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August 30, 2007

Morley's Domestic Poetry

Recently I mentioned Christopher Morley. His name may remind you a little of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (Jacob Marley) or of a Conan Doyle adventure (Holmes’ nemesis James Moriarty). On that second count, you might not be too far off. Morley was a BIG Sherlock Holmes fan.

Morley was many things, chief among them, like Adams, he was a columnist, writing The Bowling Green for many years with humor, insight, and everyman-ish viewpoint that makes pleasant reading 80 years later. Though I doubt many employers, then or now, would appreciate his version of the Algonquin round table, the self-titled “Three Hours for Lunch Club”.

He was a prolific writer, putting out over 50 books of humor, fiction, essays and poetry. Several of his books, including Parnassus on Wheels and The Haunted Library are available on Project Guttenburg. 

Another of his projects was editing not one, but two editions of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. Morley himself, like his very good friend Don Marquis (another humorist, columnist, and frequent poet), is himself quite quotable for his wit and opinions on a wide variety of issues. Here's a sampling from The Quotations Home Page and other sources:

“Humor is perhaps a sense of intellectual perspective: an awareness that some things are really important, others not; and that the two kinds are most oddly jumbled in everyday affairs.”

 “A man who has never made a woman angry is a failure in life.”

“When you sell a man a book you don't sell him just twelve ounces of paper and ink and glue - you sell him a whole new life.”  -- from Parnassus on Wheels, (1917)

 “Read, every day, something no one else is reading. Think, every day, something no one else is thinking. Do, every day, something no one else would be silly enough to do. It is bad for the mind to be always part of unanimity. “ 

“No one appreciates the very special genius of your conversations as a dog does. “ 

“People like to imagine that because all our mechanical equipment moves so much faster, that we are thinking faster, too.”

"It's a good thing to turn your mind upside down now and then, like an hour-glass, to let the particles run the other way."   --from The Haunted Bookshop (1919)

“Only the sinner has a right to preach”

“My theology, briefly, is that the universe was dictated, but not signed. “ 

“Life is a foreign language; all men mispronounce it.”

“No man is lonely eating spaghetti; it requires so much attention.” 

“We call a child's mind "small" simply by habit; perhaps it is larger than ours is, for it can take in almost anything without effort”

“We've had bad luck with children; they've all grown up”

“From now until the end of time no one else will ever see life with my eyes, and I mean to make the best of my chance.”

 Cherish all your happy moments; they make a fine cushion for your old age.

While Morley was a Rhodes Scholar who studied History at Oxford, he was also an everyday pedestrian, working in New York and commuting by train to his suburban home on Long Island. He was happily married, and like Adams, could write easily about everything from the milkman to the high price of coal, from washing the dishes to making the last payment on his mortgage.

These pieces on early marriage, parenthood, and domestic life were collected in thee volumes, then anthologized in a volume called Chimneysmoke, published in 1921.  When one of those volumes was published, a critic complained the content "was very domestic" (i.e. too much about 'household' rather than 'important' things). Had the critic been married a few years, he may have made the same comment, but meant something else entirely. Here are some excerpts of Chimneysmoke from Poets’ Corner.


Dedication for a Fireplace

THIS hearth was built for thy delight,

For thee the logs were sawn,

For thee the largest chair, at night,

Is to the chimney drawn.

For thee, dear lass, the match was lit

To yield the ruddy blaze--

May Jack Frost give us joy of it

For many, many days.

Christopher Morley


To A Child

THE greatest poem ever known

Is one all poets have outgrown:

The poetry, innate, untold,

Of being only four years old.

Still young enough to be a part

Of Nature's great impulsive heart,

Born comrade of bird, beast, and tree

And unselfconscious as the bee--

And yet with lovely reason skilled

Each day new paradise to build;

Elate explorer of each sense,

Without dismay, without pretense!

In your unstained transparent eyes

There is no conscience, no surprise:

Life's queer conundrums you accept,

Your strange divinity still kept.

Being, that now absorbs you, all

Harmonious, unit, integral,

Will shred into perplexing bits,--

Oh, contradictions of the wits!

And Life, that sets all things in rhyme,

may make you poet, too, in time--

But there were days, O tender elf,

When you were Poetry itself!

Christopher Morley


Burning Leaves, November

THESE are the folios of April,

All the library of spring,

Missals gilt and rubricated

With the frost's illumining.

Ruthless, we destroy these treasures,

Set the torch with hand profane--

Gone, like Alexandrian vellums,

Like the books of burnt Louvain!

Yet these classics are immortal:

O collectors, have no fear,

For the publisher will issue

New editions every year.

Christopher Morley


The Music Box

AT six--long ere the wintry dawn--

There sounded through the silent hall

To where I lay, with blankets drawn

Above my ears, a plaintive call.

