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Shakesperian Readings - 3 -- Phoebe Cary

(Poem #1083) Shakesperian Readings - 3
 My father had a daughter got a man,
 As it might be, perhaps, were I good-looking,
 I should, your lordship.
 And what's her residence?
 A hut my lord, she never owned a house,
 But let her husband, like a graceless scamp,
 Spend all her little means, -- she thought she ought, --
 And in a wretched chamber, on an alley,
 She worked like masons on a monument,
 Earning their bread. Was not this love indeed?
-- Phoebe Cary
Note: A parody of Viola's speech in Twelfth Night, II.iv.107-15

  [Viola]  My father had a daughter lov'd a man
           As it might be perhaps, were I a woman,
           I should your lordship.
  [Orsino] And what's her history?
  [Viola]  A blank, my lord; she never told her love,
           But let concealment like a worm i' th' bud
           Feed on her damask cheek; she pin'd in thought,
           And with a green and yellow melancholy
           She sate like Patience on a monument,
           Smiling at grief. Was not this love indeed?


  Cary collected three separate parodies together under the title
  "Shakesperian [sic] Readings"; since they were entirely distinct otherwise
  I decided to run this one as a standalone poem.

Today's skilful little parody is a deceptively gentle commentary on the
difference between Romance and Reality. Cary cleaves very closely indeed to
the Shakespearean original, following the structure, development and even
the sound of Viola's lines, twisting them subtly but deftly. This is a true
parody (as opposed to a pastiche) insofar as it satirises the original at
the same time as it follows its form.

The poem's opening salvo, "as it might be, perhaps, were I good looking",
sets the tone admirably, contrasting at once the pragmatism of Cary's
narrator with Viola's deliberate dissemblings. The rest of the poem develops
the theme, contrasting the unglamorous but oft-encountered case of a poor
woman slaving to support a wastrel husband with the 'romantic' heroine
pining away for a love she will not name. Cary's heroine, we feel, cannot
afford the time for such self-inflicted griefs; her problems are far more
real and concrete. The main impact of the poem, though, lies in its final
line, the one that mirrors precisely Shakespeare's, and invites the reader
to ponder the same question - "Was this not love indeed?". And the
implication is, definitely, that they can't *both* be right.



Another parody that follows the sound of the original closely is Bierce's
"Elegy" (Poem #400)

All three Shakesperian Readings:

And a nascent Collection of parodies on Minstrels:
  [broken link]

Under Which Lyre -- W H Auden

Guest poem submitted by Alan Kornheiser
(Poem #1082) Under Which Lyre
A Reactionary Tract for the Times

 Ares at last has quit the field,
 The bloodstains on the bushes yield
      To seeping showers,
 And in their convalescent state
 The fractured towns associate
      With summer flowers.

 Encamped upon the college plain
 Raw veterans already train
      As freshman forces;
 Instructors with sarcastic tongue
 Shepherd the battle-weary young
      Through basic courses.

 Among bewildering appliances
 For mastering the arts and sciences
      They stroll or run,
 And nerves that steeled themselves to slaughter
 Are shot to pieces by the shorter
      Poems of Donne.

 Professors back from secret missions
 Resume their proper eruditions,
      Though some regret it;
 They liked their dictaphones a lot,
 T hey met some big wheels, and do not
      Let you forget it.

 But Zeus' inscrutable decree
 Permits the will-to-disagree
      To be pandemic,
 Ordains that vaudeville shall preach
 And every commencement speech
      Be a polemic.

 Let Ares doze, that other war
 Is instantly declared once more
 ’Twixt those who follow
 Precocious Hermes all the way
 And those who without qualms obey
 Pompous Apollo.

 Brutal like all Olympic games,
 Though fought with smiles and Christian names
      And less dramatic,
 This dialectic strife between
 The civil gods is just as mean,
      And more fanatic.

 What high immortals do in mirth
 Is life and death on Middle Earth;
      Their a-historic
 Antipathy forever gripes
 All ages and somatic types,
      The sophomoric

 Who face the future’s darkest hints
 With giggles or with prairie squints
      As stout as Cortez,
 And those who like myself turn pale
 As we approach with ragged sail
      The fattening forties.

