Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Take One Home for the Kiddies: More Palimpsestic Wordplay? (Part 3.)

As an archivist or – more grandly – a conservator I am quite hopeless.

In the poetry cuttings book I compiled in my early teens, mould grows on the petroleum gum I foolishly used to tack down clippings from literary periodicals, which in many cases I recognise as the first published appearance of what anthologists would regard as classic English poems of the mid to late twentieth century.

Thus, my once cherished pages are more than ‘slightly foxed’ (to borrow an antiquarian bookseller’s term). 

Despite this, these pock-marked pages never seem to lose their appeal.  The texts, of course, are perforce of a certain vintage yet they continue to stimulate closer study.

A Nagging Sense of a Familiar Echo.

For instance, thumbing once more through my collection the other night, I was struck once again by the ‘palimpsestic effect’ of a number of them; distinctive poems, which – like Dylan Thomas’s Hunchback in the Park – appear to give rise to unsettling resonances . . . a nagging sense of a familiar echo just barely heard . . . see my earlier foray into this phenomenon . . .

Am I misguided to detect concordances between the following popular Victorian verses for a child’s recitation and a well known squib by Philip Larkin? Folk memory . . . an oral tradition . . . the Connective Unconscious . . . call it what you will, the similarities of these morbid drolleries that subvert the Age of Innocence certainly suggest a perseveration of a creative impulse spanning two centuries, and one that measures infant mortality by the spit of a spade.

The Doll’s Funeral

When my dolly died, when my dolly died, 

I sat on the step and I cried and cried;
And I couldn’t eat any jam and bread, 

’Cause it didn’t seem right when my doll was dead. 
And Bridget was sorry as she could be, 

For she patted my head, and ‘O,’ said she, 

‘To think that the pretty has gone and died!’ 

Then I broke out afresh and I cried and cried.

We dug her a grave in the violet bed, 

And planted violets at her head; 

And we raised a stone and wrote quite plain, 

‘Here lies a dear doll who died of pain.’ 

And then my brother, said he, ‘Amen,’ 

And we all went back to the house again, 

But all the same I cried and cried, 

Because I’d a right when my doll had died.

And then we had more jam and bread, 

But I didn’t eat, ’cause my doll was dead. 

But I tied some crape on my doll house door, 

And then I stood and cried some more. 

I couldn’t be happy, don’t you see! 

Because the funeral belonged to me. 

And then the others went home, and then 

I went out and dug up my doll again.

On the other hand, perhaps it’s only the patina of age now disfiguring my keepsake book that prompts me to suggest, hereinabove, that the pungency of the English Cautionary Verse tradition is a taste indistinguishable even when savoured a century apart.

Take One Home for the Kiddies

                                         On shallow straw, in shadeless glass,
                                         Huddled by empty bowls, they sleep:
                                         No dark, no dam, no earth, no grass —
                                         Mam, get us one of them to keep.

                                         Living toys are something novel,
                                         But it soon wears off somehow.
                                         Fetch the shoebox, fetch the shovel —
                                         Mam, we’re playing funerals now. 

Two cuttings of Philip Larkin’s verse
as they first appeared in literary periodicals.

For further musings on palimpsestic texts and the versifying impulse see also: 

Catherine Eisner believes passionately in plot-driven suspense fiction, a devotion to literary craft that draws on studies in psychoanalytical criminology and psychoactive pharmacology to explore the dark side of motivation, and ignite plot twists with unexpected outcomes. 
see Eisner’s Sister Morphine (2008)
and Listen Close to Me (2011)

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