THE ENGLISH FROST AND THE AMERICAN BLAKE

This illustration of William Blake was published 200 years ago

This year marks the 200th anniversary of America’s 1813 defeat of Great Britain and their American Indian allies for the control of the Great Lakes region in the War of 1812.

In this “Second War of  American Independence,” the British Empire failed to take back her American colony, even as she tried to do so, cynically using its native peoples.  Vast designs always trump the politically correct.

William Blake, like many English Romantic poets, such as Coleridge, Southey, and Keats, took a great interest in what was happening in America.  Blake’s first illuminated book of poems was called “America, A Prophecy.”

Blake was a radical freak, hated by the British establishment, but the Americans struggling against the oppressive British Empire were never able to figure out what Willie Blake was saying when he wrote about America.

Who the hell knows what the following means?

‘I know thee, I have found thee, and I will not let thee go:
Thou art the image of God who dwells in darkness of Africa,
And thou art fall’n to give me life in regions of dark death.
On my American plains I feel the struggling afflictions
Endur’d by roots that writhe their arms into the nether deep.
I see a Serpent in Canada who courts me to his love,
In Mexico an Eagle, and a Lion in Peru;
I see a Whale in the south-sea, drinking my soul away.
O what limb-rending pains I feel! thy fire and my frost
Mingle in howling pains, in furrows by thy lightnings rent.
This is eternal death, and this the torment long foretold.’

“A Serpent in Canada” recalls the network that produced the actions of John Wilkes-Booth in the “Third War of American Independence,” the U.S. Civil War, fifty-two years later, or it might have something to do with the War of 1812, as well.  But with William “howling pains” Blake, no one really knows.  This is not to knock Blake’s genius, but he was a loon, and the American experiment to him probably meant “free love” more than anything else.  The complexities of U.S./British geopolitics was far beyond the Blake of “Thou art the image of God who dwells in darkness of Africa” and yet Blake was no doubt writing in code to avoid being tossed into a British prison.

If Blake was a typically English radical: too crazy/clever to be a danger to anyone, Robert Frost was the son of a San Francisco politician—(Democrat all the way) who tried to enlist to fight for the South in the Civil War (but was too young).

In other words, Robert Frost was the heir to the States’ rights politics which almost doomed the United States in the “Third War of American Independence.” Frost turned New England crankiness into American Poetry gold.

It is the 50th anniversary of Frost’s death and the 100th anniversary of the publication of Frost’s first book, his trip to England as an unknown poet, and the discovery of Frost by another crank, Ezra Pound, who happened to be another States’ rights loon.

The Dymock Poets—their 100th anniversary, as well, a group decimated by the First World War (England was now finally our friend and hating on Germany) helped Frost, too. But Pound got Frost into Poetry, and a star was born.  If you haven’t heard of the Dymock Poets, it’s probably because Pound didn’t like them.  If you wanted to be a famous poet in the 20th century, you had to meet one person: Pound. Frost took a trip to England in 1913 and got lucky.

Which brings us to our March Madness 2013 clash between Frost and Blake.  Both poets are seeking the Sweet Sixteen with poems of alterity, and both poems might have something to do with the 400 year love/hate relationship between England and the United States.

MENDING WALL–Robert Frost

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
‘Stay where you are until our backs are turned!’
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors’.
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
‘Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it
Where there are cows?
But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.’ I could say ‘Elves’ to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me~
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

A POISON TREE—William Blake

I was angry with my friend:
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.

And I watered it in fears,
Night and morning with my tears;
And I sunned it with smiles,
And with soft deceitful wiles.

And it grew both day and night,
Till it bore an apple bright.
And my foe beheld it shine.
And he knew that it was mine,

And into my garden stole
When the night had veiled the pole;
In the morning glad I see
My foe outstretched beneath the tree.

This is fascinating stuff.

Frost, it is pretty certain from the poem, never “told his wrath” to his neighbor, even as he (Frost) harbors feelings that his neighbor is a “old-stone savage armed.”

Blake’s seems the more psychologically astute, the cleverer in terms of hostile action, just as one would expect the British to be.

