Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Sunday, December 11, 2005

the sum of life (a/k/a the pessimist)

I haven’t come close to reading them all, but I’ve glanced at enough of them to be confident that none of them is likely to topple the eccentric and charming anthology “Confuscius to Cummings” from its place as my favorite book by Ezra Pound. He of course includes the usual suspects -- Confucius, Cavalcanti, some Troubadours -- usually in his own translation. But what’s sweetest about the book is its inclusion of sentimental favorite poems from his youth. The dialect verse by the sentimental Hoosier poet, James Whitcomb Riley, gives a clue as to the probable source of the grating attempts at dialect writing in Pound’s letters and some of his Confucius translations. And this gem by one-hit wonder Ben King (1857 - 1894), “The Pessimist” (which has been anthologized elsewhere as “The Sum of Life”):

Nothing to do but work,
Nothing to eat but food,
Nothing to wear but clothes
To keep one from going nude.

Nothing to breathe but air
Quick as a flash 't is gone;
Nowhere to fall but off,
Nowhere to stand but on.

Nothing to comb but hair,
Nowhere to sleep but in bed,
Nothing to weep but tears,
Nothing to bury but dead.

Nothing to sing but songs,
Ah, well, alas! alack!
Nowhere to go but out,
Nowhere to come but back.

Nothing to see but sights,
Nothing to quench but thirst,
Nothing to have but what we've got;
Thus thro' life we are cursed.

Nothing to strike but a gait;
Everything moves that goes.
Nothing at all but common sense
Can ever withstand these woes.

Pound gives only three of the stanzas. But they’re good stanzas. And not of the style that one typically associates with Ezra Pound.

* * *

Sang “Elmer’s Tune” and “I’ve Got a Gal in Kalamazoo” at a piano bar tonight, at a friend’s 70th birthday party. When I first knew Bobbie we both lived in Michigan; she suggested “Kalamazoo,” which reminded me of “Elmer” (they both hit with Glenn Miller) -- I’d had other songs actually rehearsed (leaning toward “That Old Black Magic”); but I winged it OK on these two from the memory vault. “OK” only because I was feeling unembarrassable tonight. Very nice party. The best singer of the night was not of our party: a short 60-ish man wearing mismatched plaids and with a goatee and a ponytail -- he looked like a street person. And he sang “They Call the Wind Mariah” with a large and clear sweet tenor.

* * *

Had people over to read “Lady Windermere’s Fan” last night. For the last scene my beloved spouse and my friend Skye were reading, and they were both getting misty-eyed. Great melodrama, as well as very funny.

* * *

To the mall this morning for Mr. Jumping Chocolate Pudding to meet Santa. Real beard on this Santa, a kindly-looking gent who didn’t smile. As we were leaving I thanked him and wished him a Merry Christmas, and he smiled and said Thank You, revealing he was missing 3 or 4 upper front teeth, with only one sticking out there representing for the rest. Whether one has teeth is all about social class. Heavy stuff. A friend of mine had all his yanked before I met him. He’s poor as dirt and smart as an angel and very witty but I sometimes have trouble understanding what he’s saying.

* * *

Santa. People take the poor guy for granted. I thought of Buber’s “I and Thou” -- people dragging their kid to see Santa because it’s about the kid, and what the kid wants. The not-quite-3-year-old has no notion of “what he wants” for Christmas. While we were in line I asked him what he wanted to say to Santa. He said, “I hope you have a nice Christmas too.” I told him that that would be a very nice thing to say to Santa.

I don’t want to judge people who treat department mall Santas as a Buberian “It” rather than a Buberian “Thou,” because I treat people rotely and fail to engage all the time too. Trying not to!

* * *

I love Christmas. It’s not a Christian holiday. It’s a Festival of Excess Capacity, manifested by bright lights & colorful decorations, feasting, and gift exchange. Societies throughout history and pre-history have had regular, ritualized Festivals of Excess Capacity, and I think it’s great; and it makes total sense to have it around the darkest day of the year. (As far as I’m concerned Southern Hemisphere Christmas should be in June.)

Carl Wilson has been posting on video games, trying to find a line defining whether they are art or sport. Art and sport both have ritualistic roots and they’re both expressions of excess capacity. I’ve never felt the need to distinguish between music and football and gardening in any philosophical sense.
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