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Monday, March 14, 2011

Number 94: Eugene Field "Apple Pie and Cheese"

Apple-Pie and Cheese

Full many a sinful notion
Conceived of foreign powers
Has come across the ocean
To harm this land of ours;
And heresies called fashions
Have modesty effaced,
And baleful, morbid passions
Corrupt our native taste.
O tempora! O mores!
What profanations these
That seek to dim the glories
Of apple-pie and cheese!

I'm glad my education
Enables me to stand
Against the vile temptation
Held out on every hand;
Eschewing all the tittles
With vanity replete,
I'm loyal to the victuals
Our grandsires used to eat!
I'm glad I've got three willing boys
To hang around and tease
Their mother for the filling joys
Of apple-pie and cheese!

Your flavored creams and ices
And your dainty angel-food
Are mighty fine devices
To regale the dainty dude;
Your terrapin and oysters,
With wine to wash 'em down,
Are just the thing for roisters
When painting of the town;
No flippant, sugared notion
Shall my appetite appease,
Or bate my soul's devotion
To apple-pie and cheese!

The pie my Julia makes me
(God bless her Yankee ways!)
On memory's pinions takes me
To dear Green Mountain days;
And seems like I see Mother
Lean on the window-sill,
A-handin' me and brother
What she knows 'll keep us still;
And these feelings are so grateful,
Says I, "Julia, if you please,
I'll take another plateful
Of that apple-pie and cheese!"

And cheese! No alien it, sir,
That's brought across the sea,--
No Dutch antique, nor Switzer,
Nor glutinous de Brie;
There's nothing I abhor so
As mawmets of this ilk--
Give me the harmless morceau
That's made of true-blue milk!
No matter what conditions
Dyspeptic come to feaze,
The best of all physicians
Is apple-pie and cheese!

Though ribalds may decry 'em,
For these twin boons we stand,
Partaking thrice per diem
Of their fulness out of hand;
No enervating fashion
Shall cheat us of our right
To gratify our passion
With a mouthful at a bite!
We'll cut it square or bias,
Or any way we please,
And faith shall justify us
When we carve our pie and cheese!

De gustibus, 't is stated,
Non disputandum est.
Which meaneth, when translated,
That all is for the best.
So let the foolish choose 'em
The vapid sweets of sin,
I will not disabuse 'em
Of the heresy they're in;
But I, when I undress me
Each night, upon my knees
Will ask the Lord to bless me
With apple-pie and cheese!

--Eugene Field

Hap Notes: Happy Pi Day (March 14 is always Pi Day- 3.14- get it?) It's good to celebrate one of the mathematically strangest numbers and so we will today with a poem about pie, of which it is a lot easier to think of poems on the subject. Plus, I love this poem.

I don't know how typically American it is to eat apple pie with cheese but I know it to be a regular habit of country folk which is sort of what Field is talking about- it's a "plain folks" treat. My dad insisted upon a piece of Wisconsin Cheddar on his apple pie and so did my mother's father; without the cheese, they would turn up their noses at the pie. (I'll point out here that eating cheese at the end of a meal was originally an upper class thing to do from Roman times on but the apple pie with cheese was mostly a farmer's delight.)

Eugene Field (1850-1895) was a brilliant humorist and newspaper columnist who wrote children's verse and I know I've often mentioned how irritatingly condescending the label "children's poetry" can be. In Field's case, while it's true he wrote primarily children's verse (remember "Wynken, Blynken and Nod"?), he was a bright man who wrote and edited for a variety of newspapers including the St. Joseph Gazette (in Missouri), the Kansas City Times, the Denver Tribune and the Chicago Daily News. He wrote a good dozen or so poetry books, most of which you can find here: thanks to the folks at Project Gutenberg.

Many of Field's poems had illustrations by the well-known artist Maxfield Parrish (one of the illustrations is pictured here under the photo of Field. (Note the color of the sky- it is to this very day still called "Parrish Blue"- he mixed his own luminous colors and had a variety of layering and glazing techniques.)

In the poem, "Julia" is his wife (the Fields had eight children) and "morceau" is French for a piece or a small bit. "Te Gustibus non disputandem est" literally means "one can't argue with someone's taste" and is usually translated as "there's no accounting for taste." A "pinion" is a way of saying "wing"; his memory flies back to a time when he was younger. "Oh tempora! Oh mores!" is a famous line from Cicero (106 BC-42 BC) deploring the corruption of the times in which he lived and means "Oh the times! Oh the customs!" (Field wrote a rousing and humorous poem extolling the virtues of learning Latin and Greek in the public schools when they were starting to be dropped from school curricula. Now, of course, they are almost completely gone to which I would say "Oh tempora! Oh mores!")

Here's an interesting Field quote: "Human thought is like a monstrous pendulum; it keeps swinging from one extreme to the other.”

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