The Urchin, in the eagerness

Of three years old, could not refrain;

Awake, he straightway yearned to dress

And frolic with his clockwork train.

I heard him with a sullen shock.

His sister, by her usual plan,

Had piped us aft at 3 o'clock--

I vowed to quench the little man.

I leaned above him, somewhat stern,

And spoke, I fear, with emphasis--

Ah, how much better, parents learn,

To seal one's sensure with a kiss!

Again the house was dark and still,

Again I lay in slumber's snare,

When down the hall I heard a trill,

A tiny, tinkling, tuneful air--

His music-box! His best-loved toy,

His crib companion every night;

And now he turned to it for joy

While waiting for the lagging light.

How clear, and how absurdly sad

Those tingling pricks of sound unrolled;

They chirped and quavered, as the lad

His lonely little heart consoled.

Columbia, the Ocean's Gem--

(Its only tune) shrilled sweet and faint.

He cranked the chimes, admiring them,

In vigil gay, without complaint.

            The treble music piped and stirred,

The leaping air that was his bliss;

And, as I most contritely heard,

I thanked the all-unconscious Swiss!

The needled jets of melody

Rang slowlier and died away--

The Urchin slept; and it was I

Who lay and waited for the day.

Christopher Morley


All for now,




August 28, 2007

Puzzling News

OK, since there was such an overwhelming reponse to the last puzzles (well, not really) I decided to attempt another. Here is a brief crossword puzzle based on reasonably familiar poets and their significant works. If you don't know an answer, a little searching at Poets' Corner should find everything - a little digging may be required. Ona scale of 1(easy) to 10(tough), this one should be about a 3.

 Click HERE to download the puzzle as a GIF image. This should print OK in portrait mode.

 Send me an e-mail if you like it, or if you are indesperate need of the solution key.

 I'll work on some tougher ones when I get a chance.



August 27, 2007

Tobogganing in August

Last time, we remembered John Kieran. One of John Kieran's contemporaries was Franklin P(Pierce) Adams -  Columnist, Satirist, and Poet -  who served along with Kieran on a popular radio quiz show called Information Please! I've never heard recordings of the show, but always assumed that Peter Sagal's NPR News show, Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me was at least partly modeled after it, with a combination of regulars and guest panelists, and sharply barbed humor.

Adams was a columnist for several New York newspapers, most notably the World and the Tribune. His column "The Conning Tower" ran for nearly 30 years. He was a member of the Algonquin Round Table - a circle of playwrights, actors, critics and humorists that met and traded quips over lunch daily for ten years at the Algonquin Hotel.

Today he is perhaps best remembered for two things - helping start the careers of Dorothy Parker, James Thurber, and Edna St. Vincent Millay (among others), and for a concise little poem about baseball, written after the NY Giants loss in the baseball World Series to the Chicago Cubs, titled Baseball's Sad Lexicon ("Tinker to Evers to Chance") about a double-play that ended the Giants hopes of winning.

Baseball's Sad Lexicon

THESE are the saddest of possible words:
Tinker to Evers to Chance.
Trio of Bear-cubs, fleeter than birds,
Tinker to Evers to Chance.
Ruthlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble,
Making a Giant hit into a double --
Words that are weighty with nothing but trouble:
Tinker to Evers to Chance.

-- Franklin P. Adams

Poems and other satirical pieces from Adams' columns were put together and published in several collections. One of them, Something Else Again appears here in The Poets' Corner collection in its entirety, including several pseudo newspaper articles that are parodies of well-known poems.

Adams enjoyed writing everthing from parodies of Latin poets Horace and Catullus to poems about his barber, waiter, landlord and grocery delivery boy. He even wrote an ode to his thesaurus. In Tobogganing on Parnassus he included this poem - which just may have been inspired by his friend Kieran, the naturalist.

The Amateur Botanist

A primrose by a river's brim
Primula vulgaris was to him,
  And it was nothing more;
A pansy, delicately reared,
Viola tricolor appeared
  In true botanic lore.

That which a pink the layman deems
Dianthus caryophyllus seems
  To any flower-fan; or
A sunflower, in that talk of his,
Annuus helianthus is,
  And it is nothing more.

By the way, while it is meant metaphorically (Tobogganing on Parnassus = a rough treatment of Classical Literature) you actually can go skiing on Mout Parnassus, so I suppose you could toboggan. I have only been there once, to visit Delphi, during a very hot August. As you might guess, there was no snow in sight.

Christopher Morley also used Parnassus as a physical metaphor in his short novel, Parnassus on Wheels (the text is readily available on the Web now). More about Morley, and his 'Domestic Poetry' later.