 The sons of Hermes love to play
 And only do their best when they
      Are told they oughtn’t;
 Apollo’s children never shrink
 From boring jobs but have to think
      Their work important.

 Related by antithesis,
 A compromise between us is
 Respect perhaps but friendship never:
 Falstaff the fool confronts forever
       The prig Prince Hal.

 If he would leave the self alone,
 Apollo’s welcome to the throne,
      Fasces and falcons;
 He loves to rule, has always done it;
 The earth would soon, did Hermes run it,
      Be like the Balkans.

 But jealous of our god of dreams,
 His common-sense in secret schemes
       To rule the heart;
 Unable to invent the lyre,
 Creates with simulated fire
      Official art.

 And when he occupies a college,
 Truth is replaced by Useful Knowledge;
      He pays particular
 Attention to Commercial Thought,
 Public Relations, Hygiene, Sport,
      In his curricula.

 Athletic, extrovert and crude,
 For him, to work in solitude
      Is the offence,
 The goal a populous Nirvana:
 His shield bears this device: Mens sana
      Qui mal y pense.

 Today his arms, we must confess,
 From Right to Left have met success,
      His banners wave
 From Yale to Princeton, and the news
 From Broadway to the Book Reviews
      Is very grave.

 His radio Homers all day long
 In over-Whitmanated song
      That does not scan,
 With adjectives laid end to end,
 Extol the doughnut and commend
      The Common Man.

 His, too, each homely lyric thing
 On sport or spousal love or spring
      Or dogs or dusters,
 Invented by some court-house bard
 For recitation by the yard
      In filibusters.

 To him ascend the prize orations
 And sets of fugal variations
      On some folk-ballad,
 While dietitians sacrifice
 A glass of prune-juice or a nice
      Marsh-mallow salad.

 Charged with his compound of sensational
 Sex plus some undenominational
      Religious matter,
 Enormous novels by co-eds
 Rain down on our defenceless heads
      Till our teeth chatter.

 In fake Hermetic uniforms
 Behind our battle-line, in swarms
     That keep alighting,
 His existentialists declare
 That they are in complete despair,
     Yet go on writing.

 No matter; He shall be defied;
 White Aphrodite is on our side:
     What though his threat
 To organize us grow more critical?
 Zeus willing, we, the unpolitical,
     Shall beat him yet.

 Lone scholars, sniping from the walls
 Of learned periodicals,
     Our facts defend,
 Our intellectual marines,
 Landing in little magazines
     Capture a trend.

 By night our student Underground
 At cocktail parties whisper round
     From ear to ear;
 Fat figures in the public eye
 Collapse next morning, ambushed by
     Some witty sneer.

 In our morale must lie our strength:
 So, that we may behold at length
     Routed Apollo’s
 Battalions melt away like fog,
 Keep well the Hermetic Decalogue,
     Which runs as follows:—

 Thou shalt not do as the dean pleases,
 Thou shalt not write thy doctor’s thesis
     On education,
 Thou shalt not worship projects nor
 Shalt thou or thine bow down before

 Thou shalt not answer questionnaires
 Or quizzes upon World-Affairs,
     Nor with compliance
 Take any test. Thou shalt not sit
 With statisticians nor commit
     A social science.

 Thou shalt not be on friendly terms
 With guys in advertising firms,
     Nor speak with such
 As read the Bible for its prose,
 Nor, above all, make love to those
     Who wash too much.

 Thou shalt not live within thy means
 Nor on plain water and raw greens.
     If thou must choose
 Between the chances, choose the odd;
 Read The New Yorker, trust in God;
     And take short views.
-- W H Auden
 (Phi Beta Kappa Poem, Harvard, 1946)

Auden had an interesting war and an interesting peace. Ignoring the
obvious--- the GIs were back on campus after the war, of course, and the
contrast between who they were and where they'd been with what they had to
study must have tickeled Auden no end---let us not forget that Auden had
made the ultimate sacrifice to fight the Nazis...he'd gotten married, to
help a refugee out.  ("What else are buggers for?" he had asked.)

The poem is the lesser Auden, the entertaining Auden, with the perfectly
structured rhyme and rhythm scheme hiding wonderfully barbed lines. To read
it is to adore it, and copies of its final lines decorate graduate student
offices the breadth of the country. But read it again...the irony is deep.
The blood is yet fresh.  And do not the opening lines remind you of the
opening lines of Richard III?


