Archive for the ‘Poetry’ Category
© 2016 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.
It’s a good thing Christmas is already done and gone; I would hate to complicate the stockings for any toddlers who might accidentally see this post and become corrupted at a very early age. But, oh heck, it’s bound to happen someday, what difference does it make if that day is today?
Recently, for some unknown reason, I began reflecting on my childhood experiences, particularly on the little ditties my playmates and I used to sing between our giggles. Whoever wrote the lyrics, I have no idea; the tunes, though, went with familiar songs from operas…although we were not acquainted with any operas at that age (5- to 8-years-old).
Here’s the first one; the tune’s source I don’t know, but it was well-known — perhaps “Dance of the Seven Veils” from Richard Strauss’ opera Salome (?), or the “Bacchanale” from Camille Saint-Saens’ opera Samson and Dalila (?):
“All the girls in France
wear tissue paper pants.
All the girls in Spain
go naked in the rain.”
Now, who came up with those verses? The author surely must have been an adult; it is highly unlikely that any child wrote them. I want to make it entirely clear here that the depictions of national habits are fabricated…false. And I do not believe the author of those scandalous lines was intentionally being derogatory; he (or she) was more probably just depending on the countries’ names as sources for rhyme words, just as many of our naughtier limericks include “Nantucket”.
What interests me now, though, is the question: To what extent did our singing those ditties reflect our level of developing knowledge about what is naughty? Actually, in my case it is an unanswerable conundrum. My memory is not that retrievable or specific; I do well just to recall having sung them when I was so young.
And here’s the second, sung to the “Toréador Song” chorus in Georges Bizet’s opera Carmen:
“Toréador, don’t spit on the floor.
Use a cuspidor; that’s what it’s for.”
Those lines, of course, are not “naughty” in the usual sense of the term, merely slightly gross. I can credit them for at least causing me to learn what a “cuspidor” is, for I had never seen one and did not see one until many years later, in a movie.
Finally, here is one which I suppose we can say is derogatory, although not against any nation or even any particular persons. The words are to be sung to the “Bridal Chorus” music from Richard Wagner’s opera Lohengrin:
“Here comes the bride,
Big, fat and wide;
Here comes the groom,
Skinny as a broom.”
Now, on what occasion would any child sing that?! Only during those times when two or more of them are together and acting silly — which happens frequently; or at least did during my early childhood. I believe you will agree with me that the verse is snide, and to that limited but still hurtful extent “naughty”. Many children, I believe, sometimes feel impelled to be cruel in what they say: What child hasn’t yelled at a parent he/she loves but who is denying them something, “I hate you!”?
Very young children are not as “innocent” as parents and politicians often proclaim them to be.
©1962, 1964, 2013, 2016 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.
Here it is Valentine’s Day morning and it just dawned on me that perhaps I should have resurrected some of my old love poems and included them in the February 11 post along with the essays.
Don’t expect seductive poems from me, people. When I was in a seducing mood in my youth, poetry was seldom on my mind, although I could be incidentally poetic in my conversations with or about a few coeds. For instance, one day while I was sitting in the student center lounge with a young man and a young woman — both acquaintances of several months — I looked at the woman and spontaneously said, “Rhonda, you’re Eve, the apple, and the serpent all rolled into one.”
The young man glanced at me and said, “You’re feeling poetic, aren’t you?”
“Not really,” I replied. “That thought just occurred to me.”
Another time shortly afterwards, I was dating a young lady with one of the most beautiful necks I have ever seen. While discussing her with a friend I mentioned her neck and told him that I had nicknamed her “Fawn”. A few weeks later, when I and “Fawn” walked into another student’s apartment where a small party was happening, my friend, who was sitting on a couch near the door, announced, “Deerslayer!” I never mentioned to the young lady that I had given her a nickname, so of course she did not gather the allusion intended by my friend’s exclamation. I have since then regretted that I did not inform the lady of her nickname: I think it was not only apt but also complimentary.
I have no prejudice against “sweet” love poems. It is just that when my thoughts turn to romance it is usually after the affair is over, so the poems tend to be melancholic, ironic, or cynical. I must try to write a “sweet” before-the-affair love poem, just to see if I can do it without smearing the lines with licorice.
Well, enough of a preface. Here is the URL to those love poems I promised you. Just click on the post’s heading. Happy Valentine’s Day everybody!
© 1968, 2016 By Bob Litton
NOTE TO READERS: Almost in self-defense, I feel I must provide the exculpatory background for the poem published here today. In 1968, when I composed the first version, I was a fairly young man and still wrestling with some anger toward my parents for not providing me with a “happy home” like some of my friends seemed blessed with. The poem (as I deem it) was a seepage of that anger.
