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Jenny Kissed Me -- James Leigh Hunt

       
(Poem #103) Jenny Kissed Me
Jenny kiss'd me when we met,
  Jumping from the chair she sat in;
Time, you thief, who love to get
  Sweets into your list, put that in!
Say I'm weary, say I'm sad,
  Say that health and wealth have miss'd me,
Say I'm growing old, but add,
  Jenny kiss'd me.
-- James Leigh Hunt
  Note: The Jenny in question was Jane Welsh Carlyle, wife of Thomas
  Carlyle. Hunt had just recovered from an extended battle with influenza,
  and when he went to tell the Carlyles the news, Jenny (in a very
  uncharacteristic move) leaped up and kissed him.

While Hunt is perhaps best known for 'Abou Ben Adhem'[1], I think the
charming, somewhat whimsical 'Jenny Kissed Me' is a far nicer poem. The
simple, unaffected lyrics hide the construction somewhat, which is how it
should be - however, several details of the form are notable.

First off, the poem is perfectly trochaic[2], which is neither common nor
easy. Moreover, it is probably the most natural piece of trochaic verse I've
seen. It also avoids both the common traps of trochaic verse, one being a
tendency to sound singsong (thanks in part to the fact that the most common
perfect trochaics around are nursery rhymes like 'Twinkle, twinkle little
star') and the tendency to sound heavy and solemn. The latter is not
technically a trap; it is due to the 'falling' pattern of a trochaic foot,
and is often used to good effect. However, here the poem is slightly more
lighthearted, and needs something to offset the trochees. That something is
provided by the feminine rhymes - masculine rhymes are usually associated
with serious poetry, and feminine and triple rhymes with lighter verse, and
most serious trochaic poetry drops the last syllable throughout, having
implied caesuras (pauses) at the end of each line. The singsong effect is
offset by the abab (as opposed to aabb) rhyme scheme - it makes the verse,
rather than the couplet, the basic unit of the poem - and by the alternate
feminine rhymes, which tend to group every two lines into a longer line,
with the masculine rhymes being deemphasized.

The verse pattern used here (alternating between implied caesuras and
feminine rhymes) lends the poem a very natural tone, putting the reader in
comfortable and familiar territory versewise, and letting the words get
across unhindered and unshadowed by formal complications.

[1] may his tribe increase
[2] a trochaic foot is stress, unstress.
    'Jen ny 'kiss'd me 'when we 'met etc.

m.

Biography and Assessment:

Hunt, (James Henry) Leigh

 b. Oct. 19, 1784, Southgate, Middlesex, Eng.
 d. Aug. 28, 1859, Putney, London

English essayist, critic, journalist, and poet, who was an editor of
influential journals in an age when the periodical was at the height of its
power. He was also a friend and supporter of the poets Percy Bysshe Shelley
and John Keats. Hunt's poems, of which "Abou Ben Adhem" and "Jenny Kissed
Me" are probably the best known, reflect the influence of foreign
versification.

Though he falls short of greatness, Hunt, at his best, in some essays and
his Autobiography (1850; a rewriting of Lord Byron and Some of His
Contemporaries, 1828), has a charm that has gained him a high place in his
readers' affection. He excels in perceptive judgments of his contemporaries,
from Keats to the Victorian Tennyson; and, as Radical journalist, though not
much interested in politics, he attacks oppression with indignation. He
considered himself to be essentially a dilettante.

The poems in Juvenilia (1801), his first volume, show his love for Italian
literature. He looked to Italy for a "freer spirit of versification," and in
The Story of Rimini (1816), published in the year of his meeting with Keats,
he reintroduced a freedom of movement in English couplet verse lost in the
18th century. From him Keats derived his delight in colour and imaginative
sensual experience and a first acquaintance with Italian poetry, a potent
influence long after he had outgrown Hunt's tutelage.

        -- EB

45 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Sirley Clifford said...

This is a delicious piece of writing...never mind the technical
structure...which so enchanted me as a 12 year old (53 years ago) that I
have kept my schoolgirl "Palgrave's Golden Treasury of English Verse" to
this day for the pleasure of re-reading it.
I'm no wacko 'New Ager' but do find there's a dimension in some writing
akin to the qualities in music (Mozart particularly) that bypasses the
intellect and resonates at a mysterious depth. I know all the stuff
about Fibonnacci numbers and fractals that seek to explain this as a
purely natural phenomenon traceable back to natural selection but (and
I'm no religious nut either) I'm more of the opinion that the Bible's
declaration that we 'see through a glass darkly' is objective truth and
that sometimes the glass is momentarily a little less dark. "Jenny
Kissed me' is one of my vehicles for this glimpse of I-know-not-what.
PS...I make a living as an Editor..you must wonder that I haven't
starved!