[Martin adds]

This also reminds me strongly of Auden's "The Fall of Rome" (Poem #494), both
in mood and in rhythm (Sunil Iyengar, who submitted the latter poem, seems to
agree - see his commentary).

The Dilettante: A Modern Type -- Paul Laurence Dunbar

(Poem #1081) The Dilettante: A Modern Type
 He scribbles some in prose and verse,
     And now and then he prints it;
 He paints a little,--gathers some
     Of Nature's gold and mints it.

 He plays a little, sings a song,
     Acts tragic roles or funny;
 He does, because his love is strong,
     But not, oh, not for money!

 He studies almost everything
     From social art to science;
 A thirsty mind, a flowing spring,
     Demand and swift compliance.

 He looms above the sordid crowd,
     At least through friendly lenses;
 While his mama looks pleased and proud,
     And kindly pays expenses.
-- Paul Laurence Dunbar
If poets are observers of the human condition, it is unsurprising that they
often turn a critical eye upon some of its more pretentious specimens.
Indeed, setting up a figure for the sole purpose of puncturing it seems to be
a popular pastime among the more acid sort of poet - and a welcome one,
having given us gems like Parker's "Epitaph for a Darling Lady" and Bierce's

Today's poem is a fine example of the genre. While Dunbar doesn't exhibit the
sparkling acid wit of Bierce or Parker, his gentler style nonetheless leaves
room for sly asides like "but not, of course, for money", and, of course, the
well-timed and delivered punchline. In the end, we get the familiar thrill of
seeing a poet address a common annoyance, and say the things we'd like to in a
way we cannot.



There's a biography of Dunbar at

Dunbar has been sadly unrepresented on Minstrels (something that shall
definitely change), but there's a collection of his works up at

The Lama -- Ogden Nash

(Poem #1080) The Lama
 The one-l lama,
 He's a priest.
 The two-l llama,
 He's a beast.
 And I will bet
 A silk pajama
 There isn't any
 Three-l lllama.*
-- Ogden Nash
(to which Nash appended the footnote
  *The author's attention has been called to a type of conflagration known
  as a three-alarmer. Pooh.

This is probably Nash's best known poem, and for good reason. Not only does
he provide a wonderfully quotable mnemonic, he goes on to extend it with an
almost Carrollian piece of whimsy, carrying the progression through to its
logical conclusion (why *isn't* there a three-l lllama anyway?). And the
footnote is a delightful piece of icing on the cake, there being something
so Nashian about the pun that I have to wonder whether it was part of the
poem all along.



'llama' would, of course, be pronounced 'yama' in the original Spanish, though
it has been quite thoroughly Anglicised by now.

mehitabel and her kittens -- Don Marquis

Guest poem sent in by Suresh Ramasubramanian
(Poem #1079) mehitabel and her kittens
 well boss
 mehitabel the cat
 has reappeared in her old
 haunts with a
 flock of kittens
 three of them this time

