Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Dickens in a Quatrain

Dear Everybody:

Merry Christmas! I went searching for a Christmas poem and found myself caught between the Scylla of sentimentality and the Charybdis of gruesome Angst. Never invite an unhappy poet to write about Christmas! So I’ve come up with an associational poem (“associational” here means “associated with,” not perfectly pertinent but living next door; a detective novel by a famous science fiction writer will get reviewed in the SF mags with a warning that it’s associational). And what could be more associational than Charles Dickens? Serious social historians claim that “A Christmas Carol” invented Christmas as the holiday we know and celebrate.

So here’s the poem:

Charles Dickens
by Dorothy Parker

Who call him spurious and shoddy
Shall do it o'er my lifeless body.
[The remaining two lines of this poem have been removed because it’s possibly still in copyright; but you should be able to find it on the Web easily enough.]

Good old Dotty! Immensely witty (challenged to use “horticulture” in a sentence, she said, “You can lead a horticulture, but you can’t make her think”), deeply bitter (if you doubt me, read some of her wonderful stories; start with “The Big Blonde”), and a savage book reviewer (writing under the nom de plum Constant Reader, her review of Winnie the Pooh read in its entirety, “Tonstant Weader fwowed up”), she nevertheless had a good heart. As witness here.

But can something this brief and this light be a real poem? It can when it’s this well done.

Ho, ho, ho!



pedanther said...

If I might offer two small corrections:
Constant Reader's famous review was not of 'Winnie-the-Pooh', but of the sequel, 'The House at Pooh Corner'; and it was somewhat longer than the bit everybody quotes.

Less laconic people occasionally even quote the whole sentence:
"And it is that word 'hummy,' my darlings, that marks the first place in The House at Pooh Corner at which Tonstant Weader fwowed up."

(My own favourite Dorothy Parker poem is another short one, "Comment"; the one that begins: "Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song, A medley of extemporanea...")

Michael Swanwick said...

Right on all counts. I stand corrected, and just a frazz humbled.

As a footnote to literary history, "Comment" is used as an epigram (and possible partial inspiration?) for Paul Park's fantasy novel A PRINCESS OF ROUMANIA.