July 20, 2007

Poetry Friday: Gardening and grammar, with Guy Wetmore Carryl

Two poems from Guy Wetmore Carryl's Grimm Tales Made Gay (1903):

How a Girl Was Too Reckless of Grammar by Far
by Guy Wetmore Carryl (1873-1904)

Matilda Maud Mackenzie
Frankly hadn't any chin,
Her hands were rough, her feet she
Turned invariably in;
Her general form was German,
By which I mean that you
Her waist could not determine
To within a foot or two:
And not only did she stammer,
But she used the kind of grammar
That is called, for sake of euphony, askew.

From what I say about her,
Don't imagine I desire
A prejudice against this
Worthy creature to inspire.
She was willing, she was active,
She was sober, she was kind,
But she never looked attractive
And she hadn't any mind!
I knew her more than slightly,
And I treated her politely
When I met her, but of course I wasn't blind!

Matilda Maud Mackenzie
Had a habit that was droll,
She spent her morning seated
On a rock or on a knoll,
And threw with much composure
A smallish rubber ball
At an inoffensive osier
By a little waterfall;
But Matilda's way of throwing
Was like other people's mowing,
And she never hit the willow-tree at all!

One day as Miss Mackenzie
With uncommon ardor tried
To hit the mark, the missile
Flew exceptionally wide,
And, before her eyes astounded,
On a fallen maple's trunk
Ricochetted, and rebounded
In the rivulet, and sunk!
Matilda, greatly frightened,
In her grammar unenlightened,
Remarked: "Well now I ast yer!
Who'd 'er thunk?"

But what a marvel followed!
From the pool at once there rose
A frog, the sphere of rubber
Balanced deftly on his nose.
He beheld her fright and frenzy,
And, her panic to dispel,
On his knee by Miss Mackenzie
He obsequiously fell.
With quite as much decorum
As a speaker in a forum
He started in his history to tell.

Matilda Maud Mackenzie
Said, as if she meant to scold:
"I never! Why, you forward thing!
Now ain't you awful bold!"
Just a glance he paused to give her,
And his head was seen to clutch,
Then he darted to the river,
And he dived to beat the Dutch!
While the wrathful maiden panted:
"I don't think he was enchanted!"
(And he really didn't look it overmuch!)

The Moral: In one's language one conserva-
tive should be:
Speech is silver, and it never should be free!

How Jack Found that Beans May Go Back On a Chap
by Guy Wetmore Carryl

Without the slightest basis
For hypochondriasis
A widow had forebodings
Which a cloud around her flung,
And with expression cynical
For half the day a clinical
Thermometer she held
Beneath her tongue.

Whene'er she read the papers
She suffered from the vapors,
At every tale of malady
Or accident she'd groan;
In every new and smart disease,
From housemaid's knee to heart disease,
She recognized the symptoms
As her own!

She had a yearning chronic
To try each novel tonic,
Elixir, panacea, lotion,
Opiate, and balm;
And from a homeopathist
Would change to an hydropathist,
And back again,
With stupefying calm!

She was nervous, cataleptic,
And anemic, and dyspeptic:
Though not convinced of apoplexy,
Yet she had her fears.
She dwelt with force fanatical
Upon a twinge rheumatical,
And said she had a
Buzzing in her ears!

Now all of this bemoaning
And this grumbling and this groaning
The mind of Jack, her son and heir,
Unconscionably bored.
His heart completely hardening,
He gave his time to gardening,
For raising beans was
Something he adored.

Each hour in accents morbid
This limp maternal bore bid
Her callous son affectionate
And lachrymose good-bys.
She never granted Jack a day
Without some long "Alackaday!"
Accompanied by
Rolling of the eyes.

But Jack, no panic showing,
Just watched his beanstalk growing,
And twined with tender fingers
The tendrils up the pole.
At all her words funereal
He smiled a smile ethereal,
Or sighed an absent-minded
"Bless my soul!"

That hollow-hearted creature
Would never change a feature:
No tear bedimmed his eye, however
Touching was her talk.
She never fussed or flurried him,
The only thing that worried him
Was when no bean-pods
Grew upon the stalk!

But then he wabbled loosely
His head, and wept profusely,
And, taking out his handkerchief
To mop away his tears,

Exclaimed: "It hasn't got any!"
He found this blow to botany
Was sadder than were all
His mother's fears.

The Moral is that gardeners pine
Whene'er no pods adorn the vine.
Of all sad words experience gleans
The saddest are: "It might have beans."
(I did not make this up myself:
'Twas in a book upon my shelf.
It's witty, but I don't deny
It's rather Whittier than I!)

* * *

Guy Wetmore Carryl (1873-1904) was an American writer of humorous verse, serious poetry, short stories, and novels. He was the son of Mary Wetmore and New York stockbroker and writer of verse and children's stories Charles Edward Carryl (1842-1920); the senior Carryl was influenced profoundly by the fantasy writings and nonsense verse of Lewis Carroll. In fact, Charles Carryl dedicated his 1884 book Davy and the Goblin; Or, What Followed Reading "Alice's Adventures In Wonderland" to his then 11-year-old son Guy.

Guy Carryl grew up in New York City and attended Columbia University, where he scandalized his Latin professor, emininent classicist Harry Thurston Peck (1856-1914), with his epigram, "It takes two bodies to make one seduction." Carryl graduated from Columbia in 1895.

The following year, Carryl went to work as a staff writer for the New York monthly magazine Munsey's, described by its founder Frank Munsey as a popular journal "with pictures and art and Good Cheer and human interest throughout". He later became the journal's managing editor. Thereafter, Carryl worked for Harper's Magazine, which sent him to Paris. While there, he also wrote for a variety of other American publications, including Life Magazine, Munsey’s, and Collier’s.

He is best known for his books of verse, including Fables for the Frivolous (with Apologies to La Fontaine) (1899 and yet another reason to pursue a classical education or at least read poetry), Mother Goose for Grown-Ups (1900), and Grimm Tales Made Gay (1903); The Transgression of Andrew Vane (1902) and Zut and Other Parisians (1903), books of short stories; and, perhaps the best of his three novels, The Lieutenant-Governor (1903).

Carryl died in 1904 at the age of 31. It was thought he contracted "rheumatic grippe" (possibly rheumatic fever) and blood poisoning from exposure fighting a fire at his New York bungalow the month before his untimely death. His works Far From the Maddening Girls and The Garden of Years were published posthumously.

* * *

A good many of the writings of Guy Wetmore Carryl survive online, and while he's not as popular as he used to be, or as popular as some other poets, he does have a devoted following. Here's a sampling:

Heidi Anne Heiner has a wonderful selection from Carryl's Grimm Tales Made Gay at her wonderful and thorough SurLaLune Fairy Tale Pages website.

Project Gutenberg has Fables for the Frivolous online; and LibriVox offers the Fables as a free audiobook

The Wondering Minstrels online collection of poetry, including one of Carryl's serious poems and one fable for the frivolous

A few more poems, at Poetry Archive

“Marvelous Coney Island”, an article Carryl wrote for Munsey's Magazine, published in 1901. Interesting to speculate if the camel at Luna Park, the Coney Island amusement park, was the same animal that inspired his father (scroll down to "The Plaint of the Camel", available, by the way, in picture book form as The Camel's Lament).

The Poetry Friday round-up is at Mentor Texts & More today. Thanks to LiteracyTeacher for hosting!

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