As I grew older, however, much of that anger dissipated and I began to view my parents in a more charitable light; I began to recall their difficulties and benefices as often as their faults. A growing awareness of my own weaknesses certainly contributed to the forgiveness.
I showed the poem to my professor in Old English, hoping for at least a bland approval. Then he surprised me by asking me to read it to our Anglo-Saxon seminar class. That was undoubtedly a mistake, since I was the only male in a class of ten students. I don’t think any of the ladies appreciated it; at any rate, none of them applauded after I had finished reading.
∗ Although the “models” for the two characters in this cameo production were my parents, the full scene is not meant to be complete portraits of them: The production is intended to be a broader satire, as is hinted in the title. The widow here is viewed as typical of some women, but not all women. The same is true of the “first man”.
∗ I kept the poem in my files for decades, not sure what to do with it. On the one hand, even I grew to find its “cynicism” a bit overdone and its tone too critical of my parents (for I continued to view them primarily as models here). On the other hand, I retained some feeling of pride in the imagery and rhetorical value of several of the lines and, as always, relished my talent for irony. Oh, how I love irony!
∗ Anyway, I took it out of the files today and worked it over some, particularly in an effort to improve some of the rhythmical parts. I doubt that I was very successful, but I do think it is at least slightly better than the original version. Scansion was never a strength in me.
So, please, dear readers, try to concentrate on the rhetoric and the irony and don’t become deflected by the cynicism.
∗The red asterisks above indicate paragraph indentions. For some reason I have not been able to fathom, the editing page will accept some of my indentions but not others. And I have given up trying to correct the malfunctions.
Framed where the stair turns, her first man smiles —
sketched in the flesh, painted in absentia,
sepia-and-umber-toned like a Dürer print.
Gray tendrils from ledges of brow
curl down coppery loam toward gold-flecked iris.
Filled with actions and fortunes outside
this mundane scene, one more rainbow’s pot
grandly refracts in his Balboan eyes.
His pollen-drugged thoughts disperse,
cast adrift upon disclaimed, illicit streams.
“Don’t we come out of the soil to leave it —
to seek the sun, bowing upward through
its radiance, hungry for heaven’s nutrient,
disdaining the toilsome tunneling of a root?
The meshes of a root! Entangling itself
confusedly in the dankness of the earth,
while beyond a shuttered window the sun…laughs…”
But since the window opened to night, not day,
he paused fatally the lunar interim,
an orchid wilting on the widow’s bosom.
Now she, broad-faced lily plucked from the pond —
nourished with cold cream here — eyes him warily
as she descends the clef-curve of the stair.
Fearful of the sun’s leer — with its jaundice
that burns into amber — glistening, yes,
like a fly’s neck — she shuts the shutters. Clack!
Woman’s woes concretized streak her hair,
counted each day with petulant lips
redundantly before a two-faced mirror:
“I must rinse it tomorrow,” she sighs.
On the couch…just so…composed with a pill,
she still rummages for the witch’s brew
or whatever the ad of the living:
auguries, faith-healers, folk medicine ─
anything but gamble and scramble for fool’s gold,
as he did! Motion is always a circle, it seems.
And this now man who lumps in his bed and wheezes!
Why didn’t someone warn her? Foolish girl,
to marry again in the giddiness of death’s divorce.
She knows at last: This one, too, won’t blot the sun.
At the edge of lamplight she pinches from her lips
an idea, “After he’s dead, I’ll get a dog.”
©2016 By Bob Litton
There were periods in my life when I earned a living employing words. And I have read many more words through a lifetime, a lot of which I never have used in my own compositions. I had to look too many of them up in a dictionary or guess their meanings from the contexts; one such term is “fascicle”, which I came upon yesterday in a book about the poems disguised as prose in Emily Dickinson’s letters. That word was used in this sentence: “The poem follows a progression found in some of Dickinson’s other nature poems of the fascicle years: first a simple description of nature and then, in a later stanza, the leap to the transcendental level.” And that is followed by an ambiguous use of the word transitive in one of her briefer poems:
That a pansy is transitive,
is its only pang.
This, precluding that,
is indeed divine.
Like most English words, the above two terms have more than one meaning. Looking them both up in my dictionary, I inferred that fascicle, as intended by the critic, refers to Dickinson’s habit of bundling several poems together, punching a couple of holes through the pages, and running strings through them—making her own books; for, one of the meanings of fascicle is “one of the divisions of a book published in parts.”
