June 14, 1287: Prose and Khans

In 1287, Kublai Khan, on a bit of a tear through Asia, defeated the forces led by princes of Mongolia and Manchuria. Kublai was a grandson of Genghis, another Khan known for being rather hard to get along with. Like his grandfather, Kublai was a holy terror right from infancy when he frequently seized power from fellow toddlers. Eventually, Kublai pushed the Mongol Empire to new heights, creating a unified, militarily powerful China and gaining international attention in the process.

Marco Polo, in the accounts of his travels, made Kublai well-known to western audiences, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge added a romantic aura in the early 19th century with his description of Kublai (Kubla to Coleridge) Khan’s summer cottage at Xanadu:

     In Xanadu did Kubla Khan

     A stately pleasure-dome decree:

     Where Alph, the sacred river, ran

     Through caverns measureless to man

     Down to a sunless sea.

     When the sacred river Alph plunged into that sunless sea it naturally created a great waterfall. In the rush of this waterfall, the voices of Kubla’s ancestors could be heard — that strident, discordant one being Genghis.

 

It turns out that, at social gatherings, as a source of entertainment, conviviality, and good fun, I rank somewhere between a sprig of parsley and a single ice-skate. ~ Dorothy Parker

May 12, 1812: Poetry Without Naughty Words, Naughty Words Without Poetry

Edward Lear, born in England in 1812, was a true dabbler — artist, illustrator, musician, author, poet. Starting off his career as an illustrator, he was employed to illustrate birds and animals first for the Zoological Society and then for Edward Stanley, the Earl of Derby, who had a private menagerie. He also made drawings during his journeys that later illustrated his travel books. and illustrations for the poetry of Alfred Lord Tennyson. As a musician, Lear played the accordion, flute, guitar, and piano (not simultaneously). He also composed music for a number of Romantic and Victorian poems, most notably those of Tennyson.

Lear is remembered chiefly for his work as a writer of literary nonsense. He might easily have been given the title Father of the Limerick for bringing the much maligned form into popularity (without the raunchiness that later found its way into the form). LearIn 1846, he published A Book of Nonsense, a volume of limericks that went through three editions. In 1871 he published Nonsense Songs, Stories, Botany and Alphabets, which included his most famous nonsense song, The Owl and the Pussycat, which he wrote for the children of the Earl of Derby.

Lear’s nonsense books were successful during his lifetime, but he found himself fighting rumors that he was just a pseudonym and that the books were actually written by the Earl of Derby. Conspiracy theorists cited as evidence the facts that both men were named Edward, and that Lear is an anagram of Earl. A few even suggested he was born in Kenya, not England.

The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
‘O lovely Pussy! O Pussy my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are,
You are,
You are!
What a beautiful Pussy you are!’

Pussy said to the Owl, ‘You elegant fowl!
How charmingly sweet you sing!
O let us be married! too long we have tarried:
But what shall we do for a ring?’
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
To the land where the Bong-tree grows
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
With a ring at the end of his nose,
His nose,
His nose,
With a ring at the end of his nose.

‘Dear pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
Your ring?’ Said the Piggy, ‘I will.’
So they took it away, and were married next day
By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
The moon,
The moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.

May 12, 1937

Stand-up comedian, social critic, satirist, actor, writer/author George Carlin was born on May 12, 1937 (died 2008). Noted for his black humor as well as his thoughts on politics, the English language, psychology, religion, and various taboo subjects, he won five Grammy Awards for his comedy albums. Carlin and his classic “Seven Dirty Words” comedy routine were central to the 1978 U.S. Supreme Court case in which the justices affirmed the government’s power to regulate indecent material on the public airwaves.

In his own words:

george

Swimming is not a sport. Swimming is a way to keep from drowning. That’s just common sense!

Honesty may be the best policy, but it’s important to remember that apparently, by elimination, dishonesty is the second-best policy.

george-carlin2

The very existence of flamethrowers proves that sometime, somewhere, someone said to themselves, “You know, I want to set those people over there on fire, but I’m just not close enough to get the job done.”

Religion has convinced people that there’s an invisible man…living in the sky, who watches everything you do every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a list of ten specific things he doesn’t want you to do. And if you do any of these things, he will send you to a special place, of burning and fire and smoke and torture and anguish for you to live forever, and suffer and burn and scream until the end of time. But he loves you. He loves you and he needs money.

November 3, 1883: Stagecoach Poetica

The California Gold Rush was in full swing by the latter half of the 19th century. Stagecoaches and Wells Fargo wagons were hauling gold out of blackbartCalifornia by the, well by the wagonload.  All this gold was just too much of a temptation for some folks, transplanted New Yorker Charles Boles being one such tempted soul.

