Odes and Voivodes

Aug. 19 - To begin with, it's Ogden Nash's birthday. Despite yesterday's indulgent fit of pique over a certain proprietary holiday, I don't usually pay much attention to poetry. I admire the good stuff that comes my way, appreciate it for what it is, and move on. That is, I think, a mature attitude to take toward poetry—or almost anything else.

I like some very traditional stuff—I had to memorize Kipling's If in ninth grade, and still remember a handful of stanzas—as well as some less traditional stuff, like Ferlinghetti. I enjoyed Catullus and Mayakovsky, and the poetry of Shakespeare and Moliere always awed me. But somehow I completely neglected poor Ogden Nash. I neglected him because the only thing I knew him to have written was that candy was dandy but liquor was quicker, and although I agreed with the sentiment I didn't think the poetry merited much further investigation. I mention that because it's his birthday today, and I am, as usual, full of regret.

Here are a handful of his poems—which are obviously his, and are reprinted here only in the hopes of raising appreciation for him on his birthday:

The Cow
The cow is of the bovine ilk;
One end is moo, the other, milk.

The Ant
The ant has made himself illustrious
Through constant industry industrious.
So what?
Would you be calm and placid
If you were full of formic acid?

Samson Agonistes
I test my bath before I sit,
And I'm always moved to wonderment
That what chills the finger not a bit
Is so frigid upon the fundament.

He could be brilliant even when he wasn't being silly:

Old Men
People expect old men to die,
They do not really mourn old men.
Old men are different. People look
At them with eyes that wonder when...
People watch with unshocked eyes;
But the old men know when an old man dies.

Speaking of poets, it was on this date in 1936 that Federico Garcia Lorca retired from his position as Spain's most celebrated poet (and playwright) in order to become a gravedigger. This proved to have been a poor career move: his Fascist supervisors were so displeased with his work that they shot him to death after he had dug only one grave.

* * *

How's your Romanian history? Mine was rough, so I was curious to see what it meant that on this date in 1601 Michael the Brave, a Romanian national hero, was assassinated. Romania.org puts it this way:

The end of the 16th century was dominated by the personality of Michael the Brave. He became voivode of Wallachia in 1593, joined the Christian League - an anti-Ottoman coalition initiated by the Papacy and the Holy Roman Empire and he succeeded, following heavy battles (Calugareni, Giurgiu) to actually regain the independence of his country. In 1599-1600 he united for the first time in history all the territories inhabited by Romanians, proclaiming himself "prince of Wallachia, Transylvania and the whole of Moldavia." The domestic situation was very complex, the neighbouring great-powers - the Ottoman Empire, Poland, the Hapsburg Empire - were hostile and joined forces to overthrow him; so this union was short-lived as Michael the Brave was assassinated in 1601.

Next time you want to shut up some snooty blowhard, ask them to name their favorite voivode of the sixteenth century. (And I hope Troniu the Romanian doesn't think I'm making light of Romanian history—I'm just having fun with voivodes.)

* * *

Ogden Nash could have written a marvelous ode
to Michael the Brave, that stellar voivode.

* * *

Seventy years ago today, Germans voted to give Adolf Hitler the presidency in addition to the chancellorship he already held. For my analysis of the Hitler-Bush comparisons, see here. Seriously. I'm not going to get into it again.

Today is the birthday of Adam Arkin (1956), Tipper Gore (1948), Bill Clinton (1946), Jill St. John (1940), Willie Shoemaker (1931), Gene Roddenberry (1921), Malcolm Forbes (1919), Ogden Nash (1902), and Orville Wright (1871).

Happy Thursday!

2004, The Moron's Almanac™

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