A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Poem of the Day: A.E. Housman

     "Terence, this is stupid stuff: 
You eat your victuals fast enough; 
There can't be 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: 
Heighho, 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 should 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 kinds will sit to feast, 
They get their fill before they think 
With poisoned meat and poisoned drink. 
He gathered all the springs 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

Housman is one of those poets that people outgrow -- and then maybe grow back into. It's true that there are a few too many Housman poems with speakers moping about turning 20 or 21 or 22, about athletes dying young, about the passing away of rose-lipt maidens and lightfoot lads. He seems to be the poet of post-adolescent sentimental Weltschmerz. But there comes a time in life when one maybe likes to recall one's own post-adolescent sentimental Weltschmerz, and then only Housman will do. 

The response of "Terence" (A Shropshire Lad was originally titled The Poems of Terence Hearsay until the publisher wisely talked him out of it) to his friend's critique is a kind of poetic manifesto, a defense of melancholy that contains three or four of Housman's most memorable lines. The trouble is, one likely remembers "malt does more than Milton can" more than one remembers the moral of the Mithridates anecdote: a little poison (i.e., poetic truth) every day keeps the undertaker away. 

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