Frost, the American, in his depiction of war, by comparison, seems lumbering and obvious: “He moves in darkness it seems to me–Not of woods only and the shades of trees.”  Also, note how the Frost poem reflects economic America’s plenty (apples…cows…) and a lack of any reason to fight at all: “My apple trees will never get across And eat the cones under his pines…”

Frost seems matter-of-fact and reasonable compared to Blake, and “Mending Wall” is a triumph of that sort of rambling, calm, lower-your-blood-pressure, free verse that neither Pound nor Williams nor Eliot could quite pull off.

Frost made it big in the wake of the insanity of World War One, and the comforting, New England humor of “My apple trees will never get across And eat the cones under his pines” was probably Frost’s highest moment—-exactly the tone, the imagery, the everything, that American  poetry was looking for at that moment in history.

Blake’s poem is darker, more cunning, but Frost’s insouciant masterpiece strikes a blow for Modernism against Romanticism’s emotionalism.

Still, this year’s Scarriet March Madness is a Romanticsm-themed tournament.

Blake 66 Frost 60

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52 Comments

  1. Don Fox said,

    June 5, 2013 at 5:03 pm

    If you want to know where Blake was coming from, read Ken Wilber’s Up from Eden. The imagery of Thanatos overcoming Eros is unmistakable.

    • June 5, 2013 at 11:25 pm

      I don’t think anybody ought to feel bad if things like Blake’s poem, “Jerusalem,” elude them. When I first saw it, the expression that came to my mind for it was “chaotic.” Hard to believe the same man also wrote “Tiger, Tiger,” a neat little verse on deism. But a good friend of mine, the late founding editor of Evelyn Waugh Studies, told me an anecdote about Blake that may explain his personality and his writing. Stop me if you’ve heard it, now, but it seems that a journalist once asked Mrs. Blake what it was like to be married to Blake. She answered, “I have little of Mr. Blake’s company. You see, he lives in paradise.”
      On the subject of “our English cousins,” and our love-hate relationship with them, I have my own anecdote that I’ve gone around telling my friends since my first trip to Europe at the age of 20. Our little group (pretty obviously American) was being given a tour of the Houses of Parliament by a middle-aged tour guide. He paused in front a picture of King George III and proceeded to make some unflattering remarks about him, what a horrible, inept ruler he had been. (This was way before the movie, “The Madness of King George” was made.) Finally he ended his tirade against the king by saying, “He cost us our American colonies!” My own family only goes back a little more than 100 years in this country, but I felt like telling the man, “Well, excuse me!”

      • thomasbrady said,

        June 7, 2013 at 2:23 pm

        David,

        A rather different anecdote on great Britain: An Englishman came into a bookstore where I was working many years ago, saw a newspaper headline about Churchill and said in a very loud voice: “The only difference between Churchill and Hitler was Churchill won!”

        One more: An American friend of mine in London for the first time could not believe how boorish and backwards the English were—he had been told otherwise by PBS: Masterpiece Theater, etc.

        Tom

        • Don Fox said,

          June 7, 2013 at 6:07 pm

          In understanding any large and diverse set of ppl one must think statistically, at least in part. Canadians are supposed to love hockey but I don’t. I considerate it a brutal blood sport. To compare Hitler and Churchill without taking into account the work of their followers is pretty stupid. I like Ken Dryden, but abhore what hockey enforcers do.

          • June 10, 2013 at 2:00 pm

            Don, I think I agree. Having seen a lot of England, France, and Switzerland, I think I can “vouch” for the level of anti-Semitism in all three countries as being comparable. It didn’t approach the level of anti-Semitism that was found in Germany in Hitler’s time (which I’ve heard all about in 30 years of Jewish journalism), so yes, I think I agree, without so many of his people behind him, Hitler would never have been able to carry out his mass murders. By the way, if the Holocaust is of interest to you, I can highly recommend an old nine-page article I recently found in the March 1927 issue of Harper’s. It is entitled “Why Europe Dislikes the Jew,” and its author was Josef Bard, a Hungarian Jew who was the first husband of the famous American journalist Dorothy Thompson (whose famous second husband was, of course, Sinclair Lewis). Not only does Bard make a lot of good points, but you can see how he truly must have disappointed Dorothy Thompson’s literary hopes for him. He was obviously a brainy guy who failed to apply himself. (I am happy to say, though, that he survived the Holocaust, dying in this country at the age of 81. I would like to do something on him for the American Jewish press if I can find more information about him.)

