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.

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