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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Number 313: Ezra Pound "Ancient Music"

Ancient Music

Winter is icumen in,

Lhude sing Goddamm,

Raineth drop and staineth slop,

And how the wind doth ramm!

Sing: Goddamm.

Skiddeth bus and sloppeth us,

An ague hath my ham.

Freezeth river, turneth liver,

Damm you; Sing: Goddamm.

Goddamm, Goddamm, 'tis why I am, Goddamm,

So 'gainst the winter's balm.

Sing goddamm, damm, sing goddamm,

Sing goddamm, sing goddamm, DAMM.

-- Ezra Pound

Hap Notes: First off, Pound is writing a clever parody here of the Middle English round written in 1225 A.D. called "Summer Is Icumen In." Here's that poem/song:

Sumer is icumen in,

Lhude sing cuccu!

Groweþ sed and bloweþ med
And springþ þe wde nu,

Sing cuccu!

Awe bleteþ after lomb,

Lhouþ after calue cu.

Bulluc sterteþ, bucke uerteþ,

Murie sing cuccu!

Cuccu, cuccu, wel singes þu cuccu;
Ne swik þu nauer nu.

Sing cuccu nu. Sing cuccu.

Sing cuccu. Sing cuccu nu!

Okay, what the hell does this poem mean? Here's a fairly good translation:

Summer has arrived,

Loudly sing, Cuckoo!

The seed grows and the meadow blooms
And the wood springs anew,

Sing, Cuckoo!

The ewe bleats after the lamb

The cow lows after the calf.

The bullock stirs, the stag farts,

Merrily sing, Cuckoo!

Cuckoo, cuckoo, well you sing,

Don't you ever stop now,
Sing cuckoo now.
Sing, Cuckoo.
Sing Cuckoo.
Sing cuckoo now!

The stag farts? Did you read that right? Yep. It's thought to be a sign of virile health. Don't spread that information around, please. I've had enough purposefully flatulent boyfriends who did not need this kind of encouragment. Just sayin'. Here's what the round sounds like:

Pound was well-equipped to write this parody. He studied Old English as well as Romance languages in college. There is, was and probably never shall be anyone more knowledgeable about poetry than Pound was.

Pound himself said, "I resolved that at 30 I would know more about poetry than any man living, that I would know what was accounted poetry everywhere, what part of poetry was "indestructible," what part could not be lost by translation and—scarcely less important—what effects were obtainable in one language only and were utterly incapable of being translated.
In this search I learned more or less of nine foreign languages, I read Oriental stuff in translations, I fought every University regulation and every professor who tried to make me learn anything except this, or who bothered me with "requirements for degrees."

One cannot speak of 20th century poetry without mentioning the extraordinarily vexing and brilliant Pound.

Today's poem seems especially fitting if you are living in a part of the country that is snowy, grey, cloudy, windy, cold, rainy or (as in my case) all of the above.

Here is where we have talked about Pound before:

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