Friday, April 01, 2011

 

"Everybody plays the fool"

As the song says. "No exceptions to the rule".

And there's the old saying, "even Homer nods".

But I was very surprised in a library some years ago to see that the editors of Pegasus Descending: A Book of the Best Bad Verse had thought to include in that anthology Emily Dickinson's Poem #566-"A Dying Tiger--moaned for Drink--", which I find to be very powerful, and believe to be oft-acclaimed.

It's of course because of line five--"His Mighty Balls--in death were thick--". Anyone familiar with Dickinson's diction knows she is referring to "EYEballs", but yes, the line is rather funny, if one wants to make an issue of it.

If one bad line is sufficient to whisk an excellent poem away into the bad, bad, bad category, I wonder if William Blake's pithy wise notebook poem "Never pain to tell thy Love" will ever be fated for inclusion in such a collection:

Never pain to tell thy Love
Love that never told can be
For the gentle wind does move
Silently invisibly

I told my love I told my love
I told her all my heart
Trembling cold in ghastly fears
Ah she doth depart

Soon as she was gone from me
A traveler came by
Silently invisibly
O was no deny

We know very well what he means by it, but the last line is excruciatingly clumsy, is it not? The excuse for W.B.'s line might be: it's not something published, it's just something in a notebook. The excuse for E.D.'s, of course, is that she likely wasn't aware of such slang as "balls" meaning testicles. Or that you should leave your dirty mind out of it as you read what she wrote about her Tyger's eyes extinguished.
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NOTE: Pegasus Descending was edited by the odd triumvarate of James Camp, X.J. Kennedy, and Keith Waldrop. I don't know who Camp is, but Kennedy and Waldrop are very different figures.

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