            • Don Fox said,

              June 10, 2013 at 6:18 pm

              Best of luck with that project David. My thought is that the hatred of any person or group is generally due to the need to account in a simple way for why things are going wrong. It is another example of Einstein’s justly famous comment, “Things should be simple but not too simple.” I would like to read the Bard article but suspect it might be hard to find.

              • June 10, 2013 at 10:17 pm

                You mean scapegoating! Yes, I agree! I don’t have a scanner, but I’d be happy to make you a xerox copy of the Bard article and send it through the regular U.S. mail. If you don’t want to give out your street address, maybe you have a P.O. box number or maybe one of the four original Scarriet posters would be willing to make some arrangement using their address or P.O. Box.
                I didn’t know that Einstein quote. Thank you! You probably know this one, too, then, but just in case not….. “If the theory of relativity proves correct, Germany will claim me as a German, and France will declare that I am a “citizen of the world.” If the theory of relativity does not prove correct, France will call me a German, and Germany will call me a Jew.” It’s a classic quote, but of course it also shows that Einstein at that time did not imagine how very far Germany would go under Hitler. Freud had a famous quote like that, too, of course. It went something like, “If this were the Middle Ages, Germany would burn my body. Now it is content to burn my books.” Of course Freud had to be smuggled out of Europe, a dying man, to England, or his body would have been burned as well. David Bittner

              • Don Fox said,

                June 11, 2013 at 1:35 am

                I have no objection to giving you my address. It is
                Don Fox
                2138 W 23th Ave.
                Vancouver, BC
                V6K 2S1
                I look forward to getting the article. I’m going away for a week, so no hurry.

                • Anonymous said,

                  June 11, 2013 at 1:34 pm

                  Everyone knew what was happening in Germany re: the Jews and they did nothing. You can’t blame the German people, the ordinary, terrified citizen. When thugs (if you disagree with me, I’ll kill you) take control of a nation only organized violence can take them out.

                • Don Fox said,

                  June 11, 2013 at 7:05 pm

                  That should have been 2138 W 13th Ave. The rest is correct.

                  • Don Fox said,

                    June 11, 2013 at 7:14 pm

                    The problem with violence is that it is so rarely free of bad consequences. Unfortunately the only real solution to evil is to evolve beyond it. That could be a long time coming, of course.

        • July 3, 2013 at 2:07 am

          Dear Tom, I think I may just have succeeded in e-mailing you my article on Prof. Ernest Samuels. I used the e-mail address the reference librarian gave me: Blog@WordPress.com. I guess you’ll let me know if it went through, Good night! Yours, David

    • thomasbrady said,

      June 6, 2013 at 5:16 pm

      Hi Don,

      Knowing “Thanatos” is Death and “Eros” is Love is not necessarily going to make Blake easy to understand. I haven’t read Wilber on Blake.

      Tom

      • Don Fox said,

        June 6, 2013 at 5:38 pm

        Tom,

        As far as I know, Wilber doesn’t comment on Blake directly, but my take on what his main point is in UFE is that to go on to a higher level of spiritual development one must die to the previous level. This means that those remaining at that level may find it difficult to understand what has taken place. The difference between this and insanity is that Blake was also capable of understanding the previous level, and to be compassionate toward those who are stuck there. Thus Tiger, Tiger shows he knows what fear is, and to suggest how it can be overcome through self questioning. Most ppl find Frost more comprehensible because he didn’t attempt this, and because his poetry, while brilliant, reflects the view of an American pragmatist in the guise of a New England farmer. They are very different.

        • thomasbrady said,

          June 6, 2013 at 6:08 pm

          Don,

          I don’t think ‘development’ can “die to the previous level;” if it’s truly developmental, it incorporates the previous level, even makes the previous level more important. Like Poe, I don’t believe in ‘progress.’ The ‘transcendent’ or the ‘evolutionary’ is not ‘progress.’ We advance only to become caught up in what lies behind. Not that I don’t think ‘better’ is possible, but I’m suspicious of grand, generalizing theories of progress.

