This week we'll enjoy the humorous poetry of Guy Wetmore Carryl, who wrote take-offs of famous fairy-tales and fables. Carryl is little-known, for he made the ultimate career mistake: he died young, in 1904, aged 31. His books are long out of print, and we will be taking our words from poems that are nowhere to be found on the web.
lacerate – to irregularly tear or deeply cut flesh (also )figurative, for mental pain)
coping – the course of brick on top of a wall (usually sloping)
pungent – sharply strong in smell or taste; also, of remarks: cutting and caustic
A farmer built around his crop
A wall, and crowned his labors,
By placing glass upon the top
To lacerate his neighbors,
Provided they at any time
Should feel disposed the wall to climb.
He also drove some iron pegs
Securely in the coping,
To tear the bare, defenceless legs
Of brats who, upward groping,
Might steal, despite the risk of fall,
The grapes that grew upon the wall.
On day a fox, on thieving bent,
A crafty and an old one,
Most shrewdly tracked the pungent scent
That eloquently told one
That grapes were ripe and grapes were good
And likewise in the neighborhood.
He threw some stones of divers shapes
The luscious fruit to jar off:
It made him ill to see the grapes
So near and yet so far off.
His throws were strong, his aim was fine,
But "Never touched me!" said the vine.
[poem to be completed tomorrow]
I beg to differ. On death that is.
Dying young has been excellent career move for many, including James Dean, Jim Morrison and Sid Vicious among others.
(Not to mention Hotblack Desiato, who spent a year dead for tax reasons.)
I could only think of the London estate agents named Hotblack Desiato so I wondered what you were talking about. A little Googling enlightened me. I'd forgotten the character in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. Apparently Douglas Adams was wondering what to call the character and almost crashed his car when he saw their name above one of their offices. He asked for permission to use their name, but ironically the firm often get contacted by people convinced they are cashing in on the book.
Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life.
Hotblack Desiato (the Estate Agent) also plays a major part, if memory serves, in one of the three plot strands of Iain Banks's Walking on Glass.
"No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money." Samuel Johnson.
I would say it did a lot of good for Kurt Cobain.
As for THGTTG, we should reference it more. I'd think people from England would cite it more often.
epithet – a characterization, used to stand for the thing mentioned; e.g. Catherine the Great (can be abusisive)
bric-à-brac – miscellaneous objects of little value; typically ornamental
[From old Fr. phrase à bric et à brac at random, any old way.]
Concluding Carryl's vulpine (fox-related) story:
And, mounting on a ladder,
He sought the cause of all the noise;
No farmer could be madder,
Which was not hard to understand
Because the glass had cut his hand.
His passion he could not restrain,
But shouted out, "You're thievish!"
The fox replied, with fine distain,
"Come country, don't be peevish."
(Now "country" is an epithet
One can't forgive, nor yet forget.)
The farmer rudely answered back
With compliments unvarnished,
And downward hurled the bric-à-brac
With which the wall was garnished,
In view of which demeanor strange,
The fox retreated out of range.
"I will not try the grapes to-day,"
He said. "My appetite is
Fastidious, and, anyway,
I fear appendicitis."
(The fox was one of the élite
Who call it site instead of seet.)
THE MORAL is that if your host
Throws glass around his entry
You know it isn't done by most
Who claim to be the gentry,
While if he hits you in the head
You may be sure he's underbred.
Carryl tells the fable of the tortoise and the hare.
dolce far niente – pleasant idleness [Ital: 'sweet doing nothing']
flippannt – not showing the proper seriousness or respect [As Pooh Bah said,
. . . . ."I think you ought to recollect
. . . . .You cannot show too much respect
. . . . .Towards the highly titled few;
. . . . .But nobody does, and why should you?"]
torpid – sluggish, in mind or in body [noun: torpor]
Once a turtle, finding plenty
In seclusion to bewitch,
Lived a dolce far niente
Kind of life within a ditch;
Rivers had no charm for him,
As he told his wife and daughter,
"Though my friends are in the swim,
Mud is thicker far than water."
One find day, as was his habit,
He was dozing in the sun,
When a young and flippant rabbit
Happened by the ditch to run:
"Come and race me," he exclaimed,
"Fat inhabitant of puddles.
Sluggard! You should be ashamed.
Such a life the brain befuddles."
This, of course, was banter merely,
But it stirred the torpid blood
Of the turtle, and severely
Forth he issued from the mud.
"Done!" he cried. The race began,
But the hare resumed his banter,
Seeing how his rival ran
In a most unlovely canter.
terrapin – one of certain small freshwater turtles
[Algonquin. The earlier form, torope, had by coincidence curious simlarity to torpor.]
expeditious – quick and efficient
unction – excessive, ingratiating compliments, a kind of "oiliness"
As we resume the tale of the exciting race, the hare speaks.
You'd be wiser, dear old chap,
If you sat you down and rested
When you reach the second lap."
Quoth the turtle, "I refuse.
As for you, with all your talking,
Sit on any lap you choose.
I shall simply go on walking."