Pky Zztar said...

I remember reading this poem in high school (40 years ago) and thinking
to myself "One day I'll have a daughter, and I'll name her Jenny." I
married a girl I first met in kindergarten, and 3 years later she gave
birth to our first child, Jennifer Ann... "Jenny".

I'll never forget the first time I saw her, the nurses pushed my wife's
hospital bed down the hallway toward me, and as we met, my wife reached
up and pulled down the sheet that covered her. In the embrace of her arm
lay our first child, our beautiful little girl. My feet could hardly
reach the floor! Her beauty was simply radiant. I leaned down and kissed
my wife and then my daughter. I lightly put my cheek against her lips,
and received my first of many kisses from this angel. I recited the poem
"Jenny Kissed Me" to her, and then watched as the nurses took them on to
their room.

That was 33 years ago, and she is still the light of my life. Is it any
surprise that this is my favorite poem?

Peter Kaczmarek said...

English is a language which I learned as a 30 years old engineer, so I know basically nothing about English poetry in original version and it's technical meanders. Nevertheless when I read "Jenny Kissed Me" in the Toronto subway (poetry on the wall of subway car filling up space between advertisements), I was overwhelmed by it's simple beauty. By the time I reached my destination I knew it by hard. It will stay with me forever. Thank You.
Regards,

Peter Kaczmarek.

jalleva said...

I am writing a biography of my father for his 80th birthday party and I wanted to include some of his favorite sayings and poems. Even though he's recited this poem to me a million times (although in recent years, it's only been a simple "Jenny Kissed Me"...) I wanted to get the wording perfect and I stumbled on this web site. I love this poem--it will always remind me of the special place I have in my dad's heart! Jennifer (Jenny) A.

KJPHATMAN said...

Tremendous

betty van slyke said...

Jenny Kissed Me

When I first read it in high school 56 years ago, I loved it and memorized it. I can't tell you why I like it; I know nothing about poetry construction. Today I read it and cried and smiled at the same time.

I know when a poem is good. I write a little myself, and when I write a good one, I know it. When it's not good, I know it.

I don't think anyone could every teach me the disciplines or whatever is taught about how to write poetry. I think it would stifle the poetry that is inside me and that I will convert into written words.

Walter Edvalson said...

I have a book entitled '500 Greatest American Poems.' 'Jenny Kissed Me' is
one of the 500 poems (as is Hunt's other poem 'Abou Ben Adhem' and Lord
Byron's 'So We'll Go No More a-Roving' - two other poems that I really
love). In this book it states that Hunt went to tell Jenny Carlyle's
husband, Thomas, that he was going to be publishing one of his (Thomas)
poems and that Jenny jumped up and kissed him (Hunt) when he gave her the
news.

I only bring this up because an earlier comment stated that Jenny kissed him
when she heard that he had just recovered from the flu. I'm not sure which
one is correct, but since it was in the book (500 Poems), I will take the
story about learning that her husband's poem was to be published (it's more
romantic anyway) as the true story about this poem.

Walter Edvalson

Rainbow Adler said...

I do not know how many years ago I heard only the last 3 lines of this poem, but they have stayed with me an evoke remarkable emotion. As part of a newly formed writing group, our next project involves poetic form and the choice of a favorite poem. This immediately surfaced and good old Yahoo search proved it's value. The addition of the history of the poem round out the fullness of it for me. Nothing technical to write about it, just the appreciation of a beautifully created moment.
Bob Adler

Bill Wanschura said...

My first child was a daughter, Jennifer Ellen. I acquired a poetry treasury
book which included "Jenny Kissed Me" a few years after she was born. She
was married this past May, and I read the poem at the reception (without
crying, I might add!). I then presented the book to my new son-in-law
Patrick, since now my Jennie belongs to him. It was one of the most
touching moments of my life.

Bill Wanschura

David Carter said...

Those of us who have loved and lost a Jennifer-Harding in my case- will
forever have this poem as a bittersweet reminder.

David

musicminister said...

Maybe James Leigh Hunt "falls short of greatness" in the totality of his work, but when he created "Jenny Kissed Me", he, for one brief moment, tapped into wherever greatness lies and created the perfect "romantic" poem. Sure, it's not long enough to be considered something "great" by the pundits, but, to me, there is no better evocation of the smiling-through-tears, bittersweet, heart-breaking essence that is romanticism than this little perfectly cut diamond.

Eddy Wilson
Kannapolis, NC, USA

scott albers said...