          The Tyger is factually wrong: tigers tend to hunt during the day, and they do so through ambush, and thus they hide, they do not ‘burn bright’ in ‘the night.’ Also, a tiger’s stripes are unique, like a person’s fingerprints, so “symmetry’ is not quite correct. Poetry is not science.

          Not that poetry can’t be philosophical. The answer to the question, ‘Did he who make the lamb, make thee?’ is yes and no. The poem is ultimately saying, ‘don’t be so certain.’

          As for Frost, he was certain about most things, like most New Englanders…

          Tom

          • Don Fox said,

            June 6, 2013 at 6:56 pm

            Tom:
            As a matter of fact, what you are saying is exactly Wilber’s message. You die to a previous level in the sense that you don’t stay there, even tho you might want to. It may, and often does, seem like death. You incorporate all previous levels, sort of like a set of Russian dolls. It is only in this way that you can be compassionate and caring to those still stuck in lower levels, or better, less comprehensive levels. I think Wilber is destined to be widely recognized as the most profound writer in this field, which combines mythology, psychology, science and, indeed, all human knowledge and experience.

            • thomasbrady said,

              June 7, 2013 at 3:55 pm

              Thanks, Don.

              Wilber, of course, is not the first to see evolution this way—it goes back as far as Plato, at least, but OK…

              Tom

              • Don Fox said,

                June 8, 2013 at 11:58 pm

                Can it be that Charles Darwin got the credit or blame due to Plato? Who knew?

                • thomasbrady said,

                  June 10, 2013 at 1:43 pm

                  Don, not evolution in strict Darwinian terms, but idea of transcended levels not left behind–this is not new with Wilber, nor was Darwin completely original, either. That’s all.
                  Tom

                  • Don Fox said,

                    June 10, 2013 at 6:29 pm

                    My view is that physical and spiritual evolution go together. Darwin focused on the physical, since that is what scientists of his time did. He was in enough trouble with that approach, and one can’t blame him for downplaying the spiritual side. Wilber is more interested in the spiritual and psychological aspects of evolution. I am concerned for him, living as he does in Gunland. He is a brave man.

                    • June 15, 2013 at 2:58 pm

                      In support of the theory that physical and spiritual evolution go together may be the following brief explanation I once read….”Reason is the evolutionary descendant of the emotions,” I take this to mean that “conscience,” the ability to tell right from wrong, that religion so often claims as its great gift to mankind, is actually something that occurs in nature…Religion may refine on conscience with such things as the Ten Commandments, Hammurabi’s Code, the Egyptian Book of the Dead, and the Sayings of Confucius, but it all started with physical evolution! P.S. I mailed you a copy of Bard’s article the day before yesterday. And I will look among my files later on today for that quotation I used above to make sure I haven’t left anything out.

  2. marcusbales said,

    June 6, 2013 at 9:01 am

    One barrier to the judges’ understanding of Frost’s poem is that they seem to think it’s free verse:

    “Frost seems matter-of-fact and reasonable compared to Blake, and “Mending Wall” is a triumph of that sort of rambling, calm, lower-your-blood-pressure, free verse that neither Pound nor Williams nor Eliot could quite pull off.”

    It’s a sad commentary on the understanding of poetry when blank verse is mistaken for free verse.

    • thomasbrady said,

      June 6, 2013 at 3:32 pm

      Marcus,

      Pedantic remarks like yours ruin the “matter-of-fact, rambling, lower-your-blood-pressure” aspect of the Frost poem and play right into the hands of the psychotic, free-verse revolutionaries.

      By insisting on calling it ‘blank verse,’ you force the reader to be conscious of what they were pleasantly unconcious of.

      Here’s the truth of the whole matter: English speech invariably falls into a pretty steady iambic rhythm whether the speaker intends it or not.

      Yes, you are technically correct: “Mending Wall” is a (rather loose) blank verse poem—but let’s not throw a big party about it.

