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Brahma -- Andrew Lang

The poem that inspired this week's theme, suggested by Suresh
Ramasubramanian:
(Poem #949) Brahma
 If the wild bowler thinks he bowls,
   Or if the batsman thinks he's bowled,
 They know not, poor misguided souls,
   They too shall perish unconsoled.
 I am the batsman and the bat,
   I am the bowler and the ball,
 The umpire, the pavilion cat,
   The roller, pitch, and stumps, and all.
-- Andrew Lang
Here's the original:

 "Brahma"

 If the red slayer think he slays,
   Or if the slain think he is slain,
 They know not well the subtle ways
   I keep, and pass, and turn again.

 Far or forgot to me is near;
   Shadow and sunlight are the same;
 The vanish'd gods to me appear;
   And one to me are shame and fame.

 They reckon ill who leave me out;
   When me they fly, I am the wings;
 I am the doubter and the doubt,
   And I the hymn the Brahmin sings.

 The strong gods pine for my abode,
   And pine in vain the sacred Seven;
 But thou, meek lover of the good!
   Find me, and turn thy back on heaven.

        -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

In a kinder, gentler world, you might easily have seen Emerson's "Brahma"
featuring on the Minstrels in its own right. It's a fairly straightforward
meditation, phrased with a confidence worthy of an all-encompassing Being;
it captures the idea of Brahma succinctly, and with greater accuracy than
most philosophical treatises; and it has its share of memorable lines
(especially the first and sixth couplets).

Alas, it was not to be. Not after Andrew Lang worked his magic, at any rate.
The easiest poem to parody is one that takes itself too seriously [1], and
Emerson's "Brahma" falls headlong into this trap. It's a decent enough poem,
but it's unbearably pompous, and Lang skewers this pomposity with relish.
His "Brahma" is irreverent, surreal, and joyful; he transforms the original
from the sublime to the ridiculous, and then transcends it.

thomas.

[1] Actually, most egregiously bad poems (whether or not they're susceptible
to parody) do tend to take themselves too seriously; it's their defining
feature. The unforgettable [2] works of Julia Moore and William McGonagall
are prime examples of this fact; their immortality stems as much from their
creators' earnestness as from their own ghastliness.

Of course, one must take care not to reverse the syllogism; it is entirely
possible for a poem to take itself seriously without being a crime against
the language. I would even go so far as to put "Brahma" (the original, that
is) into this category; it's not a bad poem per se; it's just that the
parody is so much better...

[2] Word chosen with the utmost of care :)

[Minstrels Links]

This week's theme is Cricket:
Poem #946, Vitai Lampada -- Sir Henry Newbolt
Poem #947, Ballad of a Homeless Bat -- John Kendal
Poem #948, Grand Rapids Cricket Club -- Julia A. Moore
Poem #949, Brahma -- Andrew Lang
Poem #686, Nicholas Cricket -- Joyce Maxner

Two wonderfully bad poets:
Poem #948, Grand Rapids Cricket Club -- Julia A. Moore
Poem #343, The Tay Bridge Disaster  -- William McGonagall

53 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

TimeRound said...

On
_Andrew Lang_
([broken link] http://www.cs.rice.edu/~ssiyer/minstrels/index_poet_L.html#Lang)
Date : 24 Nov 2001 1stLine: If the wild bowler t...

Small tin ears hear only small tin sounds.

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