Monday, July 12, 2010


Inspired by a sequence on Toledo Talk coupled with a photo I took this afternoon, I decided to post a little poetry for the discriminating reader.


How doth the Little Bee

by Isaac Watts

How doth the little busy Bee
     Improve each shining Hour,
And gather Honey all the day
     From every opening Flower!

How skilfully she builds her Cell!
     How neat she spreads the Wax!
And labours hard to store it well
     With the sweet Food she makes.

In Works of Labour or of Skill
     I would be busy too:
For Satan finds some Mischief still
     For idle Hands to do.

In Books, or Work, or healthful Play
     Let my first Years be past,
That I may give for every Day
     Some good Account at last.

A rather didactic poem for children. I didn't like it much when it was first read to me at age five by a well meaning relative, who explained that the bee had to make hundreds of trips to flowers just to make enough honey for one piece of toast. "Right." I thought. "Work all day only to have your honey stolen. Now that makes good sense." I enjoyed the imitation quoted by Alice in Lewis Carroll's drug induced fiction.

How doth the little crocodile...

by Lewis Carroll

How doth the little crocodile
Improve his shining tail,
And pour the waters of the Nile
On every golden scale!

How cheerfully he seems to grin
How neatly spreads his claws,
And welcomes little fishes in,
With gently smiling jaws!

Clearly it is better to be a crocodile than a busy bee. For no particular reason I was reminded of an ancient song or poem that was recited to me repeatedly by an unbalanced female poet who used to invite me up to her apartment to help her with her adjectives.

The Cuckoo Song
by Unknown

Summer is a-coming in,
 Loud sing cuckoo!
Grows seed, and blows mead(ow),
 And springs the wood new--
  Sing, cuckoo!

Ewe bleats after lamb,
 Lows after calf cow;
Bullock starts, buck farts,
 Merry sing, cuckoo!

Cuckoo, cuckoo, well sing thou, cuckoo:
 Nor cease thou never now!
Sing cuckoo, now, sing cuckoo,
 Sing cuckoo, sing cuckoo, now!

This is a translation from old English or German into modern English. Naturally the translators argue about the most correct words to use for their particular translation. There has been some argument about the buke (or buck, as in male deer). Some say he farts, others say he runs in circles. I'm guessing the women translators object to the buck farting, while the men insist he does because that's what the song says.

I discovered a counterpart to this by Ezra Pound, a man I believe most of us would have a lot more in common with than we might initially believe. At least, judging by this poem we would.

The Winter Song
by Ezra Pound

    Winter is icumen in,
    Lhude sing Goddamm,
    Raineth drop and staineth slop,
    And how the wind doth ramm!
    Sing: Goddamm.
    Skiddeth bus and sloppeth us,
    An ague hath my ham.
    Freezeth river, turneth liver,
    Damm you; Sing: Goddamm.
    Goddamm, Goddamm, 'tis why I am, Goddamm,
    So 'gainst the winter's balm.
    Sing goddamm, damm, sing goddamm,
    Sing goddamm, sing goddamm, DAMM.

Least anyone think that I'm being overly frivolous or incapable of appreciating fine verse, here is one of my all time favorite poems by one of my favorite poets,Thomas Stearns Eliot, who passed away in 1965. I could have met Eliot. I'm old enough and wouldn't have been a bit shy about asking him a few pertinent questions. With any sense at all he wouldn't have answered me. Apeneck Sweeney appears in several poems and a play that Eliot never finished. He's an admirable sort of man, and I think his character is fully revealed in Eliot's poetry.

Sweeney Among the Nightingales

    'omoi peplegmai kairian plegen eso 1'

Apeneck Sweeney spreads his knees
Letting his arms hang down to laugh,
The zebra stripes along his jaw
Swelling to maculate giraffe.

The circles of the stormy moon
Slide westward toward the River Plate,
Death and the Raven drift above
And Sweeney guards the horned gate.

Gloomy Orion and the Dog
Are veiled; and hushed the shrunken seas;
The person in the Spanish cape
Tries to sit on Sweeney's knees

Slips and pulls the table cloth
Overturns a coffee-cup,
Reorganised upon the floor
She yawns and draws a stocking up;

The silent man in mocha brown
Sprawls at the window-sill and gapes;
The waiter brings in oranges
Bananas figs and hothouse grapes;

The silent vertebrate in brown
Contracts and concentrates, withdraws;
Rachel nee Rabinovitch
Tears at the grapes with murderous paws;

She and the lady in the cape
Are suspect, thought to be in league;
Therefore the man with heavy eyes
Declines the gambit, shows fatigue,

Leaves the room and reappears
Outside the window, leaning in,
Branches of wistaria
Circumscribe a golden grin;

The host with someone indistinct
Converses at the door apart,
The nightingales are singing near
The Convent of the Sacred Heart,

And sang within the bloody wood
When Agamemnon cried aloud,
And let their liquid siftings fall
To stain the stiff dishonoured shroud.

-- T S Eliot

1. Alas, I am smitten with a mortal. Agamemnon's last words as he is murdered by his wife Clytemnestra.

If you decide to read Eliot I recommend you get a copy of the Oxford English Dictionary and find a few reference sites dealing in obscure theology. That, and a bottle of bourbon.

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