As for transitive, I sensed while reading Emily’s poem that she was using that word in the same sense I would have used transitory or transient, meaning “of brief duration/temporary.” I wondered if her choice had been dictated by a concern for meter and connotation, since transitory contains one syllable more than transitive, and transient summons an image of physical movement, particularly of hoboes, as much as it does of time passing. That poem, a virtual brain-teaser, is difficult enough in its composition and content without adding ambiguous acceptation to the puzzle.
It is not just in academic and poetical works that I find words that halt my reading pace. Recently I was escape-reading in an omnibus volume of Nero Wolfe novels and novellas by Rex Stout. Twice in a single day up popped a word that I had seen before, but long ago, and I could not recall its exact meaning. No dictionary was at hand. I thought I would remember the word and look it up later; I kept on reading; I didn’t remember the word. Such occurrences have happened too many times.
Before I leave Rex Stout’s works, I want to mention an example of how Stout never passed up an opportunity, even in his Nero Wolfe novels, to castigate organizations such as the FBI and even the G. & C. Merriam Company, publisher of Webster’s New International Dictionary, whenever they breached his principles. The first chapter of Gambit (1962) opens with a scene of Wolfe sitting in front of his fireplace, tearing out pages of the new dictionary, and tossing them into the fire. He explains his activity to a new client, who has just entered the room, thus:
‘Do you use ‘infer’ and ‘imply’ interchangeably, Miss Blount?”
She did fine, She said simply, “No.”
“This book says you may. Pfui. I prefer not to interrupt this auto-da-fe. You wish
to consult me?”
I agree with Nero Wolfe’s, i.e. Rex Stout’s, judgment about infer and imply absolutely.
Another problem I have with words, and even proper names, is that I often forget the most common ones — not just the rarely used or more difficult ones — the frequently used ones. And worse still, often I have thought of the word I needed within the previous hour. Naturally, this problem is directly related to my transformation into an old man. If I were not a compulsive writer, perhaps such a weakness would not be as exasperating as it is; but when I have to pause in my typing several minutes — perhaps even pull up an Internet dictionary or call a friend — to recover the desired word, well, that’s just maddening.
And that is one of the reasons I don’t produce as much for this blog as I would like.
© 2015 By Bob Litton
“You find the beauty in ordinary things. Do not lose this ability.”
— Note from a fortune cookie
I love serendipity. It has played such a prominent role in my adult life that I have granted it mystical powers, for the things I find while looking for something else have often spoken eloquently to my mind, my heart, my soul. Sometimes the messages have not been as positive as the epigraph above: sometimes they have been melancholy, but more often they have indeed been enlightening and even funny.
That cookie fortune, for instance, I came upon serendipitously just a few days ago while clearing my computer table of the mass of larger papers on it. Of course, I obtained the fortune months ago when I ate lunch at a local Chinese restaurant. I saved it for some reason I have forgotten; I would surmise, however, that I liked its assessment of me and the sentiment attending that assessment. Even the imperative sentence that follows is appreciable: it both exposes the fragility of the attuneness and enjoins me to nurture it. Not the sort of “fortune” I expect to find in such cookies; it does not predict anything.
So, how does that relate to the above photo of leaves? Well, the more obvious connection should not be difficult, dear reader, for you to perceive. Most people, I believe, look forward to the few weeks when the crisp air causes the leaves of the many trees to change from green to russet, gold, yellow, maroon, brown and even combinations of those colors within the same leaf. The last mentioned aspect is typical of the non-bearing mulberry trees on my apartment’s campus. I have been fascinated and amused by the color combinations in some of the leaves on the sidewalk and the driveway: one leaf, for instance, was a perfect imitation of a soldier’s camouflaged field jacket — tan and olive; another leaf was yellow with small brown dots, almost uniform in size and shape, that reminded me of a ladybug. I picked up four of the leaves the other day and laid them on my computer desk, where I am admiring them now even as they curl with dryness.
I have always enjoyed the color changes of autumn, but it seems that only this year have they meant so much to me that I practically adore them. This sudden acuteness to the sight of leaves is akin, I believe, to the vividness that the sounds of the acorns falling and rolling down my roof revealed; remember that I wrote about the acorns a few blog posts ago (Oct. 3). All the senses participate in this miracle of perception.
You remember, don’t you, Karen Carpenter’s song “Where Do I go from here?”? The early lines are:
Autumn days lying on a bed of leaves
Watching clouds up through the trees
You said our love was more than time.
It’s colder now;
The trees are bare and nights are long;
I can’t get warm since you’ve been gone….
