Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Lovers of the Poor...

arrive. The Ladies from the Ladies’ Betterment League
Arrive in the afternoon, the late light slanting
In diluted gold bars across the boulevard brag
Of proud, seamed faces with mercy and murder hinting
Here, there, interrupting, all deep and debonair,
The pink paint on the innocence of fear;
Walk in a gingerly manner up the hall.
Cutting with knives served by their softest care,
Served by their love, so barbarously fair.
Whose mothers taught: You’d better not be cruel!
You had better not throw stones upon the wrens!
Herein they kiss and coddle and assault
Anew and dearly in the innocence
With which they baffle nature. Who are full,
Sleek, tender-clad, fit, fiftyish, a-glow, all
Sweetly abortive, hinting at fat fruit,
Judge it high time that fiftyish fingers felt
Beneath the lovelier planes of enterprise.
To resurrect. To moisten with milky chill.
To be a random hitching-post or plush.
To be, for wet eyes, random and handy hem.
Their guild is giving money to the poor.
The worthy poor. The very very worthy
And beautiful poor. Perhaps just not too swarthy?
perhaps just not too dirty nor too dim
Nor—passionate. In truth, what they could wish
Is—something less than derelict or dull.
Not staunch enough to stab, though, gaze for gaze!
God shield them sharply from the beggar-bold!
The noxious needy ones whose battle’s bald
Nonetheless for being voiceless, hits one down.
But it’s all so bad! and entirely too much for them.
The stench; the urine, cabbage, and dead beans,
Dead porridges of assorted dusty grains,
The old smoke, heavy diapers, and, they’re told,
Something called chitterlings. The darkness. Drawn
Darkness, or dirty light. The soil that stirs.
The soil that looks the soil of centuries.
And for that matter the general oldness. Old
Wood. Old marble. Old tile. Old old old.
Not homekind Oldness! Not Lake Forest, Glencoe.
Nothing is sturdy, nothing is majestic,
There is no quiet drama, no rubbed glaze, no
Unkillable infirmity of such
A tasteful turn as lately they have left,
Glencoe, Lake Forest, and to which their cars
Must presently restore them. When they’re done
With dullards and distortions of this fistic
Patience of the poor and put-upon.
They’ve never seen such a make-do-ness as
Newspaper rugs before! In this, this “flat,”
Their hostess is gathering up the oozed, the rich
Rugs of the morning (tattered! the bespattered. . . .)
Readies to spread clean rugs for afternoon.
Here is a scene for you. The Ladies look,
In horror, behind a substantial citizeness
Whose trains clank out across her swollen heart.
Who, arms akimbo, almost fills a door.
All tumbling children, quilts dragged to the floor
And tortured thereover, potato peelings, soft-
Eyed kitten, hunched-up, haggard, to-be-hurt.
Their League is allotting largesse to the Lost.
But to put their clean, their pretty money, to put
Their money collected from delicate rose-fingers
Tipped with their hundred flawless rose-nails seems . . .
They own Spode, Lowestoft, candelabra,
Mantels, and hostess gowns, and sunburst clocks,
Turtle soup, Chippendale, red satin “hangings,”
Aubussons and Hattie Carnegie. They Winter
In Palm Beach; cross the Water in June; attend,
When suitable, the nice Art Institute;
Buy the right books in the best bindings; saunter
On Michigan, Easter mornings, in sun or wind.
Oh Squalor! This sick four-story hulk, this fibre
With fissures everywhere! Why, what are bringings
Of loathe-love largesse? What shall peril hungers
So old old, what shall flatter the desolate?
Tin can, blocked fire escape and chitterling
And swaggering seeking youth and the puzzled wreckage
Of the middle passage, and urine and stale shames
And, again, the porridges of the underslung
And children children children. Heavens! That
Was a rat, surely, off there, in the shadows? Long
And long-tailed? Gray? The Ladies from the Ladies’
Betterment League agree it will be better
To achieve the outer air that rights and steadies,
To hie to a house that does not holler, to ring
Bells elsetime, better presently to cater
To no more Possibilities, to get
Away. Perhaps the money can be posted.
Perhaps they two may choose another Slum!
Some serious sooty half-unhappy home!—
Where loathe-love likelier may be invested.
Keeping their scented bodies in the center
Of the hall as they walk down the hysterical hall,
They allow their lovely skirts to graze no wall,
Are off at what they manage of a canter,
And, resuming all the clues of what they were,
Try to avoid inhaling the laden air.
- Gwendolyn Brooks, "The Lovers of the Poor" (1963)


FreeThinke said...

Burnett is good, but ELAINE STRITCH, who originated the rile in Broadway, is the Living End when it comes to conveying the profound meaning of this bitter, sarcastic-yet- pitying Paean of Contempt and Derision.

-FJ said...