      Loose blank verse comes so close to free verse, given the fact that iambic is nearly the default rhythm of everyone who speaks English, that to make it all about putting “Mending Wall” into the Verse camp is a little silly and counter-productive, even in terms of your own mission as defender of verse.

      • marcusbales said,

        June 7, 2013 at 2:54 am

        The difference between blank verse and free verse is that blank verse is language in meter and free verse is not — meter is exactly what free verse is free of. You not only fail to distinguish between blank and free verse, you are claiming that the verse Frost was proudest of, his ‘sentence sounds’, his blank verse is nothing more than the free verse he disparaged in his famous metaphor about tennis.

        Frost Was Wrong

        Frost was wrong.
        Free verse is not like playing tennis without the net;
        it’s like playing tennis without
        racquets, balls, or court.
        Nothing’s long
        Or short; nothing’s in or out, no match, no game, no set,
        no point: it’s just running about,
        not playing a sport.

        Every shot
        is brilliant, each return a marvel, each grunt or curse
        will punctuate and guarantee
        another great play.
        Girls as hot
        And boys as rich as they claim to be online: free verse
        means that anybody can be
        anything they say.

        • Don Fox said,

          June 7, 2013 at 3:09 am

          Frost Was Wrong is very fine. Rarely do I see a poem I wish I had written, but this is one.

          • June 10, 2013 at 6:07 pm

            Don, and I was wrong about a few things in my message to you a little earlier today. I looked at Wikipedia’s short bio of Josef Bard, and it gives his dates as 1882-1975. It also looks like he spent most of his post-war life in England, not the U.S. He was credited in this bio with one novel and some short stories. Still not at all fulfilling the great promise Dorothy thought he held, though, I think.He had two children by his first wife, a son who died in the Holocaust, and a daughter who somehow managed to survive with her family. They all immigrated to America after the Hungarian Revolution. I would still like to do a piece on him. David Bittner

    • Don Fox said,

      June 6, 2013 at 4:40 pm

      It seems that in the ‘land of the free’ ppl should know what free verse is. Ignorance can be ironic.

      • thomasbrady said,

        June 6, 2013 at 5:22 pm

        Just look at the first line. It’s not iambic pentameter.

        Something there IS that DOESn’t love a WALL.

        Frost was going after natural speech. The above 3 beat line is how one might naturally say “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.”

        “And spills the upper bolders in the sun” is iambic pentameter.

        But “And makes gaps even two can pass abreast” is not.

        But MAKES GAPS EV-en TWO can PASS a-BREAST

        Etc

        Also, how a poem’s music interacts with content is so important that it can never be safely left out of sight. To boil any poem down to its meter is nice to do, but only part of the picture.

        • marcusbales said,

          June 7, 2013 at 3:12 am

          Identifying iambic pentameter is not a matter of scanning a line — it’s a matter of the preponderance of the phrases being iambic and the lines being pentameter. The ‘da dumb da dumb da dumb’ accusation of the freeversers that meter is nothing more than metronomic is plagiarism by them of the criticisms among actual poets who wrote in meter, and who were no more enamored of the monotony of ‘da dumb da dumb’ than the freest freeverser. So ignorant are freeversers of what meter is, and what poetry is, that they can’t even identify it when they see it!

          SOMEthing there IS that DOES n’t LOVE a WALL
          That SENDS the FROzen-GROUND-swell UNder IT,
          And SPILLS the UPper BOULders IN the SUN,
          And MAKES GAPS even TWO can PASS aBREAST.

          The preponderance is iambic, though there is nothing like a ‘da dumb da dumb’ that the freeversers live in such horror of, and the preponderance of the lines are pentameter. You make the undergraduate, or high-school-teacher mistake, of trying to see iambic pentameter as a phrase by phrase or line by line demand by some authority to which the poet must religiously hew. And that’s bullshit. The goal is not to produce innumerable lines of verse that scan perfectly for the convenience of the high school teacher or the ignorant ear of the prose writer, but rather to flex and bend the natural sounds of the native speaker’s ordinary language around and about the regular, repeating, and recognizable meter. It’s utter bullshit that any poem is supposed to be rigorously and absolutely iambic and pentameter through every goddamned syllable.

