John Anderson, my jo, John
When we were first acquent;
Your locks were like the raven,
Your bonie brow was brent;
But now your brow is beld, John,
Your locks are like the snaw;
But blessings on your frosty pow,
John Anderson, my jo.
John Anderson, my jo, John,
We clamb the hill thegither;
And mony a cantie day, John,
We’ve had wi’ ane anither:
Now we maun totter down, John,
And hand in hand we’ll go,
And sleep thegither at the foot,
John Anderson, my jo.
Sung by Christy-Lyn
Meanings of most of the words from Scottish dialect are obvious, but here’s a glossary just in case.
one anither- together
maun totter down-must climb down
I like the term she chose very much, but I wondered if there are alternatives. So I went to the glossary of literary terms–several of them, in fact, since they’re all over the Internet–and came up with some possibilities:
a verse of poets
a rime of poets
an iamb of poets
a lyric of poets (although lyric is more suited to songwriters)
a scansion of poets
a prosody of poets
The search sparked a new question: What is the name for a group of mystery writers?
a plot of mystery writers
a conspiracy of mystery writers
a complication of mystery writers
a murder of mystery writers (perhaps to close to a murder of crows)
a grit of mystery writers
a cozy of mystery writers
And another question: What are the members of a critique group called?
This one is easy. Borrowing from an unkindness of ravens, I choose to call members of a critique group a kindness.
My second missed-the-deadline poem written for Nicholas Kristoff’s Trump poetry contest. Sonnet #1 appeared last week. For those who have forgotten, the reference to Stephen Dowling Bots is explained below the sonnet.
How do I love Trump? Let me count the ways.
How do I love Trump? Let me count the ways. Uh… Well… Okay… I’m thinking… But I’ve got
A mental block… I’m sure I have forgot
A word, a speech, a gesture with some grace
Or beauty, decency; a turn of phrase
That doesn’t irritate or make a knot
Form in my gut; a tittle or a jot
That doesn’t jar or send my cheeks ablaze.
I’m sorry that he sets my teeth on edge.
I’m sorry that I do not love him lots.
I’m sad I wish he’d crawl into his shell,
Throw up the sash and climb out on a ledge,
Or, like the storied Stephen Dowling Bots,
Depart D. C. by falling down a well.
Thanks to Elizabeth Barrett Browning for “Sonnet #43.”
A light exists in spring
Not present on the year
At any other period.
When March is scarcely here
A color stands abroad
On solitary hills
That science cannot overtake,
But human nature feels.
It waits upon the lawn;
It shows the furthest tree
Upon the furthest slope we know;
It almost speaks to me.
Then, as horizons step,
Or noons report away,
Without the formula of sound,
It passes, and we stay:
A quality of loss
Affecting our content,
As trade had suddenly encroached
Upon a sacrament.
~ Emily Dickinson
This a picture of Emily Dickinson.
This is a “fabricated” picture of Emily Dickinson.
According to a docent at the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst, Massachusetts, in the late 1990s, the photograph was probably altered after Dickinson’s death in 1886, as a tribute and a keepsake. At that time, families often had photographs “enhanced” after a loved one’s death.
I didn’t know Emily Dickinson personally, but judging from what I’ve read and heard about her, I think if she’d seen the enhanced version, she’d have hooted.
She was obviously depressive, but she also had a sense of humor.
The docent told the following story (documented in an LA Times review by Susan Reynolds):
‘Once, when Samuel Bowles, an old family friend and the subject of Dickinson’s Master poems, went to visit, he found himself yelling up the stairs: “Emily, you damned rascal. No more of this nonsense! I’ve traveled all the way from Springfield to see you. Come down at once!”‘
The detail that doesn’t appear in the article, but that the docent added, is that, at Bowles’ summons, Emily left her room and came down the stairs, laughing.
Try calling someone without a sense of humor a “damned rascal” and see what happens.
And she wasn’t quite as antisocial as she’s generally portrayed. Alix North, in a biographical sketch of the poet, writes that in her twenties, Dickinson had a “busy social life” but that by her thirties, she had become reclusive and withdrew when visitors came.
It’s been speculated that Dickinson pulled away from the public because she thought she wasn’t beautiful, or that she was mourning an unrequited love, or that she was agoraphobic. But perhaps Dickinson “became an isolata , creating a moat around herself to preserve the rarity of her soul and because she believed that isolation was critical to artistic expression.”
By the age of 35, Dickinson “had composed more than 1100 concise, powerful lyrics that astutely examine pain, grief, joy, love, nature, and art.”
In other words, she knew exactly what she was doing: Social butterflies rarely, if ever, compose more than 1100 poems by the time they’re 35, at least not concise, powerful ones.
[Sentiments expressed in the preceding paragraph are mine alone. I could be wrong, but I’m not. A 14-year-old boy once told me that anyone who stayed at home as much as Emily Dickinson did couldn’t know enough about life to write anything worthwhile. I refrained from replying that 14-year-old boys don’t know enough about anything to say what Emily Dickinson could or could not do. Now I wish I’d said it. But as I was saying before I interrupted myself . . .]
Edward Dickinson, the poet’s father, was described by contemporaries as “stern and unyielding”; “within his home his decisions and his word were law.” Emily wrote that she didn’t learn to tell time by the clock until she was fifteen because “[m]y father thought he had taught me but I did not understand & I was afraid to say I did not & afraid to ask anyone else lest he should know.”
