Saturday, December 17, 2011

Interlude, by Dickens

Of A Christmas Carol, G.K. Chesterton wrote warmly: "The story sings from end to end like a happy man going home; and, like a happy and good man, when it cannot sing, it yells.*" Beyond even its own inherent music, the tale contains a highly satisfying depiction of happy and good men singing. Here, as observed by Ebeneezer Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Present, it follows:

And now, without a word of warning from the Ghost, they stood upon a bleak and desert moor, where monstrous masses of rude stone were cast about, as though it were the burial-place of giants; and water spread itself wheresoever it listed; or would have done so, but for the frost that held it prisoner; and nothing grew but moss and furze, and coarse, rank grass. Down in the west the setting sun had left a streak of firey red, which glared upon the desolation for an instant, like a sullen eye, and frowning lower, lower, lower yet, was lost in the thick gloom of darkest night.
"What place is this?" asked Scrooge.
"A place where Miners live, who labour in the bowels of the earth," returned the Spirit. "But they know me. See!"
A light shone from the window of a hut, and swiftly they advanced towards it. Passing through the wall of mud and stone, they found a cheerful company assembled round a glowing fire. An old, old man and woman, with their children, and their children's children, and another generation beyond that, all decked out gaily in their holiday attire. The old man, in a voice that seldom rose above the howling of the wind upon the barren waste, was singing them a Christmas song; it had been a very old song when he was a boy; and from time to time they all joined in the chorus. So sure, as they raised their voices, the old man got quite blithe and loud; and so surely as they stopped, his vigour sank again.
The Spirit did not tarry here, but bade Scrooge hold his robe, and passing on above the moor, sped whither? Not to sea? To sea. To Scrooge's horror, looking back, he saw the last of the land, a frightful range of rocks, behind them; and his ears were deafened by the thundering of water, as it rolled, and roared, and raged among the dreadful caverns it had worn, and fiercely tried to undermine the earth.
Built upon a dismal reef of sunken rocks, some league or so from shore, on which the waters chafed and dashed, the wild year through, there stood a solitary lighthouse. Great heaps of sea-weed clung to its base, and storm-birds--born of the wind one might suppose, as sea-weed of the water--rose and fell about it, like they waves they skimmed.
But even here, two men who watched the light had made a fire, that through the loophole in the thick stone wall shed out a ray of brightness on the awful sea. Joining their horny hads over the rough table at which they sat, they wished each other Merry Christmas in their can of grog; and one of them--the elder too, with his face all damaged and scarred with hard weather, as the figure-head of an old ship might be--struck up a sturdy song that was like a gale in itself.

*Charles Dickens, The Last of the Great Men

Friday, December 16, 2011

And Here's The Other

To continue yesterday's subject of the rather amusing things I found in Mother Goose (and, to my astonishment, as well as yours, putting off the inevitable regarding Christmas music), the second poem I found ran thusly:

In fir tar is,
In oak none is.
In mud eel is,
In clay none is.
Goat eat ivy.
Mare eat oats.

Now you may all, good people, have grown up with this poem from your infancy, but I made its first acquaintance in that hour, and a most puzzling acquaintance it was, like a face, assuredly never seen before, and yet somehow half-remembered. There it sat, staring back at me. I read it again, more deliberately. There was something about its very economy to make one pause, to. . .read it again. I am not (not always, perhaps I should say) one who enjoys rooting around in the more innocent pleasures of literature until "Ashes, ashes, we all fall down," brings to mind the Black Death, rather than after-school afternoons, hallowed by the smell of cut grass, but this piece of verse was begging for an explanation.

Was it a weirdly time-worn fragment of an old gnomic verse? In it, indeed, vibrated some echo of "A king must hold a kingdom." I read it again, almost aloud, finding the taste of the words, as they passed, stranger than ever. "In fir tar is. In oak none is." I lingered over the more familiar tree. "In oak none is. In oooak. None. Is. In hhhoak none. . .In hoc non est!" Despite the gravely turned phrases, the reassuring parade of truths upon which a world might be built, it wasn't English at all. That was where it all went crooked.

Anticlimatically, despite further pondering of the lines, and incessant mutterings regarding mud and eels, I could make nothing further of it. I would like to think that I might have had better luck were I a Latin scholar, but the cold, hard truth was too soon in. . .dawning? No, not dawning, assuredly. It was more like a sunset, in which the sun did not so much set as plummet--like a lead weight into fishless waters.

I was, at length, forced to Google ("In Google, answer is"?). You may well imagine my disappointment when I found by that auspicious means, not reassurance that I had discovered a the long-lost key to a hidden treasure, or even that the lines lived out their promise in meaning something more than they so obviously stated. I found no comforts, only the declaration of the wise of the world that, if recited quickly enough, the poem passed for pseudo-Latin (I quote) "doggerel." Oh, and that the last two lines, at least, can be dated as far back as Henry VI. (The latter, at least gives "Mairsy Doats" a most impressive pedigree.)

In other words, someone, God rest his soul, got me good.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Music Appreciation. . .Or Not

I recently had some time to kill, and the handiest volume for this task happened to be The Complete Mother Goose. Its chief charms, besides the pictures of Mother Hubbard's dog, engaged in his various accomplishments and looking dreadfully pleased with himself, were a couple of very odd poems. Here is one of them:

There was a piper had a cow
And he had naught to give her.
He took his pipes and played a tune
And bade the cow consider.

The cow considered very well,
And gave the piper a penny,
And bade him play the other tune:
"Corn rigs are bonnie."

Cows have evidently been making suggestions to the People Who Materialise When One Is Trying To Practice In A Park, because they, too, invariably ask for "The Other Tune."

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

By Way Of Twitching an Eyebrow

I am still alive (I wonder how many blog posts on any given day open with that reassuring phrase) and, indeed, quite well. It has just been a hectic (by my lazy standards) couple of months. I have all sorts of plans. . .well, some plans. . .well, a plan, to write something about Christmas music before Christmas is upon us. Unfortunately for the sake of variety, I am now reading A Christmas Carol. . .and planning fiddle lessons. (Not literally right now, or this post would not be written, I would be moving on to another book, and all of my lessons would be arrayed in so tidy a fashion as to shake the world.) Which suggests that the next post will assuredly be about Dickens. Or music, as I said. Or Dickens and music. Not o'ermuch variety in inspiration these days.

But, since I don't quite have the time to write the threatened post yet, on a different topic entirely, here's a very short piece of modern literature for you, a smashin' good headline, as recalled from Yahoo News:

Hikers spot giant carnivorous snail

I didn't dare read the story that followed, for fear of disappointment, but I hope for the sake of humanity that it ran like this: "But they were able to outrun it."