I give Stritch the "edge" as well.

FreeThinke said...

Well, by FID, I stand to Brunett again, ad was AMAZED at howell she captured and projected the essential grimness, pathos and despair implicit in Sondheim's lyrics. This is easily the best thing Carol Burnett ever did. I had no idea she had anything like this in her. All that time she spent clowning around with heavy, clumsy, overdone parodies and, shrieking, unfunny comic skits was a waste of a truly great talent. Fame and great wealth achieved by acting like an ass! What a shame!

f course, I can tell that Carol owed a great deal to Elaine Stritch. Without Stritch I doubt this emanation of Carol Burnett would have been possible. Burnett has a wonderful voice, and extraordinary sensitivity to the meaning of whatever she did. Even her tiresome whining, chronically ill-tempered EUNICE had a poignancy about her that could at times bring tears of empathy to your eyes. There's a bit of "Eunice" in all of us who have ever yearned for glory we had no hope of achieving .

Had not extreme popularity overtaken her early on, Carol Burnett would doubtless have become one of Broadway's greatest stars.

FreeThinke said...

Strjtch may have rhymed with bitch for good reason, but LORD! she had something absolutely UNIQUE that never failed to be compelling.

She could TEACH you things about yourself you never wanted to learn. That is a rare gift, indeed.

FreeThinke said...

Chicago-based, Pulitzer Prize-winning Negro poetess Gwendolyn Brooks was no slouch either when it came to expressing nearly identical sentiments.

However, the abject contempt seething beneath the surface in Brooks's poem is not directed at the vanity and vapidity of the well-to-do women so much as at a SOCIETY that would permit such wretched, depressing social conditions to exist in the first place.

Even at that, a not so-subtle-hint of MALICE born of ENVY towards these prosperous Ladies of Leisure seems apparent.

The bitter cynicism and hostel sarcasm in Steohe Sinheom's lyrics may very well stem from his Jewishness. Neither Jews nor Negroes have ever felt particularly welcome or comfortable in our predominantly White Protestant Christian culture. There was good and sufficient resin for that, of course. The were NOT welcomed here by the majority.

The results of the majority;s bkundness to its own grievous faults precipitated a RAGIC sequence of events that has worked ironically more ore powerfully against CAUCASIAN CHRISTIAN than their ostensible victims.

FreeThinke said...

Here just for fun is some hate verse of my own, albeit of a more personal nature than either Sondheim or Brooks, since it is a chronicle taken from real life directed at a particularly hateful individual with whom I was once regrettably associated:

______ HALITOSIS HAIKU ______

A Hopsack Full of Hate Rhymes

__ Could anything be verse?

by Joseph P. Lister

Halitosis vile!
Twenty-thousand-dollar crowns
Trapping rotted food.

The first time it hit
Was in his pool. It was like
Bathing in sewage.

He who slurps and snorts
With every inhalation
Also tends to spray.

Slime forms on the teeth.
Then spraying transmits a stench.
His vulpine grin offends.

Would careful brushing
Be enough to neutralize
His repugnant breath?

I know I saw moss
Gray, grungy, greenish growing
Making a brown smell.

Tongue moss tends to stink.
Fermented food ‘twixt the teeth
Makes us want to flee

The nasty slobber
Precedes each vile emission
Gurgling as he sneers.

Fartbreath is daunting.
The effects lurk and linger

Piles of doo-doo seem
Benign by comparison.
Bad breath is a curse.

I think rottenness
In his case is systemic.
He stinks from within.

His putridity
Makes one want to say, “Please, sir,
Take your breath –– AWAY!”

January, 2009 edition

-FJ said...

I think that I noted over at JMJ's the derision with which the old "ladies leagues" were held, and yet, it seems that on the Left there exists no calling "higher" amongst the virtue signally crowd than to "serve the poor" (or at least been "seen" as doing so).

FreeThinke said...

Oh sure! The Left is all about SYMBOLISM without SUBSTANCE. Militant self-righteous hypocrisy and arrogant pretense of moral superiority.

They seem honestly to think that changing the NAMES of things is the same as changing the NATURE of things.

...High above the crowd
Quite aloof and proud
Wearing furs and diamonds
So they'll all be wowed.

I'll be the envy of them all
Living in my marble hall
Staring at ancestral portraits'
On my ancient gallery wall

Fascinating me! Regal as can be!
Wined and dined and so refine'
My mate will need a concubine,
So rich I'll own a diamond mine,
Now won't that be just too divine?

But when I makes my tea
I want you all to see
That my little finger crooks

~ FreeThinke - from "I WANT to BE a LADY (Mrs. Dolber's Daydream)," excerpt from an original musical
adaptation of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dicken's, book and lyrics by FT, premiered at The Annapolis Dinner Theater, 1992

-FJ said...

Too cool, FT!