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 realise,’ 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 only 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 an 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

From Sylvie and Bruno, the last of Carroll’s major works. The poem, whose stanzas appear throughout the novel, suffice as structure to that dreamwork.

Original Sin at the Water-Hole

November 5, 2012 § Leave a comment

"Original Sin at the Water Hole" - Morgan

– Edwin Morgan

The slippery snake insinuates itself in the sinewy lines and, in ouroboral fashion, begins and ends the poem. If we uncoil Morgan’s concrete creation we get this: a spontaneous obstreperous osmosis of hysterically snorting posses of sporting she-hippopotamuses spotting a little floating asp!; or, The Fall of Safari Animals. Morgan’s careful layout clusters similar letters together so that the poem looks like one tangled mess of a word, the repeating sounds tripping over each other. If we pay particular attention to the broken-off bits that book-end the poem, we get this summarization of sin:

asp
gasp!

Sir Beelzebub

February 12, 2012 § Leave a comment

When
Sir
Beelzebub called for his syllabub in the hotel in Hell
  Where Proserpine first fell,
Blue as the gendarmerie were the waves of the sea,
  (Rocking and shocking the barmaid).

Nobody comes to give him his rum but the
Rim of the sky hippopotamus-glum
Enhances the chances to bless with a benison
Alfred Lord Tennyson crossing the bar laid
With cold vegetation from pale deputations
Of temperance workers (all signed In Memoriam)
Hoping with glory to trip up the Laureate’s feet,
  (Moving in classical metres)…

Like Balaclava, the lava came down from the
Roof, and the sea’s blue wooden gendarmerie
Took them in charge while Beelzebub roared for his rum.
  …None of them come!

– Edith Sitwell

With sonics as succulent as syllabub, “Sir Beelzebub” concludes Façade, Sitwell’s collection of sound poems, with the most coherent narration of the series: something to do with the Prince of Darkness’ sweet tooth. After a stuttering start, the poems erupts into a galloping meter, performs a few metrical tricks, and ends abruptly in the hammered four-note knock of its last line.

In her notes, Sitwell summarized the ideas behind “Sir Beelzebub” and its ilk:

The poems in Façade are abstract poems — that is, they are patterns in sound… My experiments in Façade consist of inquiries into the effect on rhythm and on speed of the use of rhymes, assonances, and dissonances, placed at the beginning and in the middle of lines, as well as at the end, and in the most elaborate patterns.

…The poems appeared strange, sometimes because of the heightened imagery and sometimes because, to quote a phrase of the scientist Henri Poincaré, ‘the accident of a rhyme can call forth a system.’

William Walton orchestrated the poems in the 1920s (to quite a stir — Noël Coward walked out on the debut performance). Listen to selections below:

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