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Sunday, June 19, 2011


An Approach to Literature
Brooks, Purser, Warren

Ode on Melancholy
John Keats
No, no! go not to Lethe, neither twist
      Wolf's-bane, tight-rooted, for its poisonous wine;
Nor suffer thy pale forehead to be kiss'd
      By nightshade, ruby grape of Proserpine;
Make not your rosary of yew-berries,
      Nor let the beetle, nor the death-moth be
            Your mournful Psyche, nor the downy owl
A partner in your sorrow's mysteries;
      For shade to shade will come too drowsily,
            And drown the wakeful anguish of the soul.

But when the melancholy fit shall fall
      Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud,
That fosters the droop-headed flowers all,
      And hides the green hill in an April shroud;
Then glut thy sorrow on a morning rose.
      Or on the rainbow of the salt sand-wave,
            Or on the wealth of globèd peonies;
Or if thy mistress some rich anger shows,
      Emprison her soft hand, and let her rave.
            And feed deep, deep upon her peerless eyes.

She dwells with Beauty—Beauty that must die;
      And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips
Bidding adieu; and aching Pleasure nigh,
      Turning to poison while the bee-mouth sips:
Ay, in the very temple of Delight
      Veil'd Melancholy has her sovran shrine,
            Though seen of none save him whose strenuous tongue
Can burst Joy's grape against his palate fine;
      His soul shall taste the sadness of her might,
            And be among her cloudy trophies hung.

Very Like a Whale
Ogden Nash
One thing that literature would be greatly the better for
Would be a more restricted employment by the authors of simile and metaphor.
Authors of all races, be they Greeks, Romans, Teutons or Celts,
Can't seem just to say that anything is the thing it is but have to go out of their way to say that it is like something else.
What does it mean when we are told
That that Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold?
In the first place, George Gordon Byron had enough experience
To know that it probably wasn't just one Assyrian, it was a lot of Assyrians.
However, as too many arguments are apt to induce apoplexy and thus hinder longevity.
We'll let it pass as one Assyrian for the sake of brevity.
Now then, this particular Assyrian, the one whose cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold,
Just what does the poet mean when he says he came down like a wolf on the fold?
In heaven and earth more than is dreamed of in our philosophy there are great many things.
But I don't imagine that among them there is a wolf with purple and gold cohorts or purple and gold anythings.
No, no, Lord Byron, before I'll believe that this Assyrian was actually like a wolf I must have some kind of proof;
Did he run on all fours and did he have a hairy tail and a big red mouth and big white teeth and did he say Woof Woof?
Frankly I think it is very unlikely, and all you were entitled to say, at the very most,
Was that the Assyrian cohorts came down like a lot of Assyrian cohorts about to destroy the Hebrew host.
But that wasn't fancy enough for Lord Byron, oh dear me no, he had to invent a lot of figures of speech and then interpolate them,
With the result that whenever you mention Old Testament soldiers to people they say Oh yes, they're the ones that a lot of wolves dressed up in gold and purple ate them.
That's the kind of thing that's being done all the time by poets, from Homer to Tennyson;
They're always comparing ladies to lilies and veal to venison.
How about the man who wrote,
Her little feet stole in and out like mice beneath her petticoat?
Wouldn’t anybody but a poet think twice
Before stating that his girl’s feet were mice?
Then they always say things like that after a winter storm
The snow is a white blanket.  Oh it is, is it, all right then, you sleep under a six-inch blanket of snow and I'll sleep under a half-inch blanket of unpoetical blanket material and we'll see which one keeps warm,
And after that maybe you'll begin to comprehend dimly
What I mean by too much metaphor and simile.

Peter Viereck
Also Ulysses once--that other war.
      (Is it because we find his scrawl 
      Today on every privy door
      That we forget his ancient role?)
Also was there--he did it for the wages--
When a Cathay-drunk Genoese set sail.
Whenever "longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,"
Kilroy is there;
      he tells The Miller's Tale.

At times he seems a paranoic king
Who stamps his crest on walls and says "My Own!"
But in the end he fades like a lost tune,
Tossed here and there, whom all the breezes sing.
"Kilroy was here"; these words sound wanly gay,
      Haughty yet tired with long marching.
He is Orestes--guilty of what crime?--
      For whom the Furies still are searching;
      When they arrive, the find their prey
(Leaving his name to mock them) went away.
Sometimes he does not flee from them in time:
"Kilroy was--"
          with his blood a dying man
      Wrote half the phrase out in Bataan.

Kilroy, beware. "HOME" is the final trap
That lurks for you in many a wily shape:
In pipe-and-slippers plus a Loyal Hound
      Or fooling around, just fooling around.
Kind to the old (their warm Penelope)
But fierce to boys
      thus "home" becomes that sea,
Horribly disguised, where you were always drowned--
      (How could suburban Crete condone
The yarns you would have V-mailed from the sun?)--
And folksy fishes sip Icarian tea.