Well, without the evocative music — not to mention Karen’s voice — some of the point I wish to make loses some of its emphasis. Those words remind me of my youthful days in Dallas, during the early winter, when the skies were a solid gray, with sagging clouds promising snow. The darkness of such a day was paralleled by the stillness of it. Someone unattuned to the fall season might imagine that such a scene would be depressing, but it did not strike me that way; as long as there was not a strong, cold wind I felt comfort in that setting. Now that the seasons are vanishing, the romance has diminished also.
Another old song — from ancient days when lyricists actually said something worth paying attention to in their lines — is “Autumn Leaves”, one of Andy Williams’ first hits:
The falling leaves drift by the window
The autumn leaves of red and gold.
I see your lips, the summer kisses,
The sun-burned hands I used to hold.
Since you went away the nights grow long
And soon I’ll hear old winter’s song,
But I miss you most of all my darling
When autumn leaves start to fall.
Now, I will concede that these two songs do reflect melancholy, but it is a melancholy of gentle love…of the yearning for coziness which only two bodies hugging each other can provide…which a fireplace cannot.
We also view the color-changing and falling leaves as symbolic of the transiency of Life itself. The curse in the fruit of Eden’s tree is not just new awareness of nakedness and fear; it also includes more momentously the anticipation of death. While fore-knowledge of death is not restricted to humans, we do seem to have a more lifelong curiosity and occasional fear of it; perhaps what sets our knowledge of death apart from that of other creatures is that we can visualize it, to an extent, as pre-existing within ourselves.
But then, after the leaves have been swept away and a few snowfalls have bonneted the bare limbs for a few months, the buds of new leaves appear. I wonder how many people, like me, are a bit disconcerted by this cycling from chartreuse and forest greens to a multitude of fiery tones. And then their disappearance. Yes, it is a topsy-turvy world where winter symbolizes our giving up the ghost, and then the spring interrupts our acceptance with a “Hey, hold on there! Don’t give up just yet! There is more to this show!”
And so, we start all over again…a bit surprised, a bit amused, a bit perplexed.
To add a little seasoning to the above essay, readers, you might want to check out the YouTube presentations of the two songs I mentioned. Try the URL’s below:
“Where Do I Go From Here?” (Karen Carpenter)
“Autumn Leaves” (Andy Williams)
You know what? It is darn near impossible to guesstimate how many people regularly visit my blog. (I like that word “visit”, by the way, because it does not absolutely imply reading…or reading all the way through, anyway.) So, I have no idea how many people this notice will affect: I assume at least a dozen, six of them my friends, and the remaining six being residents in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Canada, Australia, Germany, and France (from whence visitors’ flags most often appear when I post a new essay, poem, and other stuff). Over the past 2-1/4 years, 138 WordPress bloggers have signed up as “followers”, but I suspect that more than half of them have drifted away for any one or more of several good reasons. But it all boils down to this situation: I am addressing here the non-followers because, if I do not write some explanation, they might become curious—maybe even concerned—when they cannot view any new post after continual visits: I do not want them to waste their time.
Now, I know I have abandoned the blog at least twice in the past for brief periods, although on one of those occasions I at least covered my rear by saying I was taking a “sabbatical” for an indeterminate period. Let’s face it: I do not have much will power, and I confess I am addicted to blogging, in fact to the Internet itself, maybe even to this damn computer. However, all this sitting in front of a computer and typing is taking a toll on my body and my psyche: I need to get outside for exercise and sunshine. So, I am hoping I can be resolute this time.
I do intend to keep my blog operative for two reasons, the lesser reason first: (1) Once you shut down a WordPress blog, you cannot reopen it; and (2) some readers occasionally revisit certain older posts. A few of the most popular of the older posts are: “Secular Epiphanies” (a runaway favorite), “Favorite Bars” (rather long but vibrant), “Pocahontas’ Legacy: A Serendipitous Anecdote” (a surprising hit), “McGuffey’s Eclectic Reader vs. Dick and Jane” (everybody can relate to this one), “Surviving the Survivalists” (heavy stuff but brief at least) and the three posts about the young Dutch singer Amira Willighagen, starting with “A ‘Shout-out’ for Amira” (she, not my writing, was most of the draw for these posts). I would not want to deprive the world of those masterpieces.
I want my regular readers to be assured that I much appreciate them, and I really have enjoyed watching all those small national flags pop up on my blogsite (about 170 at last count). As I mentioned above, I do not know if I have the will power to leave off blogging for very long. I hope I can, for the sake of my physical and mental health.
Au revoir, mes amis,