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Psycholophon -- Gelett Burgess

Since Thomas mentioned translated poetry...
(Poem #334) Psycholophon
(Supposed to Be Translated from the Old Parsee)

Twine then the rays
  Round her soft Theban tissues.
All will be as She says,
  When the dead Past reissues.
Matters not what nor where,
  Hark, to the moon's dim cluster!
How was her heavy hair
  Lithe as a feather-duster!
Matters not when nor whence;
Sound make the song, not sense,
  Thus I inhibit!
-- Gelett Burgess

Parsee: The language of Persia under the Sassanian kings

It was to Burgess's great annoyance that his 'Purple Cow' grew to eclipse
all his other work, and in a spirit of fairness I decided to run at least
one other poem of his. However, most of what I've read of his has been
rather weak children's poetry, nowhere near as good or as whimsical as the
purple cow pair.

Today's poem is not quite what I'd call whimsical either, but it's certainly
strange. The semimystical vagueness and the twisted grammar are of course a
parody on translated poetry, but not a particularly well-done one. And the
poem doesn't make enough sense to justify its failure as nonsense. On the
other hand, though, I couldn't really resist a poem that used the word
'flittertigibbet' [1]<g>.

[1] proper spelling 'flibbertigibbet', a flighty or frivolous woman


The Purple Cow, and a biography of Burgess, can be found at poem #120


p.s. Does anyone know what the title refers to?

21 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Abraham Thomas said...


'Flibbertigibbet' was invented by none other than the Bard: it's the
name of one of the five spirits ('foul fiends') that possesses the Fool
(Edgar) in King Lear:

in Act III, Scene iv:

Edgar: This is the foul fiend Flibbertigibbet: he begins at curfew, and
walks till the first cock; he gives the web and the pin, squints the
eye, and makes the hare-lip; mildews the white wheat, and hurts the poor
creature of earth.
Withold footed thrice the old;
He met the night-mare, and her nine-fold;
Bid her alight,
And her troth plight,
And, aroint thee, witch, aroint thee!

And again in Act IV, Scene i:

Edgar: Both stile and gate, horse-way and foot-path. Poor Tom hath been
scared out of his good wits: bless thee, good man's son, from the foul
fiend! five fiends have been in poor Tom at once; of lust, as Obidicut;
Hobbididence, prince of dumbness; Mahu, of stealing; Modo, of murder;
Flibbertigibbet, of mopping and mowing, who since possesses chambermaids
and waiting-women. So, bless thee, master!

(Note the 'mopping and mowing [which] possesses chambermaids and
waiting-women' - hence the modern sense of the word, 'a flighty or
frivolous woman'.)


Abraham Thomas said...

Brewer has this to say:

"Shakespeare got it from Bishop Harsnet's account of the Spanish
invasion, where we are told of forty fiends which the Jesuits cast out,
and among the number was Fliberdigibet."

-- Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable

mweiss2 said...

Careful, Abraham Thomas. The Fool and Edgar are two different characters. But the words are Edgar's.

Miriam Weiss

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