[The Mushroom is the Elf of Plants–]

January 25, 2014 § Leave a comment

The Mushroom is the Elf of Plants—
At Evening, it is not
At Morning, in a Truffled Hut
It stop opon a Spot

As if it tarried always
And yet it’s whole Career
Is shorter than a Snake’s Delay—
And fleeter than a Tare—

’Tis Vegetation’s Juggler—
The Germ of Alibi—
Doth like a Bubble antedate
And like a Bubble, hie—

I feel as if the Grass was pleased
To have it intermit—
This surreptitious Scion
Of Summer’s circumspect.

Had Nature any supple Face
Or could she one contemn—
Had Nature an Apostate—
That Mushroom—it is Him!

— Emily Dickinson

The lines “Doth like a Bubble antedate/And Like a Bubble, hie—” are an example, one of many in Dickinson’s collected work, in which she throws a leather glove at Shakespeare’s feet and wins the ensuing duel.

The New Ondioline

October 24, 2013 § Leave a comment

I have been moving my posts over to a new Ondioline on Tumblr. Here. The fate of this Ondioline is uncertain.

Arthur Mitchell

May 30, 2013 § Leave a comment

Slim dragon fly
    too rapid for the eye
        to cage,

contagious gem of virtuosity
make visible, mentality.
Your jewels of mobility

    and veil
        a peacock-tail.

– Marianne Moore

Lesson of the day: how indentations can mimic a subject; in this case, Mitchell in the act of dance.

Arthur Mitchell

the Return of the Repressed

April 27, 2013 § Leave a comment

The Return of the Repressed

– bpNichol

To coo over the queue of Q’s coup into Kõo.

the Mad Gardener’s Song

April 25, 2013 § 1 Comment

He thought he saw an Elephant,
  That practised on a fife:
He looked again, and found it was
  A letter from his wife.
“At length I realize,” he said,
  “The bitterness of Life!”

He thought he saw a Buffalo
  Upon the chimney-piece:
He looked again, and found it was
  His Sister’s Husband’s Niece.
“Unless you leave this house,” he said,
  “I’ll send for the Police!”

He thought he saw a Rattlesnake
  That questioned him in Greek:
He looked again, and found it was
  The Middle of Next Week.
“The one thing I regret,” he said,
  “Is that it cannot speak!”

He thought he saw a Banker’s Clerk
  Descending from the bus:
He looked again, and found it was
  A Hippopotamus.
“If this should stay to dine,” he said,
  “There won’t be much for us!”

He thought he saw a Kangaroo
  That worked a coffee-mill:
He looked again, and found it was
  A Vegetable-Pill.
“Were I to swallow this,” he said,
  “I should be very ill!”

He thought he saw a Coach-and-Four
  That stood beside his bed:
He looked again, and found it was
  A Bear without a Head.
“Poor thing,” he said, “poor silly thing!
  It’s waiting to be fed!”

He thought he saw an Albatross
  That fluttered round the lamp:
He looked again, and found it was
  A Penny-Postage Stamp.
“You’d best be getting home,” he said:
  “The nights are very damp!”

He thought he saw a Garden-Door
  That opened with a key:
He looked again, and found it was
  A Double Rule of Three:
“And all its mystery,” he said,
  “Is clear as day to me!”

He thought he saw a Argument
  That proved he was the Pope:
He looked again, and found it was
  A Bar of Mottled Soap.
“A fact so dread,” he faintly said,
  “Extinguishes all hope!”

– Lewis Carroll

Poking out of the dream layer that covers Sylvie and Bruno are stanzas from this poem, which, with its mathematical structure and deadpan delivery, almost becomes the most sensible part of an otherwise fantastical story. Actually, the poem is the invention of a mad gardener who hobbles throughout the fairytale and delivers his song in short spurts (its stanzas sometimes separated by several chapters).