In the summer of 1875, Boles donned a white linen duster, put a flour sack over his head and a black derby on top of that and set about robbing the gold from a stagecoach leaving the mining city of Copperopolis. Boles stepped out in front of the stage, aimed a shotgun at the driver, forcing him to stop and demanding him to “Throw down the box.” The driver was reluctant to comply until he saw several gun barrels aimed at them from nearby bushes. He calculated the odds, and turned over the strongbox. Boles whacked the strongbox with an ax until it disgorged its treasure, which Boles hauled off while the stagecoach driver remained a captive of Boles’ fellow conspirators. After this standoff had lasted a bit too long, he moved to retrieve the empty strongbox and found that the rifles pointing at him were nothing but sticks tied to branches of the bushes.

Boles was rather amazed at how easy this robbery business was and so, adopting the moniker Black Bart, he embarked on a life of crime. He became a bit of a legend due to his daring, the fact that he never rode a horse and leaving bits of verse “po8try” behind at each robbery:

I’ve labored long and hard for bread —

For honor and for riches —

But on my corns too long you’ve tred,

You fine-haired sons of bitches.

His victims also called him a gentleman. Once after ordering a stage drive to throw down the box, a frightened passenger tossed him her purse. Bart returned it to her, saying that he wanted only the strongbox and the mailbag.

Black Bart the Po8 robbed his last stagecoach on November 3, 1883 — that is, attempted to rob his last stage. Wells Fargo, not amused at having lost close to half a million to bandits, had secreted an extra guard on the stage. Bart escaped the trap but dropped his derby and left several other incriminating items behind a nearby rock. Within days, Black Bart had been apprehended.

During his eight years as a highwayman, Black Bart never shot anyone, nor did he ever rob an individual passenger. He stole a grand total of $18,000. Sentenced to six years in prison, he served four before receiving a pardon and disappearing into retirement.

Inspiration for 11/3/16

election

August 27, 1938: Poets Gone Wild

matchSome say the world will end in fire, / Some say in ice. / From what I’ve tasted of desire / I hold with those who favor fire.

It is pretty well agreed that Robert Frost was among the best American poets of the twentieth century. Both popularly and critically acclaimed, he received four Pulitzer Prizes for Poetry. It’s also pretty much agreed that Frost was not a warm and fuzzy individual, that he leaned more toward nasty and tyrannical behavior. It was also said “that he tolerated rivals badly, that he was a prima donna who was never content to share the center of the stage.”

Perhaps the incident of August 27, 1938, was just an accident or Frost’s mind was wrapped up in his poem, Fire and Ice. Nevertheless, his behavior – or misbehavior – looked a bit suspicious.

On this night, writer Archibald MacLeish visited the Breadloaf Writers Conference to read his poems and radio plays at a gathering in the hills above Middlebury, Vermont. Frost was among the attendees, sitting in the back. As MacLeish read from his poetry, Frost began heckling him. “Archie’s poems all have the same tune,” he said in a stage whisper. Then just as MacLeish read the single-sentence poem, “You, Andrew Marvell,” smoke filled the room. Frost had somehow set fire to some papers and was busily beating them out and waving away the smoke.

Most people accepted Frost’s explanation that it was an accident, and the reading continued. MacLeish, still the center of attention, was asked to read from one of his plays. Frost was not finished. His wisecracks from the back of the room became steadily harsher and more barbed. He interrupted, he commented, he took exception. What may have been innocent literary give and take turned into a clear effort to frustrate and humiliate MacLeish, and the situation became increasingly painful to those in the room.

Finally, Bernard DeVoto, a scholar and friend of Frost, had had enough. He shouted: “For God’s sake, Robert, let him read!” Frost ignored him, but a few minutes later snarled savagely and stomped out of the room and down the road not taken.

 

♥ Happy Birthday L ♥

August 19, 1902: Parsley Is Gharsley

Ogden Nash, an American poet known for his droll and playful verse, wrote over 500 pieces of comic ogdenverse, the best of which was published in 14 volumes between 1931 and his death in 1971. He frequently used surprising puns, made up words, and words deliberately misspelled for comic effect.

His most famous rhyme was a twist on Joyce Kilmer’s poem “Trees” (1913): “I think that I shall never see / a billboard lovely as a tree.  Indeed, unless the billboards fall / I’ll never see a tree at all.”

When Nash wasn’t writing poems, he made guest appearances on comedy and radio shows and lectured at colleges and universities.

