Aug 2: From the beginnings of the Bummer Tradition


The whole point of this is that I am a thrall to the Daily Reading Guide; someone sitting in an office a hundred years ago culled these selections and I follow them; my will doesn't enter into it; they bind me and take me where I do not want to go. It's restful, in a way, and only occasionally are my "What the hell?" sensors engaged. Today is such a day, for, under a fine early August sky, where we might expect people with the means to buy a set of the Harvard Classics to be on vacation, we have this (from "To My Lute" -- super-fruity already, I know, but bear me out):

...Since that dear Voice which did thy sounds approve,
Which wont in such harmonious strains to flow,
Is reft from Earth to tune those spheres above,
What art thou but a harbinger of woe?
Emphasis added by me for woefulness. These ten poems of William Drummond, the "Scottish Petrarch" (thereby answering that trivia question), have a 9:1 ratio of bummerness, which shows you that being a Laird in the early 17th century can be just as oppressive as being a young dude with a band is today. And, like a good Ramone, Drummond knows how to keep it short:
MY thoughts hold mortal strife;
I do detest my life,
And with lamenting cries
Peace to my soul to bring
Oft call that prince which here doth monarchize:
—But he, grim grinning King,
Who caitiffs scorns, and doth the blest surprize,
Late having deck’d with beauty’s rose his tomb,
Disdains to crop a weed, and will not come.
I don't know what "caitiffs" is either, but I feel like I got the idea back in line 2. And yet Drummond hung on for 64 years, pretty good for the time, and doesn't appear to have missed any meals, so just going to all the trouble of writing a poem, to me, kind of undercuts the detestability factor.

The love poem starts out by being addressed to Phoebus and, in the context of the other poems, seems insincere; Drummond doesn't need to drag in a bunch of divine Greek mechanicals to get his bummer poems off the ground. Here's the one I like the best -- called "Human Folly," naturally:
OF this fair volume which we World do name
If we the sheets and leaves could turn with care,
Of him who it corrects, and did it frame,
We clear might read the art and wisdom rare:
Find out his power which wildest powers doth tame,
His providence extending everywhere,
His justice which proud rebels doth not spare,
In every page, no period of the same.
But silly we, like foolish children, rest
Well pleased with colour’d vellum, leaves of gold.
Fair dangling ribbands, leaving what is best,
On the great writer’s sense ne’er taking hold;
Or if by chance we stay our minds on aught,
It is some picture on the margin wrought.
(Lit-crit note: I wonder if living in a Latin-soaked world made writers and readers less sensitive to word order. "...which we World do name" sounds a little forced, but if you're more used to waiting around for the verb to bring up the rear maybe it feels more natural and less capital-P Poetical. Actual English majors are welcome to weigh in.)

1 comments:

Lisa Simeone said...

Wow. When I started reading "MY thoughts hold mortal strife;
I do detest my life,
And with lamenting cries," the first thing I thought of was John Dowland. I was sure the great lutenist had set these lines to music. But no, as it turns out; JD wrote plenty of his own melancholy lines to sing. I didn't know Drummond before today. Now am glad I do. (And hell, I'm a Petrarch fan, as well, so that comparison can only help!)