          And those who don’t know anything, and prefer it that way, about meter have just consigned 2500 years of poetry to the dustbin while claiming that their own, and their own generation’s, prose, lineated to look like poetry on the page, but nothing at all resembling poetry in actuality, is the only thing worth reading. That’s bullshit, too. Those of you who think poetry, by which I mean language in meter, is not worth knowing and knowing well are philistines and bullshit artists.

          • thomasbrady said,

            June 7, 2013 at 3:28 pm

            Something there is that hates pedantry,
            Would rather kill the pedant and be done with it
            Than argue daily of da dumb da dumb
            When no one even knows the fucking point.

            • marcusbales said,

              June 8, 2013 at 10:47 pm

              The point is that you were wrong about the metrics of Frost’s poem: flat wrong. It’s not pedantry to point out that you got the meter wrong: it’s accuracy. And for the most part, if you can’t trust a critic to get the meter right, what can you trust him to get right? The stakes are high — If you mistake blank verse for free verse, what else might you be mistaking?

              I can see why you’re desperate to dismiss my criticism: because if you can’t, then the problem is that if you don’t understand what Frost is doing in “Mending Wall” how can you understand what Blake is doing in “A Poison Tree” — or, indeed, in critiquing or ranking any of the poems in the entire Scarrriet March Madness?

              Unfortunately for you, you clearly mistook the entirety of the meter in “Mending Wall” — and there’s really no way off that hook, for all your wriggling about ‘pedantry’. It’s not pedantry to demonstrate fundamental error — and completely getting the meter wrong is fundamental indeed.

              • thomasbrady said,

                June 9, 2013 at 1:59 am

                Marcus,

                It is pedantry to insist that loose blank verse is verse, end of story. You (pedantically) want this neat division between prose and verse because that’s all you see. Loose blank verse is closer to prose than Blake’s poem is to Frost’s. I mistook nothing. I have always known “Mending Wall” to be a textbook example of blank verse but I am currently reading a book on Edward Thomas and the conversations he and Frost had on poetry and real speech. Yes, Frost was a formalist, but he was also something else: he did meet Pound, who got him published in Poetry, and Frost had an eye on the free verse, modernist revolution and was influenced by that. The point I was making was that Frost, in “Mending Wall,” was doing what the free verse revolutionaries were failing to do: writing poetry that sounded freer, free enough, really, to appear to be free verse. And doing a better job at it than Eliot, Pound, and Williams, who all wrote formally at times like Frost. To point out that “Mending Wall” vaguely resembles iambic pentameter is not all that important in the context of what I was saying. I omitted what we all know: “Mending Wall” is blank verse (loosely). So, OK, Bales, you got me.

                Tom

            • June 11, 2013 at 11:50 pm

              I don’t promise “neorxnawang” in the little poem that follows. I warn you that it does not follow formal rules for rhyme and meter. But maybe it will still be good as tertertainment. It was written during the late ’80s for a course in “The History of the English Language” that was required for the M.A. English degree at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Florida. Our assignment had been to “write something original” on the origins of “melle,” a Middle English word that meant “speak.” So I decided to do mine in verse. I wasn’t able to find any good books on Middle English in the university library and had to depend mostly on the Oxford English Dictionary.

              An Ode on “Melle”

              By David Bittner

              Be not dismayed that shelves are bare
              Of books upon M.E.
              There’s still one thing we all can share–
              The good old O.E.D.

              Its etymologies are quite the best.
              It includes a few of “melle’s.”
              What more could anyone request
              For help with lettres belles? [Note the “eye rhyme.”]

              We see this word whose source we riddle
              Is frankly obsolete.
              Yet once in times of English Middle,
              ‘Twas current and upbeat.

              From mists of early Saxon days,
              When our tongue was in German grips,
              This word a steady trail did blaze
              To later English lips.

              Nay, not from ‘cross the blue, deep water
              Did it come with Normans bold,
              But when a man sang Pearl, his daughter,
              ‘Twas in our tongue quite old.

              In times when Cynewulf did tell
              About Christ’s great discourse,
              He used the O.E. “methleth” well
              Before th’incursion Norse. [Note voiced apico-dental fricatives in third line.]

