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The Social Plan -- Stephen Leacock

A brief return to the Canadian theme...
(Poem #789) The Social Plan
 I know a very tiresome Man
 Who keeps on saying, "Social Plan."
     At every Dinner, every Talk
     Where Men foregather, eat or walk,
     No matter where, -- this Awful Man
     Brings on his goddam Social Plan.

 The Fall in Wheat, the Rise in Bread,
 The social Breakers dead ahead,
     The Economic Paradox
     That drives the Nation on the rocks,
 The Wheels that false Abundance clogs --
 And frightens us from raising Hogs, --
     This dreary field, the Gloomy Man
     Surveys and hiccoughs, Social Plan.

 Till simpler Men begin to find
 His croaking aggravates their mind,
     And makes them anxious to avoid
     All mention of the Unemployed,
 And leads them even to abhor
 The People called Deserving Poor.
     For me, my sympathies now pass
     To the poor Plutocratic Class.
     The Crowd that now appeals to me
     Is what he calls the Bourgeoisie.

 So I have got a Social Plan
 To take him by the Neck,
 And lock him in a Luggage van
 And tie on it a check,
     Marked MOSCOW VIA TURKESTAN,
     Now, how's that for a Social Plan?
-- Stephen Leacock
        (First published 1936)

In response to Lampman's "To a Millionaire", I received an interesting set
of comments from Matthew Chanoff, in which he argued that the sentiments
expressed therein were naive and dated by today's standards (true enough),
and that that reflected badly on the poem. I personally take the opposite
standpoint - that the poem deserves to be judged by the standards of its own
time, and that its merits lie in the *writing*, that is, in how effectively
it cast those admittedly dated socioeconomic concerns into verse. (This is
something I have alluded to before, in connection with Kipling's poetry).

Still, that got me thinking about the other point of view, and about
extremists of all stripes, and finally about Leacock (Canada's finest
humorist, IMO - I'm currently rereading his 'Literary Lapses' with much
enjoyment). 'Social Plan' is far lighter in tone than 'Millionaire', and,
inevitably, that lightness means that it has aged far better. Leacock's
reference to the 'Gloomy Man' is particularly apposite - the reader is at
once reminded of a host of caricatures and sketches involving just such a
figure; the poem need go into no further detail. And after all, social
setups come and go, but painful people will always be with us <g>.

Constructionwise, the poem is fairly straightforward - it carries itself
forward in a smoothly uninterrupted series of rhyming couplets, all the way
until the last verse, where a variation of both the rhyme scheme and the
metre picks up the pace in tandem with the narrator's shifting into a more
vehement tone. Nice.

Biography:

  Stephen Leacock was a shaggy, handsome, colorful, Canadian who proved to
  his countrymen that humour was almost respectable and certainly
  profitable, and delighted the world with his wit from the end of the
  Edwardian era until the middle of World War II.

  He succeeded Mark Twain in 1910 as the foremost literary Stephen Leacock
  lived in and is identified with two very dissimilar Canadian milieus; one
  a small Ontario town (Orillia), the other a cosmopolitan Quebec metropolis
  (Montreal). As a fluently multi-lingual academic with a brilliant mind and
  a great flair for teaching the essence of things, he wintered and worked
  in Montreal for four decades; for twenty-eight years as chairman of the
  Department of Economics and Political Science at McGill University.

  During summers in Orillia, Leacock always retired early and rose at dawn
  to write for several hours in a study above the boathouse. Leaving most of
  the day free for sailing and fishing and supervising his big garden and
  small farm. He wrote about both places. Indeed there was rarely a day or a
  dawn when he did not write. His thirty-five volumes of humour followed one
  another at an average rate of one a year. He also wrote twenty-seven other
  books of history, biography, criticism, economics and Political science
  humorist in North America.

        -- [broken link] http://www.transdata.ca/~leacock/bio.html

Links:

  Lampman's "To a Millionaire": poem #784

  The rest of the Canadian theme was summarised in poem #786

  The Stephen Leacock museum: [broken link] http://www.transdata.ca/~leacock/

  The National Library of Canada site on Leacock:
    [broken link] http://www.nlc-bnc.ca/leacock/index-e.html

-martin

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