Odes to Ale: Beer Poetry

Victorian poetry is nothing if not distinctive, full of emphasis on the senses, Romanticism, sentimentality…and a healthy dose of skepticism and cynicism. The Victorians were a contradictory folk. Alongside poems of nature and religion, medieval imagery and forlorn lovers, there were also poems of beer. Whether or not beer loosened poets’ lips and let lyrical lines spring forth is up for debate.

In any case, we’ve found some ale-related anthems to share with you! Grab a pint of your favourite beer (I’m grabbing a Porter, before Ed focuses more heavily on Pale Ales and Best Bitters over the hot summer months), settle in, and let the words wash over you. 🙂



The Empty Bottle – William Aytoun (1813-1865)

William Aytoun was a Scottish poet, lawyer, and popular professor of rhetoric at the University of Edinburgh. With poems like this, we’re not surprised!

Ah, liberty! how like thou art
To this large bottle lying here,
Which yesterday from foreign mart,
Came filled with potent English beer!
A touch of steel — a hand — a gush —
A pop that sounded far and near —
A wild emotion — liquid rush —
And I had drunk that English beer!
And what remains? — An empty shell!
A lifeless form both sad and queer,
A temple where no god doth dwell —
The simple memory of beer!

Lines on Ale – Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)

Most of us know Edgar Allan Poe from “The Raven,” or “The Tell-Tale Heart,” but his body of work contains a number of lesser-known gems. This short poem is one of them…although we’re a little disquieted by the fact that it was published in 1848, just one year before his untimely and bizarre death (he was delirious and wearing someone else’s clothes – no cause of death was ever definitively established and all records have since been lost). 

Fill with mingled cream and amber,
I will drain that glass again.
Such hilarious visions clamber
Through the chamber of my brain.
Quaintest thoughts, queerest fancies
Come to life and fade away.
What care I how time advances;
I am drinking ale today.


Terence, This is Stupid Stuff – from A Shropshire Lad – A.E. Housman (1859-1936)

Alfred Edward Housman was an English poet and renowned Classical scholar. Regarding his poetry, best known for his collection of poems “A Shropshire Lad,” which has been continuously in print since 1896. They’re emotional, vulnerable poems – with the occasional wry smile. Much like the Victorians themselves.

 Why, if ’tis dancing you would be,
There’s brisker pipes than poetry.
Say, for what were hop-yards meant,
Or why was Burton built on Trent?
Oh many a peer of England brews
Livelier liquor than the Muse,
And malt does more than Milton can
To justify God’s ways to man.
Ale, man, ale’s the stuff to drink
For fellows whom it hurts to think:
Look into the pewter pot
To see the world as the world’s not.
And faith, ’tis pleasant till ’tis past:
The mischief is that ’twill not last.
Oh I have been to Ludlow fair
And left my necktie God knows where,
And carried half way home, or near,
Pints and quarts of Ludlow beer:
Then the world seemed none so bad,
And I myself a sterling lad…

Whole Leaf Hops
Whole Leaf Hops

And now, perhaps some poetry on Porters and Pale Ales…



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