The museum’s docent pointed out, however, that he was also kind. He could have required Emily to work and support herself or at least to contribute to family finances. Instead, he supported her until his death in 1874. Her sister, Lavinia, took care of most domestic tasks that would normally have been shared. Her family allowed Emily time and space in which to write.
Well, I’ve gone on about Emily Dickinson for a lot longer than I intended, and I hope you’re still with me. I’ll stop now, but not before saying this, which I’ve said before, but I’m going to say again:
A textbook I taught from in 1973, my first year in the Texas secondary school trenches, contained the statement that Emily Dickinson is one of America’s greatest women poets.
Despite all the time I’ve wasted scrolling through Facebook, I’ve received more from the site than I’ve lost. It’s allowed me to reconnect with students I taught thirty years ago.
Last night I was chatting with a member of the class of 1982. She gave me permission to link to her website. She didn’t give me permission to comment, but I will anyway. What can she do–flunk me?
I want to make it clear that I never taught Judy anything. I couldn’t have taught her anything. She already knew what she needed to know. She was a writer. A poet.
She entertained us periodically with essays describing her part-time job at a nearby country club. I have vivid memories of long, furry tendrils reaching out and wrapping themselves around her legs while she was cleaning out the walk-in refrigerator. Those memories, and others, told in nauseating detail, made me laugh even as I vowed to avoid that particular dining room.
In her junior year, Judy placed in a poetry contest at a nearby college. One of the judges said she’d wanted to place the poem higher, but it was too short. The next year, she won the competition with another poem–the same length as last year’s. I memorized it and later, when I was teaching at a local university, posted a copy of it on the door of my office.
After Judy graduated, I found her mentioned in an article in the Austin newspaper: UT student Judith Edwards had appeared at Eeyore’s Birthday Party in Pease Park wearing a python draped across her shoulders. The accessory seemed to me entirely appropriate. Her goals had never included conformity.
Browse through her poems and stories. You’ll get an idea of the pleasure I had being her student.
P.S. I hesitate to add this–I mean, I hate to give readers who live outside the United States such a…truthful…view of Texas, but if you have a mind to, read Judy’s story “The Big Texan.” She didn’t make it up. I wasn’t there, but I know it really happened.
I spent the evening at a performance of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience or, Bunthorne’s Bride and feel compelled to share.
Patience is the story of two poets–Reginald Bunthorne, an idyllic poet; and Archibald Grosvenor, a fleshly poet–both of whom love Patience, the milkmaid. Patience, a happy girl who at first says she has never loved anyone except her great-aunt, confesses she does loves her childhood friend, Grosvenor; and Grosvenor loves Patience.
Patience, however, having been told that pure love is unselfish, says she cannot love Grosvenor, because her love would be selfish, since she really loves him. She says she must love Bunthorne, because, since she does not love him, that love would be unselfish and therefore pure.
Are still with me?
Bunthorne, at first delighted with Patience’s profession of love, becomes jealous when the handsome Grosvenor appears and attracts the attention of the twenty lovesick maidens, who leave Bunthorne to tag along after Grosvenor (from Monday to Saturday, until he requests a half-holiday). The jealous Bunthorne makes Patience miserable, which is exactly what a person loving unselfishly is supposed to be…
And then there are Jane and the 35th Dragoons.
And more complications.
In the passage below, Bunthorne reads one of his poems to the twenty lovesick maidens and the completely un-lovesick Patience.
Bunthorne. … The poem is finished, and my soul has gone out into it. That was all. It was nothing worth mentioning, it occurs three times a day. (Sees Patience, who has entered during this scene.) Ah, Patience! Dear Patience! (Holds her hand; she seems frightened.)
Angela. Will it please you read it to us, sir?
Saphir. This we supplicate. (All kneel.)
Bunthorne. Shall I?
Bunthorne.(annoyed – to Patience) I will read it if you bid me!
Patience. (much frightened) You can if you like!
Bunthorne. It is a wild, weird, fleshy thing; yet very tender, very yearning, very precious. It is called, “Oh, Hollow! Hollow! Hollow!”
Patience. Is it a hunting song?
Bunthorne. A hunting song? No, it is not a hunting song. It is the wail of the poet’s heart on discovering that everything is commonplace. To understand it, cling passionately to one another and think of faint lilies. (They do so as he recites)
“OH, HOLLOW! HOLLOW! HOLLOW!”
What time the poet hath hymned
The writhing maid, lithe-limbed,
Quivering on amaranthine asphodel,
How can he paint her woes,
Knowing, as well he knows,
That all can be set right with calomel?
When from the poet’s plinth
The amorous colocynth
Yearns for the aloe, faint with rapturous thrills,
How can he hymn their throes
Knowing, as well he knows,
That they are only uncompounded pills?
Is it, and can it be,
Nature hath this decree,
Nothing poetic in the world shall dwell?
Or that in all her works
Something poetic lurks,
Even in colocynth and calomel?
I cannot tell.
Angela. How purely fragrant!
Saphir. How earnestly precious!
Patience. Well, it seems to me to be nonsense.
Saphir. Nonsense, yes, perhaps – but oh, what precious nonsense!
Precious nonsense: Mr. Gilbert’s words describe Bunthorne’s poem–and the entire play.
As Andy Griffith said of Hamlet, it’s a pretty good show.