Thursday, June 12, 2008

toujours gai toujours gai

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Dear All:

Remember Don Marquis? Archy the cockroach? Of course you do! And here it is, the single most famous poem of the lot:


the song of mehitabel
By Don Marquis

this is the song of mehitabel
of mehitabel the alley cat
as i wrote you before boss
mehitabel is a believer
in the pythagorean
theory of the transmigration
of the soul and she claims
that formerly her spiritwas incarnated in the body
of cleopatra
that was a long time ago
and one must not be
surprised if mehitabel
has forgotten some of her
more regal manners
i have had my ups and downs
but wotthehell wotthehell
yesterday sceptres and crowns
fried oysters and velvet gowns
and today i herd with bums
but wotthehell wotthehell
i wake the world from sleep
as i caper and sing and leap
when i sing my wild free tune
wotthehell wotthehell
under the blear eyed moon
i am pelted with cast off shoon
but wotthehell wotthehell
do you think that i would change
my present freedom to range
for a castle or moated grange
wotthehell wotthehell
cage me and i d go frantic
my life is so romantic
capricious and corybantic
and i m toujours gai toujours gai
i know that i am bound
for a journey down the sound
in the midst of a refuse mound
but wotthehell wotthehell
oh i should worry and fret
death and i will coquette
there s a dance in the old dame yet
toujours gai toujours gai
i once was an innocent kit
wotthehell wotthehell
with a ribbon my neck to fit
and bells tied onto it
o wotthehell wotthehell
but a maltese cat came bywith a come hither look in his eye
and a song that soared to the sky
and wotthehell wotthehell
and i followed adown the street
the pad of his rhythmical feet
o permit me again to repeat
wotthehell wotthehell
my youth i shall never forget
but there s nothing i really regret
wotthehell wotthehell
there s a dance in the old dame yet
toujours gai toujours gai
the things that i had not ought to
i do because i ve gotto
wotthehell wotthehell
and i end with my favorite motto
toujours gai toujours gai
boss sometimes i think
that our friend mehitabel
is a trifle too gay

Well, perhaps she is. A lot of people find a lot to admire in Mehitabel, though. I’ve heard this performed as a country-western song (without Archy’s editorial comment at the end, though) and I gather there have been other versions. There’s a great deal of courage in the old dame, and you have to respect that. On the other hand, her life is an endless series of disasters and you have to deplore that. I’ve known women like this and, well ... who am I to judge? Right? Wrong? Damnfino. But if you lead your life with brio (Italian for, roughly, zest), it probably doesn’t matter what other people think.

So, on reflection... pretty deep poem for a cockroach, eh?

All best,
Michael

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4 comments:

Rina Weisman said...

Ah, certainly, there's a dance in the old dame yet...Mehitabel, one of my very favourite literary heroines - to her the worst was another passel of kittens. And it's quite possibly the only mention of "shoon" in a poem, at least that I know of. Not to mention the other denizens of Marquis country, like Warty Bliggens. Archy's charm still resonates with many, and Marquis is due for a revival. And so say all of us Marquis collectors out here!

Rina at Tachyon

Markin said...

Rina,

A Marquis revival, by all means! Best of all ... Archie and Mehitabel as illustrated by George Herriman. Perfect pairing. The first book is presently my go-to-bed reading. (Good poetry nicely soothes the mind for sleeping.)

BTW, at least one other poem with "shoon":

Slowly, silently, now the moon /
Walks the night in her silver shoon.

"Silver", by Walter de la Mare. Still in copyright, but I have little doubt the complete poem is available online. [grin] It's a lovely one.

Mario

Michael Swanwick said...

Herriman and Marquis -- it was a marriage made in Heaven.

I don't think I've ever read any commentary about Krazy and Mehitabel being two sides of the same coin -- the Good Girl and the Bad. And yet it seems obvious, when you think about it. I'm sure there were times when Krazy slipped the traces, went to the cheating side of town, and let our her inner Mehitabel.

Surely Chaucer used shoon at least once?

Michael Swanwick said...

And, thanks to the miracle of the Web:

Her mouth was sweet as braket, or as methe
Or hoard of apples, laid in hay or heath.
Wincing she was as is a jolly colt,
Long as a mast, and upright as a bolt.
A brooch she bare upon her low collere,
As broad as is the boss of a bucklere.
Her shoon were laced on her legges high;
She was a primerole, a piggesnie,
For any lord t' have ligging in his bed,
Or yet for any good yeoman to wed.

From the Miller's Tale. You'd think there'd also be shoon flying through the air, but I could not find them.