Saturday, September 15, 2012

appreciation Henley

Life's a whore and death's her pimp

in this wonderfully vivid poem by W. E. Henley (1849-1903):


Madam Life's a piece in bloom
Death goes dogging everywhere:
She's the tenant of the room,
He's the ruffian on the stair.

You shall see her as a friend,
You shall bilk him once or twice;
But he'll trap you in the end,
And he'll stick you for her price.

With his kneebones at your chest,
And his knuckles in your throat,
You would reason — plead — protest!
Clutching at her petticoat;

But she's heard it all before,
Well she knows you've had your fun,
Gingerly she gains the door,
And your little job is done.


That third stanza is just great: kneebones and knuckles, and the k-sound from knuck picked up with "Clutching" and "coat" . . . and the transition from the ascending desperation of "reason—plead—protest!" to "Clutching at her petticoat," supinely grabbing for her under-hem as she passes in exit. 

And "petticoat" is of course much more poignantly suggestive than "dress" would be. And the sudden abrupt cluster of internal rhymes in this line (clut/at/pet/coat) are so curt and cutting. Ouch ouch ouch ouch.

Your little job (who's been the worker here, who's the wage-slave of this labor?) is done! Your handjob blowjob and all the other jobjobs which in retrospect (the expense of spirit in a waste of shame) can be measured in its petticoat-petty diminishment pronouncedly pathetically only by the quash-judgement of "little."

. . . in the books they term the meter used by Henley here trochaic tetrameter, but since every terminal foot in it is tailless; and, since the default metric foot in English is the iambic: why not, putting Occam's Razor to it, simply call it iambic tetrameter with each initial foot headless?

and Auden too:

Earth, receive an honoured guest;
William Yeats is laid to rest.
Let the Irish vessel lie
Emptied of its etc.

(Doesn't Frost say somewhere that there are only two feet in English verse, "iambic and loose iambic"?)


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