Thursday, March 26, 2009

Charles Olson and A. E. Housman

The Lego version of A. E. Housman's "The Loveliest of Trees" (see below)

Courtesy of the always excellent poetry blog Five Branch Tree, here is Charles Olson reading the poem he described as his best, "The Librarian," in an animated fashion, replete with Zero Mostel eyebrow articulation.

Yesterday, the folks at Poetry Alive reminded me over on Facebook that besides Corso, Campbell, and Frost, it was also the birthday of the poet A. E. Housman. Rather than trot out the same old, same old, I thought this "narrative" tale of ennui and ale, vaguely reminiscent of the drinking songs of the Chinese masters, appropriate enough. So, led on by the celebrant himself, lets raise pint to all four poets of their kind:

-`Terence, this is stupid stuff:
You eat your victuals fast enough;
There's nothing much amiss, 'tis clear,
To see the rate you drink your beer.
But oh, good Lord, the verse you make,
It gives a chap the belly-ache.
The cow, the old cow, she is dead;
It sleeps well, the horned head:
We poor lads, 'tis our turn now
To hear such tunes as killed the cow.
Pretty friendship 'tis to rhyme
Your friends to death before their time
Moping melancholy mad:
Come, pipe a tune to dance to, lad.'

Why, if 'tis dancing you would be,
There's brisker pipes than poetry.
Say, for what were hop-yards meant,
Or why was Burton built on Trent?
Oh many a peer of England brews
Livelier liquor than the Muse,
And malt does more than Milton can
To justify God's ways to man.
Ale, man, ale's the stuff to drink
For fellows whom it hurts to think:
Look into the pewter pot
To see the world as the world's not.
And faith, 'tis pleasant till 'tis past:
The mischief is that 'twill not last.
Oh I have been to Ludlow fair
And left my necktie God knows where,
And carried half way home, or near,
Pints and quarts of Ludlow beer:
Then the world seemed none so bad,
And I myself a sterling lad;
And down in lovely muck I've lain,
Happy till I woke again.
Then I saw the morning sky:
Heigho, the tale was all a lie;
The world, it was the old world yet,
I was I, my things were wet,
And nothing now remained to do
But begin the game anew.

---Therefore, since the world has still
Much good, but much less good than ill,
And while the sun and moon endure
Luck's a chance, but trouble's sure,
I'd face it as a wise man would,
And train for ill and not for good.
'Tis true, the stuff I bring for sale
Is not so brisk a brew as ale:
Out of a stem that scored the hand
I wrung it in a weary land.
But take it: if the smack is sour
The better for the embittered hour;
It will do good to heart and head
When your soul is in my soul's stead;
And I will friend you, if I may,
In the dark and cloudy day.

---There was a king reigned in the East:
There, when kings will sit to feast,
They get their fill before they think
With poisoned meat and poisoned drink.
He gathered all that sprang to birth
From the many-venomed earth;
First a little, thence to more,
He sampled all her killing store;
And easy, smiling, seasoned sound,
Sate the king when healths went round.
They put arsenic in his meat
And stared aghast to watch him eat;
They poured strychnine in his cup
And shook to see him drink it up:
They shook, they stared as white's their shirt:
Them it was their poison hurt.
-- I tell the tale that I heard told.
Mithridates, he died old.
A. E. Housman

Since, of course, it is the season of the cherry tree, perhaps the poem "The Loveliest of Seasons," pictured above, would be more appropriate. Give it a try. I'll be raising that pint.

cherry trees blooming--
this corrupt world
is a Pure Land!
translated by David Lanoue



sam of the ten thousand things said...

"Terence, this is stupid stuff" has been a longtime favorite of mine. Thanks for the post, Don.

Anonymous said...

Hey, Don,

It's been a rough day, but this post and the receipt of Lilly in the mail today seriously cheered me up.

Thank you,

A. Scott Britton

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

You are welcome, Sam

Hey, Scott, hope all was downhill from here ...