“The Mad Gardener’s Song” is Carroll’s last masterpiece, a nonsense poem that seems to, somehow, make its own sense. It embodies the duality of a man obsessed with mathematics — logical, knowable, systematic — and the extreme mystery of religion and God. A simple, solid structure runs underneath: x sees y; y is actually z. The structure is so strong that by the end, even if the reader feels uneasy about the impossibility of the imagery or the stacking of the non sequiturs, the poem’s logic begins to feel natural, as if the poem has answered its own absurd questions, or has at least invited the reader to relax and not worry about sense. To quote the last stanza:

He thought he saw a Argument
  That proved he was the Pope:
He looked again, and found it was
  A Bar of Mottled Soap.
“A fact so dread,” he faintly said,
  “Extinguishes all hope”

When the Pope, who is possibly the most well-know living religious figure in the world and whom Carroll calls an “Argument” (for the duality of the known and unknown?), enters the stanza only to turn into soap, which is slippery and hard-to-grasp, the reader is forced to “extinguish all hope” in understanding all that the Pope represents. It is as if Carroll is telling the reader to accept that there are things that will always remain ungraspable, and that these things fall outside science and math and are better placed in the realm of the metaphysical. And this, of course, reflects the poems itself with its unbelievable images and silent structure ticking beneath.

“And all its mystery,” he said,
  “Is clear as day to me!”

“Erthe toc of erthe erthe wyth woh”

April 22, 2013 § Leave a comment

Erthe toc of erthe erthe wyth woh.
Erthe other erthe to the erthe droh.
Erthe leyde erthe in erthene throh.
Tho heuede erthe of erthe erthe ynoh.

– Anonymous

Various translations of this Middle English poem can be found online. My favorite:

Earth took of earth earth with ill;
Earth other earth gave earth with a will.
Earth laid earth in the earth stock-still:
Then earth in earth had of earth its fill.

There are also several versions of the original which, judging from its widespread inclusion in incunabula across the centuries, seems to have been a popular poem. “Erthe upon Erthe” collects these variations and gives historical background.

It is a remarkable little thing. The repetition of “earth” makes it easy to remember; and as that word repeats, the meaning changes slightly: planet, ground, soil, tomb. The earth becomes not just the land on which we live, but also the opening in that land where we go to die. Ominous!

Hunter Trials

April 5, 2013 § Leave a comment

It’s awf’lly bad luck on Diana,
  Her ponies have swallowed their bits;
She fished down their throats with a spanner
  And frightened them all into fits.

So now she’s attempting to borrow.
  Do lend her some bits Mummy, do;
I’ll lend her my own for to-morrow,
  But to-day I‘ll be wanting them too.

Just look at Prunella on Guzzle,
  The wizardest pony on earth;
Why doesn’t she slacken his muzzle
  And tighten the breach in his girth?

I say, Mummy, there’s Mrs. Geyser
  And doesn’t she look pretty sick?
I bet it’s because Mona Lisa
  Was hit on the hock with a brick.

Miss Blewitt says Monica threw it,
  But Monica says it was Joan,
And Joan’s very thick with Miss Blewitt,
  So Monica’s sulking alone.

And Margaret failed in her paces,
  Her withers got tied in a noose,
So her coronets caught in the traces
  And now all her fetlocks are loose.

Oh, it’s me now. I’m terribly nervous.
  I wonder if Smudges will shy.
She’s practically certain to swerve as
  Her Pelham is over one eye.

                    * * * * *

Oh wasn’t it naughty of Smudges?
  Oh, Mummy, I’m sick with disgust.
She threw me in front of the Judges,
  And my silly old collarbone’s bust.

– John Betjeman

Betjeman was a poet of proper nouns. Prunella, Smudges, Guzzle, Diana, Miss Blewitt — all names for posh girls and ponies. The diction is both ridiculously British (“the wizardest pony on earth”!) or equestrian jargon (loose fetlocks and whatnot). Pelham bits being taboo for inexperienced riders, the girls probably come from old families with old money and horses in their heritage.


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