Edgar Guest gets a rough press. Dorothy Parker famously said, “I’d rather flunk my Wassermann test than read a poem by Edgar Guest”, which turns out to be even more damning than I thought, given that I had assumed it was some form of academic test but while I was double-checking the quote a few days ago, I discovered it’s actually the name for a form of syphilis screening. Still, Edgar Guest was very popular in his day, even being known as ‘The People’s Poet’. It is the sad fate of artists of broad popular appeal that they are often condemned to a serious backlash. Even in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, he was derided as ‘a writer of limited skill, who wrote awkward, tedious poetry on hopelessly sentimental topics’. However, when I stumbled across this poem, I couldn’t help but like it and so was pleasantly surprised to discover its author. Yes, it is a little sentimental and perhaps it is not the most technically advanced in terms of its structure but what’s wrong with a poem just being ‘nice’? Let’s hear it for Mr Guest!
Good books are friendly things to own.
If you are busy they will wait.
They will not call you on the phone
Or wake you if the hour is late.
They stand together row by row,
Upon the low shelf or the high.
But if you’re lonesome this you know:
You have a friend or two nearby.
The fellowship of books is real.
They’re never noisy when you’re still.
They won’t disturb you at your meal.
They’ll comfort you when you are ill.
The lonesome hours they’ll always share.
When slighted they will not complain.
And though for them you’ve ceased to care
Your constant friends they’ll still remain.
Good books your faults will never see
Or tell about them round the town.
If you would have their company
You merely have to take them down.
They’ll help you pass the time away,
They’ll counsel give if that you need.
He has true friends for night and day
Who has a few good books to read.
For past Saturday Poems, take a look at the archive in Poetry Please.