I am a conscientious man, when I throw rocks at seabirds I leave no tern
unstoned.

A mighty creature is the germ,
Though smaller than the pachyderm.
His customary dwelling place
Is deep within the human race.
His childish pride he often pleases
By giving people strange diseases.
Do you, my poppet, feel infirm?
You probably contain a germ.

Progress might have been alright once, but it has gone on too long.

The rhino is a homely beast,
For human eyes he’s not a feast.
Farewell, farewell, you old rhinoceros,
I’ll stare at something less prepoceros.

The Pig, if I am not mistaken,
Gives us ham and pork and Bacon.
Let others think his heart is big,
I think it stupid of the Pig.

There is only one way to achieve happiness on this terrestrial ball, and that is to have either a clear conscience or none at all.

Oh, what a tangled web do parents weave when they think that their children are naive.

October 21, 1772: A Bird Round the Neck Is Worth Two in the Bush

English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge was one of the major literary voices in England at the end of the 18th century. He was born on October 21, 1772, and died on July 25, 1834. Along with his good The Ancient Marinerfriend William Wordsworth, he helped to pioneer the Romantic Age of English poetry.  He’s best known for Kubla Khan (In Xanadu did Kubla Khan /A stately pleasure-dome decree) written, according to Coleridge himself, in “a kind of a reverie” as a result of an opium dream, and Rime of the Ancient Mariner, a seafaring epic, sort of like Mutiny on the Bounty without the mutiny or Titanic without the glitz or the the sinking.

The poem begins at a wedding, where one of the guests, hoping to get into the open bar before it closes is distracted by an old salt “with long grey beard and glittering eye.” This, of course, is the titular ancient mariner – no surprise, since Coleridge identifies himself as such in the very first line – who begins his tale:

‘The ship was cheered, the harbour cleared,

Merrily did we drop

Below the kirk, below the hill,

Below the lighthouse top.

The Sun came up upon the left,

Out of the sea came he!

And he shone bright, and on the right

Went down into the sea.

Even though the mariner has a nice way with words, the wedding guest is thirsty and he has spotted the bride leading other guests to the bar. But –

The Wedding-Guest he beat his breast,

Yet he cannot choose but hear;

And thus spake on that ancient man,

The bright-eyed Mariner.

The mariner describes his journey which takes him into some rather nasty, cold (Vermont-like) weather:

The ice was here, the ice was there,

The ice was all around:

It cracked and growled, and roared and howled,

Like noises in a swound!

We can only guess that a swound is a pretty nasty sounding thing – but it does rhyme nicely.  Enter the albatross, seascape left:

At length did cross an Albatross,

Through the fog it came;

As if it had been a Christian soul,

We hailed it in God’s name.

The albatross leads the ship and its crew to warmer waters, and a perfect spot for the mariner to conclude his tale as  the wedding guest suggests. But the mariner drops a bomb instead.

‘God save thee, ancient Mariner!

From the fiends, that plague thee thus!—

Why look’st thou so?’—With my cross-bow

I shot the ALBATROSS.

Well, wouldn’t you know it, the fair breeze that had delivered them from the cold disappears, and they are becalmed, unable to move, and now it’s getting hot.

Day after day, day after day,

We stuck, nor breath nor motion;

As idle as a painted ship

Upon a painted ocean.

Water, water, every where,

And all the boards did shrink;

Water, water, every where,

Nor any drop to drink.

The crew members blame their plight entirely on the mariner. They hang the albatross around his neck and give him the cold shoulder. Eventually they spot a ship in the distance, and they watch for several verses in anticipation. As the vessel draws near, however, they discover that its passengers are Death (a skeleton) and the “Night-mare Life-in-Death” (a deathly-pale woman). These two are playing dice for the souls of the crew. Death wins the lives of the crew members and Life-in-Death the life of the Mariner. He will endure a fate worse than death as punishment for his killing of the albatross.

One by one, all of the crew members die, but the Mariner lives on.

The many men, so beautiful!

And they all dead did lie:

And a thousand thousand slimy things

Lived on; and so did I.

Eventually, left alone with them, the mariner begins to appreciate the slimy things and even begins to pray for them.  And then the albatross falls from his neck. The bodies of the crew, possessed by good spirits, rise again and steer the ship back home, where it sinks again, leaving only the Mariner behind.

But his penance for shooting the albatross is not finished. He is forced to wander the earth annoying wedding guests with his story, a lesson for all those he meets.

Farewell, farewell! but this I tell

To thee, thou Wedding-Guest!

He prayeth well, who loveth well

Both man and bird and beast.