An ekphrastic poem inspired by John E. Millais painting “Bubbles”
The South Sea Company was formed
to reduce the cost of the national debt.
In 1720 the shareholders were informed
that in return for a loan they would get
5% interest on the sum they advanced,
the monopoly to supply slaves and trade
with South America. As this enhanced
the stock value, huge profits were made.
The country went wild; other schemes,
some very dodgy, were hastily contrived
and were the basis of numerous dreams.
Every trick in the book was tried.
A company was set up to buy Irish Bogs,
one to make a gun to fire square balls.
All those enterprises held people agog,
just a few ignored the siren’s call.
The situation was highly mesmeric
everyone, whether a plebeian or a toff,
a parliamentarian, a civilian or a cleric,
would have had his snout in the trough.
Investors converged like bees to honey
and the project was successful at first
but ultimately everybody lost money
when the bubble eventually burst.
Frantic bankers invaded Parliament;
to restore order the Riot Act was read.
The fiasco’s aftermath was turbulent
and demand for vengeance spread.
It seems the King was also involved
together with two of his mistresses
but of the charge they were absolved:
there was no proof and no witnesses.
‘The best-laid plans o’ mice an’ men’
as one poet said, went terribly wrong.
To this catastrophe no one said “Amen”
nor jumped for joy and burst into song.
It’s easy to say that they were too naive
and gullible to have joined this scheme.
It may be obvious but still many believe
that making a fortune is not a pipe-dream.
© Luigi Pagano 2020