Poetry Wednesday: Low Aspirations and George Arnold

George ArnoldSo, in this softened yellow light, with’ Jack upon my knees,
I find my good in being just as lazy as I please;
My pipe-smoke floats aspiringly, and that, I’m fain to say,
Is as much of aspiration as I care to see to-day;

—“Wool-gathering,” George Arnold

I spent last night at the hospital with my ten-year old, who would have been wakened every three hours to breathe medicine through a respirator, if the medicine hadn’t jazzed her up past the possibility of sleep.

For either of us.

Luckily, there’s not much to say about George Arnold, except he was born in 1834 New York, died in 1865, drank a lot of beer with Walt Whitman—and who wouldn’t, given the chance—and made a far better living as a poet than a painter.

Which, I suppose, is saying something.

I like his wit, his humor, and his rhythm, and I have no idea why most of the sources I checked claim that “The Jolly Old Pedagogue” is his best known poem.

I like “Pedagogue,” don’t get me wrong, it’s a lovely poem about a lovely man who had a lovely life . . .  but in my entirely subjective and possibly slightly cranky opinion, he wrote better ones.

Or at least ones that can still make me smile, even after a sleepless night preceded by a day and a half of maternal anxiety.

Which again, is saying something.


Mr. Arnold, by the way, had his own ideas about the limits of poetry in a given situation.  Or at least his  poetry, and you have to respect his decision—or at least his intent—to put down his words and use his actions.  Or something.

(George Arnold)

A hackneyed burden, to a hackneyed air,—
“I love thee only,—thou art wondrous fair!”
Alas! the poets have worn the theme threadbare!

Can I not find some words less tame and old,
To paint thy form and face of perfect mould,
Thy dewy lips, thy hair of brown and gold?

Can I not sing in somewhat fresher strain
The love I lavish and receive again,—
The thrilling joy, so like to thrilling pain?

Can I not, by some metaphor divine,
Describe the life I quaff like nectared wine
In being thine, and knowing thou art mine?

Ah, no! this halting verse can naught express;
No English words can half the truth confess,
That have not all been rhymed to weariness!

So let me cease my scribbling for to-day,
And maiden, turn thy lovely face this way,—
Words will not do, but haply kisses may!

The offer of a nap will do just fine, sir.