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Unread 03-08-2003, 06:01 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
Join Date: Jul 2001
Location: Iowa City, IA, USA
Posts: 9,523

This poem has been a favorite of mine since I was in high school. It comes to mind every time another war threatens.

A Little Night Music

It seems vainglorious and proud
Of Atom-man to boast so loud
His prowess homicidal,
When one remembers how for years,
With their rude stones and humble spears,
Our sires, at wiping out their peers,
Were almost never idle.

Despite his under-fissioned art
The Hittite made a splendid start
Toward smiting lesser nations;
While Tamerlane, it's widely known,
Without a bomb to call his own
Destroyed whole populations.

Nor did the ancient Persian need
Uranium to kill his Mede,
The Viking earl, his foeman.
The Greeks got excellent results
With swords and engined catapults.
A chariot served the Roman.

Mere cannon garnered quite a yield
On Waterloo's tempestuous field.
At Hastings and at Flodden
Stout countrymen, with just a bow
And arrow, laid their thousands low,
And Gettysburg was sodden.

Though doubtless now our shrewd machines
Can blow the world to smithereens
More tidily and so on,
Let's give our ancestors their due,
Their ways were coarse, their weapons few,
But ah! how wondrously they slew
With what they had to go on.
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Unread 03-08-2003, 06:22 PM
VictoriaGaile VictoriaGaile is offline
Join Date: Mar 2002
Posts: 1,705

This was the first poem I encountered by McGinley, and it delighted me at once.

In Praise of Diversity

Since the ingenious earth began
To shape itself from fire and rubble;
Since God invented man, and man
At once fell to, inventing trouble,
One virtue, one subversive grace
Has chiefly vexed the human race.

One whimsical beatitude,
Concocted for his gain and glory,
Has man most stoutly misconstrued
Of all the primal category -
Counting no blessing, but a flaw,
That Difference is the mortal law.

Adam, perhaps, while toiling late,
With life a book still strange to read in,
Saw his new world, how variegate,
And mourned, "It was not so in Eden,"
Confusing thus from the beginning
Unlikeness with original sinning.

And still the sons of Adam's clay
Labor in person or by proxy
At altering to a common way
The planet's holy heterodoxy.
Till now, so dogged is the breed,
Almost it seems that they succeed.

One shrill, monotonous, level note
The human orchestra's reduced to.
Man casts his ballot, turns his coat,
Gets born, gets buried as he used to,
Makes war, makes love -- but with a kind
Of masked and universal mind.

His good has no nuances. He
Doubts or believes with total passion.
Heretics choose for heresy
Whatever's the prevailing fashion.
Those wearing Tolerance for a label
Call other views intolerable.

"For or Against" 's the only rule.
Damned are the unconvinced, the floaters.
Now all must go to public school,
March with the League of Women Voters,
Or else for safety get allied
With a unanimous Other Side.

There's white, there's black; no tint between.
Truth is a plane that was a prism.
All's Blanshard that's not Bishop Sheen.
All's treason that's not patriotism.

Faith, charity, hope -- now all must fit
One pattern or its opposite.
Or so it seems. Yet who would dare
Deny that nature planned it other,
When every freckled thrush can wear
A dapple various from his brother,
When each pale snowflake in the storm
Is false to some imagined norm?

Recalling then what surely was
The earliest bounty of Creation:
That not a blade among the grass
But flaunts its difference with elation,
Let us devoutly take no blame
If similar does not mean the same.

And grateful for the wit to see
Prospects through doors we cannot enter,
Ah! Let us praise Diversity
Which holds the world upon its center.
Praise con amor' or furioso
The large, the little, and the soso.

Rejoice that under cloud and star
The planet's more than Maine or Texas.
Bless the delighful fact there are
Twelve months, nine muses, and two sexes;
And infinite in earth's dominions
Arts, climates, and opinions.

Praise ice and ember, sand and rock,
Tiger and dove and ends and sources;
Space travelers, and who only walk
Like mailmen round familiar courses;
Praise vintage grapes and tavern Grappas,
And bankers and Phi Beta Kappas;

Each in its moment justified,
Praise knowledge, theory, second guesses;
That which must wither or abide;
Prim men, and men like wildernesses;
And men of peace and men of mayhem
And pipers and the ones who pay 'em.

Praise the disheveled, praise the sleek;
Austerity and hearts-and-flowers;
People who turn the other cheek
And extroverts who take cold showers;
Saints we can name a holy day for
And infidels the saints can pray for.

Praise youth for pulling things apart,
Toppling the idols, breaking leases;
Then from the upset apple-cart
Praise oldsters picking up the pieces.
Praise wisdom, hard to be a friend to,
And folly one can condescend to.

Praise what conforms and what is odd,
Remembering, if the weather worsens
Along the way, that even God
Is said to be three separate Persons.
Then upright or upon the knee
Praise Him that by His courtesy,
For all our prejudice and pains,
Diverse His Creature still remains.
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Unread 03-09-2003, 05:14 PM
Michael Juster Michael Juster is offline
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Join Date: Apr 2000
Location: Belmont MA
Posts: 4,802

It is hard for us to understand today how big McGinley was in her time--exponentially bigger than Wendy Cope in the UK, which sadly is the only reference point we have. Auden wrote an introduction to one of her books, and she was almost as much of a household name as Ogden Nash and Robert Frost.
She is now largely forgotten, and while it is true that her best work has not held up as well as Dorothy Parker's best work, her fate is unfair, and the fate of light verse generally even more unfair.
Somewhere there is a nifty article to be written on how and why light verse fell out of favor and what might happen to bring it back. The key, I think, is general circulation journals and newspapers, but it is a hard sell--I know I've tried to persuade a few editors to give poetry a chance, and it hasn't worked. I even tried once to get a little campaign going to persuade Harvard magazine not to drop poetry (it published some of the early work of Philip Larkin and Donald Hall), but alas that failed as well.
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Unread 03-10-2003, 03:26 AM
Robert J. Clawson Robert J. Clawson is offline
Join Date: Sep 2000
Location: Massachusetts
Posts: 3,401

[quote]Originally posted by Michael Juster:

"... the fate of light verse generally even more unfair.
Somewhere there is a nifty article to be written on how and why light verse fell out of favor and what might happen to bring it back. "

The problem, as is normal, is perception. There's nothing "light" about the first poem in this thread except it's lilt, which adds to its irony in much the way that Kurt Weil's "light" music added to the bitterness of Brecht's lyrics.

I think that finely attuned humor in general, and particularly satire, has fallen out of favor because it's dangerous. Imagine if we heard on the radio, regularly, today, Tom Leher's "and everybody's got the bomb. It's National Brotherhood Week, National Brotherhood Week...." Or Randy Newman singing "let's drop the big one now." I heard Newman say, "I chose the wrong medium: imagine some guy driving along saying, 'Hey, dig the irony.'"

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Unread 03-10-2003, 06:23 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
Join Date: Jul 2001
Location: Iowa City, IA, USA
Posts: 9,523


I loved your story about Randy Newman. I don't think satire is all that dangerous (poetry makes nothing happen). I do think that contemporary poetry has taken on a cloak of seriousness that is uncongenial to satire, and that poetry is the poorer for it. There is a rationality to McGinley's voice that I find enormously appealing, and her irony (and the indignation that underlies it) is all the more effective for being understated. I do think that she makes the rhymes and meter look effortless, and that that makes too many people underestimate her craft. I see her as being in the great tradition of satire in English (and I'd include people like Tom Lehrer and Randy Newman in it as well).

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