August 22, 2007

Kieran and Rudkin

"I am a part of all I have read."
--John Kieran (1892-1981) American Journalist, Radio and Television Personality

To start of the school year my son's AP English teacher gave his students the assignment of compiling a list of all of the books, plays, and poems they have ever read. I am curious to see what the purpose of the assignment is. Perhaps he is trying to find out whether they read at all, considering today's media distractions, or whether, by the age of 17 or 18 they are reading any material that worthy of consideration for the AP reading list.

I was also reminded of a news blurb I read last year that announced several midwestern libraries, needing more floor space for DVD's and Computers, had gone through their circulation records and were beginning to discard any books which had not been checked out in at least two years. This included, sadly, many works by the like of Hemingway and Steinbeck. There was some outrage at the time, and a campaign to check out Great Books to save them from oblivion, but the indignation seems to have died down. You can not force people to read what you think is good for them (unless they are your students), any more than you can get them to trade reality TV shows for CSPAN. We should probably all thank J.K. Rowling and The Discovery Channel for their efforts to help our children maintain a reasonably long attention span.

All of which leads me in a round-about way to today's subject, and John Kieran's quote. Kieran led a long, varied, and busy life, much of it in the public eye (or ear, at least), yet the line he is perhaps most remembered for is this one on reading. There was probably a time when most of America new who he was - between his sportswriting, appearances on quiz shows (Information Please), radio and TV documentaries, and other interests. Now he is a footnote in Wikipedia.

This in turn leads to the desire for people, events, lessions, etc. to be remembered and not forgotten. Whether it is a poet whose works are no longer on the AP reading lists, or an author whose books are no longer in the library because they have been forgotten beneath layer after layer of the latest pointless media obsessions.

Fortunately, while the busy world has a short attention span, people, individual people, have long memories. It is suprising what can be remembered if only you can find the right person to listen to, and take the time to listen. Such memories might form the basis for Kenneth Ashley's Brief first-person recall of a man named Rudkin. A short poem with a simple rhyme scheme but a lurching, almost stumbling meter (perhaps a little like Rudkin himself). The conceit of the poem is that evidence of Rudkin is still everywhere, surrounding the people of "Threckington", and the narrator's own household - but only the narrator remembers. A good poem for reading aloud, once you get accustomed to the uneven rhythm.


RUDKIN was one who cattle sold,
Laughed loud, talked bold;
Children got, drank at inns,
Nor thought much of his sins.
Stout his legs, broad his back;
To live and thrive he had the knack.
All who went out, all who came in,
By Threckington, knew stout Rudkin.
Long he's been dead; his name has gone
Clean out of mind at Threckington;
If one should ask for Rudkin there
The village folk would stare and stare.
Rudkin is dead; dead as Queen Anne:
Hangs on my wall his warming-pan;
In hall hard by, solemn and clear,
Ticks the tall clock he used to hear;
Little Miss Wright, all unaware,
Reads her paper in his chair.
Down by the bridge the parapet
Is still chipped where his wain upset;
By the old barn there's an old pear
When he was wed he planted there.
His drover's dog was very like
Our butcher's cur: a mongrel tyke;
He had a bull with a crooked horn,
A heifer like it I saw this morn.
Down at "The George" in market-place
There's a bold wench wears his bold face.

Kenneth H. Ashley

I guess what Ashley was trying to say is that Rudkin left his mark - literally - on the people, places, and things around him - whether they knew it or not. Perhaps Kieran did as well - as evidenced by present-day game shows such as Wait Wait Don't Tell Me  or in Discovery Channel / Animal planet features that patiently try to get us to understand the world around us and the creatures in it. Perhaps Kieran also left his mark on friends who became part of the Algonquin Round Table. More about them at a later date.

 P.S. - If I had to compile a list of all I have read, I wonder if I'd ever finish. --Steve

August 08, 2007

Poetry for Waiting in Line

OK, so it's been a long hot summer. Blame it on global warming, the Butterfly Effect, an abundance of political hot air from the multitude of presidential candidates, or as my father often said, "the drift of the earth through the ether".

Maybe you're waiting in line at the airport trying to get home, or having some other "are we there yet" moment. Maybe you just cant wait for school to start again. In any case, you may have some snippets of time on your hands. Unfortunately, being as summer is viewed more as a reading than a writing season, I've not been getting much writing done.

However, I have been puzzling. Here are links for three Word Search puzzles, created with a little help from a nicely done program available at discovery.com. All are on the subject of Poetry. The first one is a collection of poetic terms, categories and descriptions. Numbers two and three are collections of Poets and either Titles or First Lines. All are fairly hard, and should keep you busy for a while. Yes, I solved them myself and they are all complete. Words, names, and phrases can start in any location and head in any compass direction. Some letters may be part of two or even three words. Some are just taking up space.

All files are Acrobat .PDF documents, easily downloaded and printed. have fun.   --Steve




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