One stab of hopeless wings imprinted your
      Exultant Kilroy-signature
Upon sheer sky for all the world to stare:
      "I was there! I was there! I was there!"

God is like Kilroy. He, too, sees it all;
That's how He knows of every sparrow's fall;
That's why we prayed each time the tightropes cracked
On which our loveliest clowns contrived their act.
The G.I. Faustus who was
Strolled home again. "What was it like outside?"
Asked Can't, with his good neighbors Ought and But
And pale Perhaps and grave-eyed Better Not;
For "Kilroy" means: the world is very wide.
      He was there, he was there, he was there!

The Leg in the Subway
Oscar Williams
Then I saw the woman's leg on the floor of the subway train,
Protrude beyond the panel (while her body overflowed my mind's eye),
When I saw the pink stocking, black shoe, curve bulging with warmth,
The delicate etching of the hair behind the flesh-colored gauze,
When I saw the ankle of Mrs. Nobody going nowhere for a nickel,
When I saw this foot motionless on the moving motionless floor,
My mind caught on a nail of a distant star, I was wrenched out
Of the reality of the subway ride, I hung in a socket of distance:
And this is what I saw:

The long tongue of the earth's speed was licking the leg,
Upward and under and around went the long tongue of speed:
It was made of a flesh invisible, it dripped the saliva of miles:
It drank moment, lit shivers of insecurity in niches between bones:
It was full of eyes, it stopped licking to look at the passengers:
It was as alive as a worm, and busier than anybody in the train:

It spoke saying: To whom does this leg belong? Is it a bonus leg
For the rush hour? Is it a forgotten leg? Among the many
Myriads of legs did an extra leg fall in from the Out There?
O Woman, sliced off bodily by the line of the panel, shall I roll
Your leg into the abdominal nothing, among the digestive teeth?
Or shall I fit it in with the pillars that hold up the headlines?
But nobody spoke, though all the faces were talking silently,
As the train zoomed, a zipper closing up swiftly the seam of time.

Alas, said the long tongue of the speed of the earth quite faintly,
What is one to do with an incorrigible leg that will not melt
But everybody stopped to listen to the train vomiting cauldrons
Of silence, while somebody's jolted-out afterthought trickled down
The blazing shirt-front solid with light bulbs, and just then
The planetary approach of the next station exploded atoms of light,
And when the train stopped, the leg had grown a surprising mate,
And the long tongue had slipped hurriedly out through the window:

I perceived through the hole left by the nail of the star in my mind
How civilization was as dark as a wood and dimensional with things
And how birds dipped in chromium sang in the crevices of our deeds.

The Grasshopper
Richard Lovelace
O thou that swing’st upon the waving hair
   Of some well-fillèd oaten beard,
Drunk every night with a delicious tear
   Dropped thee from heaven, where now th’ art reared;

The joys of earth and air are thine entire,
   That with thy feet and wings dost hop and fly;
And, when thy poppy works, thou dost retire
   To thy carved acorn-bed to lie.

Up with the day, the sun thou welcom’st then,
   Sport’st in the gilt-plats of his beams,
And all these merry days mak’st merry men,
   Thyself, and melancholy streams.

But ah, the sickle! Golden ears are cropped;
   Ceres and Bacchus bid good night;
Sharp, frosty fingers all your flowers have topped,
   And what scythes spared, winds shave off quite.

Poor verdant fool, and now green ice! thy joys,
   Large and as lasting as thy perch of grass,
Bid us lay in ’gainst winter rain, and poise
   Their floods with an o’erflowing glass.

Thou best of men and friends! we will create
   A genuine summer in each other’s breast,
And spite of this cold time and frozen fate,
   Thaw us a warm seat to our rest.

Our sacred hearths shall burn eternally,
   As vestal flames; the North Wind, he
Shall strike his frost-stretched wings, dissolve, and fly
   This Etna in epitome.

Dropping December shall come weeping in,
   Bewail th’usurping of his reign:
But when in showers of old Greek we begin,
   Shall cry he hath his crown again!

Night, as clear Hesper, shall our tapers whip
   From the light casements where we play,
And the dark hag from her black mantle strip,
   And stick there everlasting day.

Thus richer than untempted kings are we,
   That, asking nothing, nothing need:
Though lords of all what seas embrace, yet he
   That wants himself is poor indeed.


  1. I think that this is the best collection yet.

  2. And the entire section--nearly 25 poems, I believe--was as good as these, with only a few exceptions. While I don't think they're the "best," my favorites are definitely "Whale" and "Leg."


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