 archy she says to me
 the life of a female
 artist is continually
 hampered what in hell
 have i done to deserve
 all these kittens
 i look back on my life
 and it seems to me to be
 just one damned kitten
 after another
 i am a dancer archy
 and my only prayer
 is to be allowed
 to give my best to my art
 but just as i feel
 that i am succeeding
 in my life work
 along comes another batch
 of these damned kittens
 it is not archy
 that i am shy on mother love
 god knows i care for
 the sweet little things
 curse them
 but am i never to be allowed
 to live my own life
 i have purposely avoided
 matrimony in the interests
 of the higher life
 but i might just
 as well have been a domestic
 slave for all the freedom
 i have gained
 i hope none of them
 gets run over by
 an automobile
 my heart would bleed
 if anything happened
 to them and i found it out
 but it isn t fair archy
 it isn t fair
 these damned tom cats have all
 the fun and freedom
 if i was like some of these
 green eyed feline vamps i know
 i would simply walk out on the
 bunch of them and
 let them shift for themselves
 but i am not that kind
 archy i am full of mother love
 my kindness has always
 been my curse
 a tender heart is the cross i bear
 self sacrifice always and forever
 is my motto damn them
 i will make a home
 for the sweet innocent
 little things
 unless of course providence
 in his wisdom should remove
 them they are living
 just now in an abandoned
 garbage can just behind
 a made over stable in greenwich
 village and if it rained
 into the can before i could
 get back and rescue them
 i am afraid the little
 dears might drown
 it makes me shudder just
 to think of it
 of course if i were a family cat
 they would probably
 be drowned anyhow
 sometimes i think
 the kinder thing would be
 for me to carry the
 sweet little things
 over to the river
 and drop them in myself
 but a mother s love archy
 is so unreasonable
 something always prevents me
 these terrible
 conflicts are always
 presenting themselves
 to the artist
 the eternal struggle
 between art and life archy
 is something fierce
 my what a dramatic life i have lived
 one moment up the next
 moment down again
 but always gay archy always gay
 and always the lady too
 in spite of hell
 well boss it will
 be interesting to note
 just how mehitabel
 works out her present problem
 a dark mystery still broods
 over the manner
 in which the former
 family of three kittens
 one day she was taking to me
 of the kittens
 and the next day when i asked
 her about them
 she said innocently
 what kittens
 interrogation point
 and that was all
 i could ever get out
 of her on the subject
 we had a heavy rain
 right after she spoke to me
 but probably that garbage can
 leaks so the kittens
 have not yet
 been drowned

-- Don Marquis
well, we haven't had an archy poem since at least a couple of years, i
think.  the last one was on oct 9, 1999, from a cursory look at the
minstrels archives.  i hereby propose to remedy this.

motherhood and career - as seen through the eyes of a cat on her ninth
life whose soul once belonged to cleopatra.

        -srs (all lowercase mail for an all lowercase poem)

[Martin adds]

Suresh is right - we have indeed not had one of these in a while, and I do
thank him for remedying that. One of the things that I like about the Archy
and Mehitabel poems is that they work not just as poems, but as continuing
episodes in a narrative that is enthralling in its own right; Archy and
Mehitabel are characters that we come to care about, and in whose
development we can take an interest quite orthogonal to the (considerable)
poetic merits of the individual pieces. Today's poem is a genuinely moving
glimpse into Mehitabel's moral dilemma, and the ending is as artistically
satisfying as it is disturbing.

Water Lilies -- Sara Teasdale

(Poem #1078) Water Lilies
 If you have forgotten water lilies floating
 On a dark lake among mountains in the afternoon shade,
 If you have forgotten their wet, sleepy fragrance,
     Then you can return and not be afraid.

 But if you remember, then turn away forever
 To the plains and the prairies where pools are far apart,
 There you will not come at dusk on closing water lilies,
     And the shadow of mountains will not fall on your heart.
-- Sara Teasdale
Today's poem addresses one of my favourite themes - that of the longing, not
for a place, but for a particular *kind* of place. Sea poems are perhaps the
most popular examples of the genre, but practically every form of terrain
from the teeming metropolis to the forest primeval has its 'poetic' aspects,
and most have been immortalised in at least one good poem.

'Water Lilies' is definitely one of the good poems. Teasdale's quiet,
understated style fits her subject beautifully - the "dark lake among
mountains in the afternoon shade" is a perfectly self-contained image that
draws the reader into an almost enchanted scene, and makes the last line not
just plausible but believable.


There's a biography of Teasdale at Poem #113

A random sampling of poems along the same lines:
  Poem #3, Gerard Manley Hopkins, "Inversnaid"
  Poem #29, Rudyard Kipling, "The Sea and the Hills"
  Poem #317, Edna St. Vincent Millay, "Inland"
  Poem #510, Lord Byron, "There is a pleasure in the pathless woods"

And on a somewhat related note:
  Poem #238, W. J. Turner, "Romance"


The Plea of the Simla Dancers -- Rudyard Kipling

(Poem #1077) The Plea of the Simla Dancers
     Too late, alas! the song
     To remedy the wrong; --
 The rooms are taken from us, swept and
       garnished for their fate.
     But these tear-besprinkled pages
     Shall attest to future ages
 That we cried against the crime of it --
       too late, alas! too late!