I came across this poem - Jenny Kissed Me - the last day of high school in Advanced Placement English. The teacher asked us to read some poem which was particularly memorable, which was our favorite, and this one somehow came across the conversation. I said, then and there, that this was my favorite poem, and it remains so to this day. It sums up everything that is worthwhile - or which to my mind can ever be worth while - in a man's life. At the end of the day, if Jenny has kissed you, your life is worth while. If not, well... there's always reincarnation I suppose.

Scott Albers

Joe Harkins said...

I first encountered this poem in 1948 in a Jesuit high school class taught
by Father Daniel Berrigan in Jersey City, NJ. I've been able to quote it
ever since. Yes, say, I'm old. Now, in November 2004, I've met a blue-eyed
Genny. Close enough for me.

scot_public said...

I first came across this poem at high school in an old unwanted poetry
book - I liked it so much I kept the book - years later as it turned out
I married someone called Jenny - at our wedding we each chose something
to be read out - Jenny had a piece from the bible and me being known as
a bit of a philosopher come rambler had a a friend read this but preface
it with "for his reading Scot has chosen something by the 18th centure
English philosopher and writer James Leigh Hunt....." and then when
everyone was expecting something boring out came this whimsical poem --
I still recite it to her occasionaly :-)

John D'Angelo said...

I first came across this poem when I was on a bus in Manhatten. I was immediately struck by the simple beauty of it,
and the underlying message that love cannot be beaten down. I scribbled down the poem in my notepad as quickly as I could before my stop came up
and it is still my favorite. That was many years ago, and I am now 68 years old and retired. Today I live far from Manhatten and that bus, but the poem will be with me always.

Thanks for posting it!

W. Stark said...

I like this poem, its cute...

Carolyn Mason said...

It was a pleasure to read the ways in which a poem I love has touched so
many people.
Klinger, in the psychology book 'Meaning and Void', reports that most
people find it is close relationships that make their lives worthwhile.
This poem is a wonderful expression of the way simple interactions with
others give our lives meaning. Best of all, it reminds me that I get to
keep those joyful parts of my life whatever else happens in my life.
And, if not for this poem, I would not have found this website!
(But I do wish Hunt had written 'loves' rather than 'love'.)

Michael Hogan said...

Leigh Hunt was a minor poet in a time when Shelley and Keats were writing
their great poems. Yet, "Jenny Kissed Me" survives in anthologies, on
trains, in scribbled notebooks, texts, and in the heart of generations of
readers. It is heartening to all poets, however minor, and an incentive to
keep on writing. The poem which will last forever may come from anywhere.

Michael Hogan
Guadaljara, Mexico

HughMarsha said...

Hi. Are you the Scot Albers from York High ? Am on a Committee for our "
40th" Class of 1966 and you are on our "lost list". ...some have asked about
you so I googled ad found this moving comment! Cheers, Marsha Endahl Kramer

Marsha Endahl Kramer
3507 Oaks Way, Apt. 309
Pompano Beach, FL

Nch1000 said...

This poem appears in a novel by MARY HIGGINS CLARK in 1982

furthermore,some of the lines in this poem appear to have been plagiarised
from the 1952 song JENNY KISSED ME by Bob Merrill and recorded in that year
by GUY MITCHELL.

Comments please!!!!!!!

Nch1000 said...

Cancel last Email. It was obviously not from May 1999

Leigh J. Halliwell said...

Dear Editor:

Please add the following comments to "Jenny Kissed Me:"

My mother, an English major in College, so loved James Leigh Hunt,
particularly his poem "Jenny Kissed Me," that she named me Leigh. I always
knew about the poem, but it mattered nothing to me until last year, when I
was fifty-one and going through a divorce. At that time I met and fell in
love with a woman named Ginny (close enough to "Jenny"), whom I will always
love. My Ginny once rose from her seat and kissed me on the forehead, and
however time may taunt and ravage me henceforth, I can console myself that
Ginny kissed me.

Sincerely,

Leigh J. Halliwell

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Anonymous said...

this poem is funny

jean seales said...

thanks everyone for your heartfelt comments. I feel so proud as james leigh hunt was my great great great grandfather and to see his work has played a part in peoples lives is wonderful.
jean seales kent england

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robin_france said...

I am so happy to see this post
I have always loved this poem since I first read it many many years ago in Palgrave's Golden Treasury
I have recited it to myself over the years and even today at the age of 64 I still wonder why it is so powerful.
I think it is because we immediately feel the conflict of emotion of an elderly man who receives this kiss as a completely unexpected but wonderful gift from a younger and unaccessible girl - at the same time he desires her and treasures the fact that she has enough feeling for him to make such a gratuitous show of affection.
I suppose you could summarise that as "Old men get sentimental..."

By the way I just set this poem to music - if anyone is interested I could let them see my tune.

robin_france said...

@Carolyn Mason

I think the author intended "love" as a second person here... "you.. who love...."

saim said...

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