Now this sporting proposition
Was, upon its face, absurd;
Yet the hare, with expedition,
Took the tortoise at his word,
Ran until the final lap,
Then, supposing he'd outclassed him,
Laid him down and took a nap
And the patient turtle passed him!
Plodding on, he shortly made the
Line that marked the victor's goal;
Paused, and found he'd won, and laid the
Flattering unction to his soul.
Then in fashion grandiose,
Like an after-dinner speaker,
Touched his flipper to his nose,
And remarked, "Ahem! Eureka!"
And THE MORAL (lest you miss one)
Is: There's often time to spare,
And that races are (like this one)
Won not always by a hair.
Considering that "unction" also (perhaps even primarily) means "the act of anointing with oil", I can't believe that your use of "oiliness" was merely serendipitous. Naaaahhhh! You're a little too slippery for that!
I'd never try to slip one by you, Duncan.
Tartarean – hellish, infernal [from Tartarus, a section of Hades reserved for punishment of the wicked]
phillippic – a bitter, violent speech of denunciation
[from Demosthenes' speeches, in 351-341 B.C.E., against Philip II of Macedon]
How is a child affected by a brutally strict scholastic regimen? Carryl tells How Jack Made the Giants Uncommonly Sore.Today we learn of Jack's unhappy upbringing; tomorrow we'll see how he turned out.
Boys ever created
Young Jack was the wretchedest lad:
An emphatic, erratic,
Was foisted upon him as dad!
From the time he could walk,
And before he could talk,
His wearisome training began,
On a highly barbarian,
He taught him some Raleigh,
And some of Macaulay,
Till all of "Horatius" he knew,
And the drastic, sarcastic,
Philippics of "Junius," too.
He made him learn lots
Of the poems of Watts,
And frequently said he ignored,
On principle, any son's
Title to benisons
Till he'd learned Tennyson's
"For these are the giants
Of thought and of science,"
He said in his positive way:
"So weigh them, obey them,
Display them, and lay them
To heart in your infancy's day!"
Jack made no reply,
But he said on the sly
An eloquent word, that had come
From a quite indefensible,
Philippic is not a word you see every day. My last encounter was on Simon & Garfunkel's 1969 album Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme. There was a song entitled "A Simple Desultory Philippic or How I was Robert MacNamara'd into Submission". The title was more memorable than the lyrics!
Jack's tartarean upbringing made him intellectually mordacious, pugnacious and rapacious. Good gracious!
I have now put Carryl poems on line. For this poem, go to the table of contents and click to How Jack Made the Giants Uncommonly Sore. I do love the double-pun at the end!
mordacious – biting; caustic; sarcastic; capable of wounding (also biting in the literal sense)
pugnacious – combative; quick to argue or quarrel
rapacious – aggressively greedy; grasping [Latin rapere to snatch]
These have been delightful, WC. Thanks so much for putting all the poems online!
I like how he uses the language . . . almost like Seuss, and very forward-thinking in its resemblance to rap poetry. I am thinking, in particular, of this portion:
"Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.
I have now put three volumes of Carryl poems on line. Grimm Tales Made Gay (1902) contains yesterday's, and all others this week are from Fables for the Frivolous (1898). Finally, Mother Goose for Grown Ups (1900) includes two of my favorite Carryl poems, The Embarrassing Episode of Little Miss Muffet and The Gastronomic Guile of Simple Simon.
barrow – a cart for carrying small loads; also, a mound over a burial site; also, a pig castrated before sexual maturity [interesting combination here!]
objet d'art – a small decorative or artistic piece; a curio
borough – a town [as distinct from a city]
shire – a district roughly equivalent to a county
O'er a small suburban borough
. .Once an eagle used to fly,
Making observations thorough
. .From his station in the sky,
And presenting the appearance
. .Of an animated V,
Like the gulls that lend coherence
. .Unto paintings of the sea.
Looking downward at a church in
. .This attractive little shire,
He beheld a smallish urchin
. .Shooting arrows at the spire;
In a spirit of derision,
. ."Look alive!" the eagle said;
And, with infinite precision,
. .Dropped a feather on his head.
Then the boy, annoyed distinctly
. .By the freedom of the bird,
Voiced his anger quite succinctly
. .In a single scathing word;
And he sat him on a barrow,
. .And he fashioned of this same
Eagle's feather such an arrow
. .As was worthy of the name.
Then he tried his bow, and stringing
. .It with caution and with care,
Sent that arrow singing, winging
. .Towards the eagle in the air.
Straight it went, without an error,
. .And the target, bathed in blood,
Lurched, and lunged, and fell to terra
. .Firma, landing with a thud.
"Bird of freedom," quoth the urchin,
. .With an unrelenting frown,
"You shall decorate a perch in
. .The menagerie in town;
But of feathers quite a cluster
. .I shall first remove for Ma;
Thanks to you, she'll have a duster
. .For her precious objets d'art."
And THE MORAL is that pride is
. .The precursor of a fall.
Those beneath you to deride is
. .Not expedient at all.
Howsoever meek and humble
. .Your inferiors may be,
They perchance may make you tumble,
. .So respect them. Q.E.D.