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Otherwise my novels, family, music, memories, vulgar interests, detestations, responses, apologies. I'm only serious by accident. Education? Forget it. I hold posts to 300 words* since I've found less is better than more. One quasi-certainty in an uncertain world: I almost always re-comment on comments and re-re-re-comment on re-re-comments.
* New exclusion: short stories.

Friday, 27 June 2014

To be or, definitely, not to be

Missie, OS's 12-year-old Cairn, is staying with us while her mistress frolics in Glastonbury mud. Missie lacks aspiration.

Food is her only real impulse; as I prepare my brunch each step I take (there are many) is duplicated by Missie. Quickly followed by a step backwards when I change direction. Dance patterns are repeated across the kitchen floor, each terminated by a beseeching stare (see pic). Occasionally my foot accidentally gongs her head.

If the kitchen/hall door is open she sidles upstairs and audibly jumps on our bed. A short call retrieves her. If another dog passes the front door, she barks. And that's it.

She no longer begs to be taken for a walk. When we read or watch telly, she sleeps. When we sleep she sleeps. For long periods she is utterly forgotten. She's not much trouble but I worry about the meaning of her life and her lack of impingement. Also Missie is not even pretty.

Drawing a bow at venture:

Oh! if to dance all night, and dress all day,
Charm'd the small-pox, or chas'd old age away;
Who would not scorn what housewife's cares produce,
Or who would learn one earthly thing of use.

That third line suggests the poet is male, except few males "dress all day". The quatrain is epigrammatic and not all epigrams are poetry, but "charm'd the small-pox" is poetry. We're expected to take a broader view than that defined by these two benefits - to sign up for wasting time, a non-activity beloved by those who write. Plumbers may not agree. The cry is by no means universal, in fact it's special pleading. But never mind, do you agree?

Alexander Pope (1688 - 1744)


The Crow said...

But men of a certain socio-economic status in the time of this poem did dress all day. It was expected of their class, and while perhaps disdained by men because of all the bother entailed, they nonetheless gave in.

In Pope's day there were more lower class men than the ruling and gentry (upper class, wealthy) men. Did Pope write about the poor, the (literally) unwashed, those who resided in the social dustbin? If so, they weren't fairly represented in this quatrain, seems to me, at first glance. (Or was he being facetious?)

I have to re-read this, mull it over, before I can offer an opinion that might stand up to your scrutiny and dissection.

Missy might not be pretty, but she's smart enough to know how to get humans to take care of her. Smarts trump looks in my book, any day.

mike M said...

When the dog starts losing bladder control, you'll think she's impinging too much. Seems like a dopey verse. Posits dancing and dressing as the fountain of youth, then, in the final line, excludes them as useful things.

The Crow said...

Okay, I'm going to take a stab at it.

If life spent on care-free frivolities - dancing and primping, say - could cures man's ills and hold death at bay, why bother with the mundane, why waste time furthering one's education, illumination?

Because "Kissin'(dancin', primpin') don't last; cookin' do!" - as the old Pennsylvania Dutch saying goes. Without some of humanity learning "one earthly thing of use," science and the arts would not exist. Neither would the Internet, iPods, iPads, Twitter, Facebook...wait...maybe I need to rethink where I was going with this example. Not all progress has been good.

I wonder if Pope was decrying the self-serving, narcissistic excesses of the Sun King's court when he wrote this? Time to Google.

The Crow said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Crow said...

No, it wasn't the Sun King. Maybe I was thinking of Louis XVI's court…except Pope was long dead by then.

Roderick Robinson said...

Crow: Congratulations on a heroic attempt to get to the bottom of these deceptively simple four lines. If I tentatively add my two penn'orth, I don't do so with any great confidence. Joe's Nudge, as you know, was launched in honour of Joe and in an attempt to teach myself something about poetry via a shared experience with those who read my blog. If Joe were still alive there'd be no need for Joe's Nudge; I could do - as I did in the past - go straight to the horse's mouth. Joe's Nudge must, by its very nature, carry a grave risk of me making a fool of myself. Which is probably implicit in MikeM's "dopey".

For what it's worth here's my explanation as to why this piece got written. We proceed from the specific (ie, the two examples quoted) to the general: thus, if everything in life were handed to us on a plate, we would never progress. I did hint at this ("broader view") in the post, I wish now I'd been clearer.

But of course there are other ways of approaching it, as you have done. Deconstruction at the mini level. I think you are quite right in saying the world Pope addresses is middle- to upper-class and is thus selective. I don't, however, think he was being facetious, more ironic. He wasn't obliged to consider all classes, merely something that caught the eye.

Re-reading the second para of your second comment (which I deliberately avoided before coming up with my guess) I see we draw remarkably close to a shared conclusion. The Penn Dutch saying is admirably concise and definitely moves on parallel lines. And your conclusion (Not all progress is good) would provide an excellent coda to mine, or vice versa.

MikeM: For all I know my extract was a dopey choice (remember my source book does not immediately identify the poet). Further dopey choices in the future cannot be ruled out.

Writing about Missie was also probably dopey. I was struck by the fact that she initiates little in life. I am not sure that developing incontinence is an act of initiation.

mike M said...

For the record, I think the author of the verse was dopey at the time he wrote it. I don't think you were dopey to set it out for examination. Worrying about the meaning of a dog's life, well, you're a step ahead of me there. I find judging dog happiness quite difficult. Wet nose and capable of a beseeching look sounds pretty healthy. She's sick of walking, sick of telly. She is separated from her pack, and so might be feeling a little lost.

Lucas said...

I think the use of the conditional here is very successful. It highlights the fanasy element in which it is possible to thrive, and revel in the idea that we can aoid matters practical. You have hit on some wisdom from the 18th century that is still true today. We can't.

Roderick Robinson said...

MikeM: I picked it out from a couple of hundred options; did so because I saw something in it. Gotta carry the can. Actually, Sleepy would be a better choice.

I am not concerned with Missie's health or her attitude towards telly. Rather the revelation for me that Missie's life - and no doubt that of other pet animals - is almost entirely reactive. Perhaps it's a platitude but it's still a revelation (OK a very minor revelation) for me. In future I shall concern myself only with BIG thoughts.

Lucas: The more I read this the neater it gets. I hesitate to say profound but only because I'm still carrying poetry L-Plates.

There is another factor and you'll just have to trust me on this. I arrived at my conclusions and typed them down before identifying the poet. When I did so I experienced a little buzz. As you know, most of my poetical effusions have been Shakespearean sonnets and Joe was wont to tease me - gently, as was his manner - about trying other forms, notably vers libre. However on one occasion I came up with a sonnet that was slightly better than usual and he commented generously. Said that the rhyming couplet was "almost worthy of Pope". He may have been teasing, of course, but I've preferred not to find out and have treasured that comment, perhaps self-delusionally, on its face value. Perhaps too, now I'm slightly more grown-up, I ought to seek a second opinion.

mike M said...

Really it's a big point RR, and I agree. Captivity has a large downside.

Stella said...

Oh, I like Missy. She'd probably like to hear some poetry......written by a dog is my bet. Did she share your fish? My old cat is vacationing with me and not allowed outdoors again after she stayed out until 3 a.m. She is wily and assumes if she doesn't come anywhere near me chances are good she won't get stuffed into that carrier again.