              Confuse it not with O.F. “meller.”
              That means to blend or mix.
              The Saxons whom the French did waylay
              Spoke’t ere 1066.

              Thus ’tis clear that when Pearl’s dad
              Composed his famous poem,
              This word for “speak” already had
              In English an old home.

              We thank the French for new mots justes,
              Their synonyms we praise.
              But wait, ye countrymen of Proust,
              We miss one little phrase.

              Driven out by Gallic hosts,
              “Melle” is now antique.
              It sadly joins the ranks of ghosts,
              This little word for “speak.”

              #######

              • thomasbrady said,

                June 12, 2013 at 1:28 pm

                David,

                Well done! That poem is cute as hell. And as different from “Mending Wall” in its tone and music has one thing can be from another.

                The most common feature in both the Frost and yours is the feature: pedantic…

                Tom

                • July 2, 2013 at 6:50 pm

                  You should find a comment I posted this morning tellling you that I was trying to figure out how to get an original, much labored-over article to you that I have contained in a flash drive. I think maybe just having an e-mail address to use for you would be all the help I need. I hope that would not violate some rule of Scarriet. Yours, David Bittner

              • Don Fox said,

                June 12, 2013 at 3:49 pm

                Very good David. I trust you got a mark commensurate with your effort. Does Mellencamp rhyme with smelly? If so it might be reborn as the latest thing, to mean speaking with bad breath.

                • Don Fox said,

                  June 15, 2013 at 5:22 pm

                  My spellcheck has a sense of humor. I put in melle and it spits out Mellencamp.

                • July 3, 2013 at 12:26 am

                  My professor, a very nice woman named Dr. Mary Faraci, liked the poem very much. I forgot to put my name on it, so she asked in front of the whole class: “Who wrote the poem?” I admited, of course, to being the culprit. The poem originally had nine stanzas. It was Dr. Faraci who suggested that I write one more stanza about the word “melle'”s Germanic origin. I was happy to oblige, of course, and the fourth stanza was the result. Actually Dr. Faraci never did get around to giving the poem a grade, but I got an A in the course.

            • Don Fox said,

              June 15, 2013 at 5:40 pm

              Something in me thereis who hates a duck.
              O fuck!

          • Don Fox said,

            June 8, 2013 at 11:52 pm

            I think my language meter is broken. I put a coin in, but still only free verse comes out. Can I get it repaired?

          • Don Fox said,

            June 15, 2013 at 5:26 pm

            Was frost aware of the pun on his name when he wrote, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall”? The answer is clearly frost boils under it. Maybe they don’t call them that in New England.

  3. Don Fox said,

    June 6, 2013 at 7:33 pm

    It is no doubt useful for the aspiring poet to be familiar with rhyme, rhythms, etc. and their various affects and effects. For the rest of us it is at best irrelevant and at worst boring.

  4. thomasbrady said,

    June 7, 2013 at 3:47 pm

    Let me quote Poe’s “Rationale of Verse,” the only work worth reading on the subject.

    “Verse originates in the human enjoyment of equality, fitness. To this enjoyment, also, all the moods of verse — rhythm, metre, stanza, rhyme, alliteration, the refrain, and other analagous effects — are to be referred.”

    Note all that “Mending Wall” is missing: rhyme, stanza, and refrain. A piece is not simply ‘verse’ or not. The subject is far more complex.

    And this quote:

    A reads and re-reads a certain line, and pronounces it false in rhythm — unmusical. B, however, reads it to A, and A is at once struck with the perfection of the rhythm, and wonders at his dulness in not “catching” it before. Henceforward he admits the line to be musical. B, triumphant, asserts that, to be sure, the line is musical — for it is the work of Coleridge — and that it is A who is not; the fault being in A’s false reading. Now here A is right and B wrong. That rhythm is erroneous, (at some point or other more or less obvious,) which any ordinary reader can, without design, read improperly. It is the business of the poet so to construct his line that the intention must be caught at once.”

