Thursday, March 19, 2015

Poetics of Puritans and The Pobble Who Has No Toes

This week’s poem is a lengthy fun piece. It makes sense to pair it with a short sober piece on our Puritan heritage. I like Puritans—you know, like the smiling man on the package of Quaker Oats. In fact, during my precious two-week holiday in London I invested time in attending a Quaker meeting—and I wish I’d paid a second visit.

I must admit that our Puritan heritage is a mixed blessing: We can use it either way. For instance, for the sexual revolution of my childhood, we could be anti-Puritan, repudiating that side of our culture, and getting our menfolk out of those hideous long plain bathing trunks. For the counter revolution, we could invoke the Puritans again to justify getting men and boys out of striped jockey style bathing suits and back to the old style, a style made new again by adding some color and a new youthful label: surf-board shorts. How the wheel of time turns. Revolves. Like a revolution.

Incidentally, today you can still wear nice comfy jockey style—provided you’re willing to wear speedos. The other brands are lost in time.

The only puritan thing I want to address today is the guilt thing. I don’t mean modesty-guilt, but task-guilt. In colonial times Benjamin Franklin said, “Be always ashamed to catch thyself idle.” We have, I think, some shame if we are idle with a long-term project still not done… Well of course it’s not done—It’s long term!

I can’t remember the name of the professor or the title of his book—the cover was green—called something or other. Time management? Anyways, he studied graduate students. As you know, grad school is for folks who already have a degree, but they want more education. They have to do a thesis, one that gets bound into a nice fine permanent volume placed in the University archives, there to gather nice fine dust. Many students, Puritan-style, would feel wrong having fun if their work wasn’t done. The prof learned he could divide the students into two groups: Those who felt guilty, and those who didn’t. But a thesis takes years.

The guilty ones finished no sooner than the others, and, in fact, I think they finished later. In their case, guilt was truly a waste of time.

The trick to success, according to the prof, was “an unschedule.” Besides scheduling your time everyday, as would a sensible Puritan, also take care, everyday, to “unschedule” something fun to do. As a Scottish clown once sang, to get us to indulge in fast food, “You deserve a break today…”

I used to do the prof’s trick. Then, as with all tricks of wisdom... I forgot to keep doing it. Or, then again, maybe I came to unschedule unconsciously. Yes, maybe so—that’s a happier thought.

Here’s this week’s unenlightening, un-self improving poem—A poem that years ago I unscheduled time to memorize.

The Pobble Who has No Toes
by Edward Lear

The Pobble who has no toes
Had once as many as we;
When they said, “Some day you may lose them all;”
He replied, “Fish fiddle-dee-dee!”
And his Aunt Jobiska made him drink
Lavender water tinged with pink,
For she said, “The World in general knows
There’s nothing so good for a Pobble’s toes!”

The Pobble who has no toes
            Swam across the Bristol Channel;
But before he set out he wrapped his nose
            In a piece of scarlet flannel.
For his Aunt Jabiska said, “No harm
Can come to his toes if his nose is warm;
And it’s perfectly known that a Pobble’s toes
Are safe, — provided he minds his nose.”

The Pobble swam fast and well,
            And when boats or ships came near him,
He tinkledy-binkledy-winkled a bell,
            So that all the world could hear him.
And all the Sailors and Admirals cried,
When they saw him nearing the further side, —
“He has gone to fish, for his Aunt Jobiska’s
Runcible Cat with crimson whiskers!”

But before he touched the shore, —
            The shore of the Bristol Channel’ —
A sea-green Porpoise carried away
            His wrapper of scarlet flannel.
And when he came to observe his feet,
Formely garnished with toes so neat,
His face at once became forlorn
On perceiving that all his toes were gone!

And nobody ever knew,
            From that dark day to the present,
Whoso had taken the Pobble’s toes,
            In a manner so far from pleasant.
Whether the shrimps or crawfish gray,
Or crafty Mermaids stole them away —
Nobody knew; and nobody knows
How the Pobble was robbed of his twice five toes!

The Pobble who has no toes
            Was placed in a friendly Bark,
And they rowed back, and carried him up
            To his Aunt Jobiska’s Park.
And she made him a feast, at his earnest wish,
Of eggs and buttercups fried with fish;
And she said, “The whole world knows,
That Pobbles are happier without their toes.”

Sean Crawford


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