at Paris.

Of the youth beware of these,
For some of them might rudely squeeze
And bite your cheek, then songs or glees
We could not sing, oh! queen of cheese.

We’rt thou suspended from balloon,
You’d cast a shade even at noon,
Folks would think it was the moon
About to fall and crush them soon.

There’s more McIntyre here and Ontario holds an annual cheese poetry competition in his honour.

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15 thoughts on “James McIntyre: the Cheese Poet

  1. peter.burnet@hotmail.com'
    December 10, 2010 at 14:47

    A Scottish-born Canadian furniture-manufacturer

    One of the nice things about our ambiguous history of Empire, nationhood and citizenship is that we can just remember him as a Scot.

  2. Gaw
    December 10, 2010 at 15:03

    There was a young man from Caerphilly,
    A real dairy-farming hill-billy,
    He came up with a cheese,
    That was soft to the squeeze,
    So much so he poked in his finger.

  3. mcrean@snowpetrel.net'
    December 10, 2010 at 15:51

    A fitting reminder, just when a US billionaire has launched his own Dragon rocket into space containing a top-secret payload, which turned out to be a wheel of Le Brouere cheese, in homage to Monty Python apparently. Details here.

  4. Wormstir@gmail.com'
    December 10, 2010 at 18:14

    Haha this really gave me a chuckle! Great stuff

  5. rosie@rosiebell.co.uk'
    December 10, 2010 at 23:47

    On Poets and Cheese

    Loved Stilton,
    But Walter de la Mare
    Hated Gruyere.

  6. andrewnixon@blueyonder.co.uk'
    December 11, 2010 at 08:32

    Christina Rossetti
    liked cheddar baguetties.
    But Philip Larkin
    preferred his with quark in.

  7. Gaw
    December 11, 2010 at 09:09

    There was a young lady from Leicester,
    who worked as an e-number tester,
    bored with pale yellow cheese,
    she came up with a wheeze,
    “Cochineal will make it look bester!”

  8. Gaw
    December 11, 2010 at 09:24

    There was an old lady from Stilton,
    who had her cheese factory built on,
    where had stood racks of cheese,
    there was golf club and tees,
    and a sadly blue cheese-free Hilton.

  9. Gaw
    December 11, 2010 at 09:36

    There was a cheese-maker from Cheddar,
    Who got a huge order from Jeddah,
    Not having enough cheese
    to despatch overseas
    Irish was sent: his was no better.

  10. Gaw
    December 11, 2010 at 09:36

    Er, that’s enough cheese limericks – Ed.

  11. Gaw
    December 11, 2010 at 10:44

    On Novelists and Cheese

    Loved Roquefort,
    Unexpectedly, Forster
    preferred Double Gloucester.

  12. Wormstir@gmail.com'
    December 11, 2010 at 11:37

    Sometimes he went Caerphilly,
    Other times he didn’t give Edam

  13. becandben@gmail.com'
    December 12, 2010 at 10:50

    That ‘Prophecy of a Ten Ton Cheese’ has an almost Blakean intensity…

  14. martinjpollard@hotmail.com'
    December 13, 2010 at 10:26

    A quick calculation tells me that 7,000 pounds is about 3 tons. One presumes, therefore, that the Queen of Cheese was a real phenomenon, and might in itself have encouraged the bard’s dream of a monster some three times the size. I want to know who Mr Harris was: farmer? Postman? Genius industrialist? Or just another dairy dreamer?

  15. Gaw
    December 13, 2010 at 14:31

    Imagine the compression at the bottom of a Ten Ton Cheese. That must have been the hardest cheese known to man.

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