Poetry Friday: 1927 (The Final Edition—I promise!)

I know, 1927 should have finished, but I haven’t picked up 1928’s novel yet, leaving me in the gap.  Besides that, I’m obsessed with the poetry of a cockroach named archy, and have one last chance to get it out there.  The moth is a strangely poetic subject—you may have read Virginia Woolf’s take on moths, though I personally prefer Annie Dillard’s—and archy (Don Marquis) gives it his best shot in this last poem I’ll give you from 1927, “the lesson of the moth”:

i was talking to a moth
the other evening
he was trying to break into
an electric light bulb
and fry himself on the wires

why do you fellows
pull this stunt i asked him
because it is the conventional
thing for moths or why
if that had been an uncovered
candle instead of an electric
light bulb you would
now be a small unsightly cinder
have you no sense

plenty of it he answered
but at times we get tired
of using it
we get bored with the routine
and crave beauty
and excitement
fire is beautiful
and we know that if we get
too close it will kill us
but what does that matter
it is better to be happy
for a moment
and be burned up with beauty
than to live a long time
and be bored all the while
so we wad all our life up
into one little roll
and then we shoot the roll
that is what life is for
it is better to be a part of beauty
for one instant and then cease to
exist than to exist forever
and never be a part of beauty
our attitude toward life
is come easy go easy
we are like human beings
used to be before they became
too civilized to enjoy themselves

and before i could argue him
out of his philosophy
he went and immolated himself
on a patent cigar lighter
i do not agree with him
myself i would rather have
half the happiness and twice
the longevity

but at the same time i wish
there was something i wanted
as badly as he wanted to fry himself


Poetry Friday: 1927 (part 3)

I will admit, part of the reason I’m posting another Don Marquis poem is that I didn’t have time today to return archy and mehitabel and find another collection of poetry published in 1927.  But part of the reason is that I really find him powerful and interesting—the first real “discovery” of Poetry Friday, for me (some poets have risen in my estimation, but nobody that I hadn’t read before).  Marquis’s poems, in order, compose a lengthy and consistent (if not coherent) narrative, told to the human owner of the typewriter (always referred to as “boss”) from the perspective of archy, the cockroach who believes he was once a vers libre poet, although he does write on behalf of mehitabel (a somewhat dangerous cat who believes she is the reincarnation of Cleopatra) in her voice, at times.  Anyway, I don’t know if this guy works for you as well as he works for me—if not, I apologize—but regardless, here’s another of archy’s poems from 1927: “viii: a spider and a fly”

i heard a spider
and a fly arguing
wait said the fly
do not eat me
i serve a great purpose
in the world

you will have to
show me said the spider

i scurry around
gutters and sewers
and garbage cans
said the fly and gather
up the germs of
typhoid influenza
and pneumonia on my feet
and wings
then i carry these germs
into the households of men
and give them diseases
all the people who
have lived the right
sort of life recover
from the diseases
and the old soaks who
have weakened their systems
with liquor and iniquity
succumb it is my mission
to help rid the world
of these wicked persons
i am a vessel of righteousness
scattering seeds of justice
and serving the noblest uses

it is true said the spider
that you are more
useful in a plodding
material sort of way
than i am but i do not
serve the utilitarian deities
i serve the gods of beauty
look at the gossamer webs
i weave they float in the sun
like filaments of song
if you get what i mean
i do not work at anything
i play all the time
i am busy with the stuff
of enchantment and the materials
of fairyland my works
transcend utility
i am the artist
a creator and a demi god
it is ridiculous to suppose
that i should be denied
the food i need in order
to continue to create
beauty i tell you
plainly mister fly it is all
damned nonsense for that food
to rear up on its hind legs
and say it should not be eaten

you have convinced me
said the fly say no more
and shutting all his eyes
he prepared himself for dinner
and yet he said i could
have made out a case
for myself too if i had
had a better line of talk

of course you could said the spider
clutching a sirloin from him
but the end would have been
just the same if neither of
us had spoken at all

boss i am afraid that what
the spider said is true
and it gives me to think
furiously upon the futility
of literature


Poetry Friday: 1927 (part 2)

I’m sorry it’s been such a quiet week—I’ve been so busy with classes, I’ve gotten nowhere with Early Autumn.  I did, though, remember to pick up a volume of poetry from 1927.  And is it an odd one.  Don Marquis wrote a book called archy and mehitabel, a collection of poems written in a distinctive style, all of them in the persona of archy, a poet who had been turned into a cockroach (for reasons I cannot quite understand).  The misadventures of archy and a cat named mehitabel make up much of the poetry…odd stuff.  I’m not sure what to make of it—is it an extended in-joke, or edgy art?  I’m curious how you’ll react, so without further ado, this is “the cockroach who had been to hell”:

listen to me i have
been mobbed almost
theres an old simp cockroach
here who thinks he has
been to hell and all
the young cockroaches make a
hero out of him and admire
him he sits and runs his front
feet through his long white
beard and tells the story one
day he says he crawled into a yawning
cavern and suddenly came on a
vast abyss full of whirling
smoke there was a light
at the bottom billows
and billows of yellow smoke
swirled up at him and
through the horrid gloom he
saw things with wings flying
and dropping and dying they veered
and fluttered like damned
spirits through that sulphurous mist

listen i says to him
old man youve never been to hell
at all there isnt any hell
transmigration is the game i
used to be a human vers libre
poet and i died and went
into a cockroachs body if
there was a hell id know
it wouldnt if youre
irreligious says the old simp
combing his old whiskers excitedly

ancient one i says to him
while all those other
cockroaches gathered into a
ring around us what you
beheld was not hell all that
was natural someone was fumigating
a room and you blundered
into it through a crack
in the wall atheist the cries
and all those young
cockroaches cried atheist
and made for me if it
had not been for freddy
the rat i would now be
on my way once more i mean
killed as a cockroach and transmigrating
into something else well
that old whitebearded devil is
laying for me with his
gang he is jealous
because i took his glory away
from him dont ever tell me
insects are any more liberal
than humans