Sunday, November 29, 2009
The Magic of Words
A propos of The Euphony of Cellar Door, I was reminded of this poem that haunted me as a schoolboy:In American Names, Stephen Vincent Benet prefers the familiar sounds of the place names of home to the exotic names of far-off places:RomanceIt seemed to me then, and seems to me now, a wonderful example of the magic of words.
WHEN I was but thirteen or so
I went into a golden land,
Took me by the hand.
My father died, my brother too,
They passed like fleeting dreams,
I stood where Popocatapetl
In the sunlight gleams.
I dimly heard the master's voice
And boys far-off at play,—
Had stolen me away.
I walked in a great golden dream
To and fro from school—
The dusty streets did rule.
I walked home with a gold dark boy
And never a word I'd say,
Had taken my speech away.
I gazed entranced upon his face
Fairer than any flower—
O shining Popocatapetl
It was thy magic hour:
The houses, people, traffic seemed
Thin fading dreams by day;
They had stolen my soul away!
W.J. Turner (1889-1946)
I have fallen in love with American names,
The sharp names that never get fat,
The snakeskin-titles of mining-claims,
The plumed war-bonnet of Medicine Hat,
Tucson and Deadwood and Lost Mule Flat.
Seine and Piave are silver spoons,
But the spoonbowl-metal is thin and worn,
There are English counties like hunting-tunes
Played on the keys of a postboy's horn,
But I will remember where I was born.
I will remember Carquinez Straits,
Little French Lick and Lundy's Lane,
The Yankee ships and the Yankee dates
And the bullet-towns of Calamity Jane.
I will remember Skunktown Plain.
I will fall in love with a Salem tree
And a rawhide quirt from Santa Cruz,
I will get me a bottle of Boston sea
And a blue-gum nigger to sing me blues.
I am tired of loving a foreign muse.
Rue des Martyrs and Bleeding-Heart-Yard,
Senlis, Pisa, and Blindman's Oast,
It is a magic ghost you guard
But I am sick for a newer ghost,
Harrisburg, Spartanburg, Painted Post.
Henry and John were never so
And Henry and John were always right?
Granted, but when it was time to go
And the tea and the laurels had stood all night,
Did they never watch for Nantucket Light?
I shall not rest quiet in Montparnasse.
I shall not lie easy at Winchelsea.
You may bury my body in Sussex grass,
You may bury my tongue at Champmedy.
I shall not be there. I shall rise and pass.
Bury my heart at Wounded Knee.