“maggie and milly and molly and may”

May 14, 2012 § Leave a comment

maggie and milly and molly and may
went down to the beach(to play one day)

and maggie discovered a shell that sang
so sweetly she couldn’t remember her troubles,and

milly befriended a stranded star
whose rays five languid fingers were;

and molly was chased by a horrible thing
which raced sideways while blowing bubbles:and

may came home with a smooth round stone
as small as a world and as large as alone.

For whatever we lose(like a you or a me)
it’s always ourselves we find in the sea

– E. E. Cummings

A certain sort of fun derives from unlocking the meaning behind Cummings’ (yes, capitalized) idiosyncratic use of punctuation. It’s best to view his typographic decisions as examples of impressionistic flourishes. In this poem, one trick is present, and that is the lack of space between word and punctuation mark. For me, it means a gaggle of giggling girls out-of-breath from dancing, jumping, running on the beach, but I think its real meaning is meant to stay ambiguous.

Jim

May 13, 2012 § 1 Comment

There was a Boy whose name was Jim;
His Friends were very good to him.
They gave him Tea, and Cakes, and Jam,
And slices of delicious Ham,
And Chocolate with pink inside
And little Tricycles to ride,
And read him Stories through and through,
And even took him to the Zoo —
But there it was the dreadful Fate
Befell him, which I now relate.

You know — or at least you ought to know,
For I have often told you so —
That Children never are allowed
To leave their Nurses in a Crowd;
Now this was Jim’s especial Foible,
He ran away when he was able,
And on this inauspicious day
He slipped his hand and ran away!

He hadn’t gone a yard when — Bang!
With open Jaws, a lion sprang,
And hungrily began to eat
The Boy: beginning at his feet.
Now, just imagine how it feels
When first your toes and then your heels,
And then by gradual degrees,
Your shins and ankles, calves and knees,
Are slowly eaten, bit by bit.
No wonder Jim detested it!
No wonder that he shouted “Hi!”

The Honest Keeper heard his cry,
Though very fat he almost ran
To help the little gentleman.
“Ponto!” he ordered as he came
(For Ponto was the Lion’s name),
“Ponto!” he cried, with angry Frown,
“Let go, Sir! Down, Sir! Put it down!”
The Lion made a sudden stop,
He let the Dainty Morsel drop,
And slunk reluctant to his Cage,
Snarling with Disappointed Rage.
But when he bent him over Jim,
The Honest Keeper’s Eyes were dim.
The Lion having reached his Head,
The Miserable Boy was dead!

When Nurse informed his Parents, they
Were more Concerned that I can say: —
His Mother, as She dried her eyes,
Said, “Well — it gives me no surprise,
He would not do as he was told!”
His Father, who was self-controlled,
Bade all the children round attend
To James’s miserable end,
And always keep a-hold of Nurse
For fear of finding something worse.

– Hilaire Belloc

For Mother’s Day here is a cautionary tale from Cautionary Tales. Jim should have listened to his mother and not ran away from nurse. Compare this to Housman’s “the African Lion” where good little boys still get eaten although not completely devoured.

As both poets have discovered, iambic tetrameter is good for matter-of-fact whimsy. Most of Belloc’s poems settle on this meter, as do many of Housman’s animal sketches (though not the aforementioned lion).

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