 "What have we ever done to bear this grudge?"
   Was there no room save only in Benmore
 For docket, duftar, and for office drudge,
   That you usurp our smoothest dancing floor?
 Must babus do their work on polished teak?
   Are ball-rooms fittest for the ink you spill?
 Was there no other cheaper house to seek?
   You might have left them all at Strawberry Hill.

 We never harmed you! Innocent our guise,
   Dainty our shining feet, our voices low;
 And we revolved to divers melodies,
   And we were happy but a year ago.
 To-night, the moon that watched our lightsome wiles --
   That beamed upon us through the deodars --
 Is wan with gazing on official files,
   And desecrating desks disgust the stars.

 Nay! by the memory of tuneful nights --
   Nay! by the witchery of flying feet --
 Nay! by the glamour of foredone delights --
   By all things merry, musical, and meet --
 By wine that sparkled, and by sparkling eyes --
   By wailing waltz -- by reckless gallop's strain --
 By dim verandas and by soft replies,
   Give us our ravished ball-room back again!

 Or -- hearken to the curse we lay on you!
   The ghosts of waltzes shall perplex your brain,
 And murmurs of past merriment pursue
   Your 'wildered clerks that they indite in vain;
 And when you count your poor Provincial millions,
   The only figures that your pen shall frame
 Shall be the figures of dear, dear cotillions
   Danced out in tumult long before you came.

 Yea! "See Saw" shall upset your estimates,
   "Dream Faces" shall your heavy heads bemuse,
 Because your hand, unheeding, desecrates
   Our temple; fit for higher, worthier use.
 And all the long verandas, eloquent
   With echoes of a score of Simla years,
 Shall plague you with unbidden sentiment --
   Babbling of kisses, laughter, love, and tears.

 So shall you mazed amid old memories stand,
   So shall you toil, and shall accomplish nought,
 And ever in your ears a phantom Band
   Shall blare away the staid official thought.
 Wherefore -- and ere this awful curse he spoken,
   Cast out your swarthy sacrilegious train,
 And give -- ere dancing cease and hearts be broken --
   Give us our ravished ball-room back again!
-- Rudyard Kipling
 duftar: office
 babu: clerk (especially one literate in English)

Today's poem is pretty enough in a 'minor Kipling' sort of way, but not
really all that outstanding - apart, that is, from the opening verse. That
verse ranks among my favourite pieces of Kipling - haunting, melodious, and,
particularly in the last four lines, capturing an emotion so beautifully and
precisely that it quite transcends the poem to which it is attached and
achieves that universality that is the mark of a perfectly-phrased idea.

The poem itself is, in part, a comment upon the stultifying bureaucracy
that, even today, remains one of the more enduring legacies of the British
occupation of India. A bit of historical background: Simla was, at the time,
the summer capital of British India, and was as such periodically overrun by
the machinery of government.

    Between 1864 and 1939 it was the official 'summer capital' of British
    India, which raised this small town from the status of a mere pleasure
    resort to a powerful community from which the government of the Raj was
    conducted between April and October.
        -- [broken link]

Note, however, that the 'Simla Dancers' in the poem's title do not refer to
native Indian dancers displaced by the invading British bureaucrats; rather,
Kipling seems to be referring to the demise of a very English ballroom (note
the references to cotillions and waltzes, for example). There are other
mentions of Benmore in his work, too - for instance, the following from 'The
Bisara of Pooree':

        Pack went to a dance at Benmore - Benmore was Benmore in those days,
        and not an office

but I could not find any other reference to it - does anyone know the actual
historical facts involved?


Kipling might have been influenced by the following:

        Ahead, to windward and to lee,
          The foaming surges roar:
        "O Holy Virgin ! save us now,
          And we will sin no more!"

        "We vow to lead a holy life;"
          Too late! alas, too late!
        Their vows and plaints to imaged saints
          Cannot avert their fate.

                -- James Kennard Jr., 'Wreck of the "Seguntum". A Ballad.'

  and then again, he might not - the phrase is a simple enough one to hit

An extremely readable piece on Simla:

  Simla didn't exist before the British came, and they built the town in
  their own image, turning their backs on India and trying to imagine they
  were in Sussex. (When they finally retired to Sussex, many of them spent
  the rest of their lives wishing they were back in Simla, which is how it
    -- [broken link],8922,528336,00.html