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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Number 173: Katherine Mansfield "Butterfly Laughter"

Butterfly Laughter

In the middle of our porridge plates
There was a blue butterfly painted
And each morning we tried who should reach the
butterfly first.
Then the Grandmother said: "Do not eat the poor
That made us laugh.
Always she said it and always it started us laughing.
It seemed such a sweet little joke.
I was certain that one fine morning
The butterfly would fly out of our plates,
Laughing the teeniest laugh in the world,
And perch on the Grandmother's lap.

-- Katherine Mansfield

Hap Notes: This charming little poem seemed like a fun thing to read in the middle of a work week, especially with the coming summer vacations that, when I was young, always entailed a visit to grandma's house.

I had a little bowl with a bear at the bottom and I think most kids have some sort of bowl similar to that when they are very young. My grandmother used to say, "You'd better rescue the bear!" I remember wishing the bear would just eat some of the darn oatmeal. My brothers always had super-hero bowls. My sister had Strawberry Shortcake on hers.

Porridge is sort of what Americans call oatmeal except it can be made from a variety of grains of which oats are only one. In fact, thin porridge (so thin you could drink it) is gruel, something I always wondered about in those Dickens books about the workhouse where children and adults are given it for a meal. Cream of Wheat is (obviously) a wheat porridge and so is Wheatena. In fact, polenta (which is, if you ask me, Italian grits) is considered a corn meal porridge and rice pudding is considered a variable of rice porridge.

Remember the little rhyme?:

Pease Porridge hot
Pease Porridge cold
Pease Porridge in the pot
Nine days old.

Some like it hot
Some like it cold
Some like it in the pot
Nine days old.

Yes? No? Maybe? Well, it's porridge made from dried peas. Porridge can be made with quinoa or rye or flax or millet or any number of dried grains. Every culture has a variety of the stuff. Velvet porridge is a norse creation which is basically flour and butter mixed with milk (like a thin gravy.) Delicious fried cornmeal mush, is just thick corn porridge (grits) sliced and fried.

Now, I love all these things but when I was a kid, oatmeal, the American version of porridge, was a horrid thing even with the seductive additions of brown sugar or cinnamon or walnuts or pecans or maple syrup. Most kids are sort of like that, hence the "bottom of the bowl" pictures to lure the eater to finish the contents.

Don't you love the idea of a butterfly's teeny laugh? I'll betcha butterflies would have perched on my grandma, too. It's interesting how she says "the" grandmother, isn't it? I'm not sure if that's a common English thing or not.

Isn't it wonderful how some poetry can make you think and feel deeply and some can make you just smile happily?

Here's where we've talked about Mansfield before:

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