Sunday, December 16, 2007


Fa la la la la, la la la la . . . Oh, right. You're not here for carols, you're here for quotes, si?

About literature and politics
In this festive holiday political season, what better than a quote from one of the most famous of U.S. presidents about poetry?

"When power narrows the areas of men's concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of his existence." ~John F. Kennedy

Before the next quote, a confession. I am a Christmas Carol junkie. Not the songs, although I like carols just fine, but Charles Dickens's wonderful book. I own a number of the video productions and at least two copies of the text (and I'm getting a third this year, the version pictured here on the right. Ooh, shiny! But I digress.)

In this political/holiday season, I keep thinking of the importance of education and literacy. Also, all the book banning news this year has hammered this point home as well, because ignorance comes in many forms. But here's the bit from A Christmas Carol that has been bellowing at me this year, from page and audio book and DVD/VHS, right at the end of Ebenezer Scrooge's time with the Ghost of Christmas Present:

The chimes were ringing the three quarters past eleven at that moment.

"Forgive me if I am not justified in what I ask," said Scrooge, looking intently at the Spirit’s robe, "but I see something strange, and not belonging to yourself, protruding from your skirts. Is it a foot or a claw?"

"It might be a claw, for the flesh there is upon it," was the Spirit’s sorrowful reply. "Look here."

From the foldings of its robe, it brought two children; wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable. They knelt down at its feet, and clung upon the outside of its garment.

"Oh, Man! look here. Look, look, down here!" exclaimed the Ghost.

They were a boy and girl. Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where graceful youth should have filled their features out, and touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shrivelled hand, like that of age, had pinched, and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing. No change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has monsters half so horrible and dread.

Scrooge started back, appalled. Having them shown to him in this way, he tried to say they were fine children, but the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie of such enormous magnitude.

"Spirit! are they yours?" Scrooge could say no more.

"They are Man’s," said the Spirit, looking down upon them. "And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!" cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. "Slander those who tell it ye! Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse. And bide the end!"

"Have they no refuge or resource?" cried Scrooge.

"Are there no prisons?" said the Spirit, turning on him for the last time with his own words. "Are there no workhouses?"

The bell struck twelve.

On writerly neediness

Sylvia Plath was quoted as publicly opining that poetry wasn't a competition. Her journals tell a slightly different tale:

"I want the world's praise, money & love, and am furious with anyone, especially anyone I know or has had a similar experience, getting ahead of me."

And all you writer-folks thought you were alone out there, right?

On poetry

"Without poetry, without song, without dance, I would not be alive. Nor would any of us." ~Joy Harjo, poet, writer & musician.

Oh, satisfaction! I don't think I could live without it. It's like water or bread, or something absolutely essential to me. I find myself absolutely fulfilled when I have written a poem, when I'm writing one. Having written one, then you fall away very rapidly from having been a poet to becoming a sort of poet in rest, which isn't the same thing at all. But I think the actual experience of writing a poem is a magnificent one. ~Sylvia Plath

I now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.

Fast away the old year passes,
fa la la la la, la la la la,
Hail to you ye lads and lasses . . .

Or, for Bill, and for Sarah at Castell Tywood the only two folks I know who understand the language, here's a bit from the original Welsh (as reported by Wikipedia, so accuracy is uncertain):

Oer yw'r gwr sy'n methu caru,
Ffa la la la la, fa la la la.
Hen fynyddoedd annwyl Cymru,
Ffa la la la la, fa la la la.

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