  5. thomasbrady said,

    June 15, 2013 at 4:38 pm

    Any theory in which ‘evolution’ is posited as whatever ‘evolves’ away from what you don’t like has to be a pretty shallow theory. Time is neutral; the mere passing of time can never be assumed to be improvement or progress or evolution. To make Time conscious of improvement is to add God to your ‘evolutionary’ process–which is precisely what the ‘evolutionists’ seek to avoid. Yes, nature and its operations are wonderful, inspiring, miraculous–and the last step is to say nature is God, or the converse, God is nature. Religious disputations are all bankrupt because there is no disagreement: God is nature and nature is God. The ‘evolutionary’ items are simply parts found to fit miraculously together in reverse. If the Universe is One, it will, by law, have One Memory applied to a near-infinity of its parts, which, to our limited perceptions, appear miraculous and evolutionary. Why does a car know to stop at a red light? It’s a miracle of nature! It’s a miracle of God! It’s evolutionary! It’s the Grand Mystery!

    • Don Fox said,

      June 15, 2013 at 5:38 pm

      ‘My brother the car’? I agree what you cite is a very shallow version of evolution. To me basically evolution is the rule of whatever works. When it stops working it’s evolve or die. (I give Lily Tomlin credit for that slogan.) The element of faith here is to identify that with God, or as I prefer to say, Jeck. Jeck is my personal god and I don’t recommend him (her, it, them…) for anyone else. If you’re interested the poem I wrote when I first encounter Jeck.

      • July 2, 2013 at 6:24 pm

        I wonder if anyone remembers that in the mid-60s there actually was a short-lived situation comedy on TV called “My Mother the Car.” It starred Jerry Van Dyke, Dick Van Dyke’s brother, as the owner of a car which his recently deceased mother had ‘come back” as. The actress Ann Sothern provided the voice of the car. Just a bit of TV trivia that I thought you all might enjoy. David Bittner

        • Don Fox said,

          July 2, 2013 at 6:47 pm

          Thanks for that David, and for the article you sent me. From a scientific perspective, the latter cries out for an exploration of the unconscious as regards the hatreds we repress. To me that exploration, while difficult, is the essence of Wilber’s ideas. I will have to look into ‘My mother the car.’ missed it first time around.

  6. Don Fox said,

    July 2, 2013 at 10:32 pm

    Actually, while whimsical in intent and execution, My Mother, the Car, is very current. A recent book on sex with robots indicates how far we’ve come in the anthropomorphization of machines. A friend of mine, Giles Slade, recently had a book published on the history of our love affair with machines, and how it may be isolating us. The title is The Big Disconnect. While I find it difficult to get very excited about this issue,
    there is no doubt we need to be aware of the affects and effects of technology on us.

    • July 2, 2013 at 11:59 pm

      I am one who happens to have a love affair with machines — not the way a man who is handy around the house has or a man who likes gadgets has, but I happen to have quite a nice collection of art deco (or art moderne, as I prefer to call it), that I began 30-odd years ago. It amuses me that things that looked ultra-futuristic 70 and 80 years ago just look klunky to us today. And the klunkier they are the better I like them! I say that I am “touched by yesterday’s vision of tomorrow.” Now, that’s actually a line that I’ve borrowed from a tourist’s guide book to Disneyworld. It said that “Tomorrowland” was “yesterday’s vision of tomorrow”! But it works as an explanation of my interest in art deco (or moderne)! David Bittner

  7. Don Fox said,

    July 3, 2013 at 12:17 am

    Interesting. Do you share your collection with others, at least as far as viewing it is concerned? If so, it is not promoting isolation. And otherwise it sounds harmless enough. I have a large book collection which I like to share with others, but who reads books any more?

  8. July 3, 2013 at 12:47 am

    I’m always happy to give people the “nickel tour” of my pad, and that includes the art deco items, also my smaller collection of religious items, both Jewish and Christian, and various souvenirs of my life and high times. Since you mention collecting books, which I have many of, too, what do you think of this theory I’ve come up with: that good looks (in people) are like first editions of your favorite books. They’re nice to have, but not really important, and you could always get along without them if you had to. Just a thought.

  9. Don Fox said,

    July 3, 2013 at 2:39 am

    I like that, David. A little like Red Green’s famous “If women don’t find you handsome, they should at least find you handy.”


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