Beavers – the aquatic, tree-felling, dam-building rodent – are currently being reintroduced to Scotland, as related in a long article in this Sunday’s Observer, and not without controversy. The article’s author, Tim Adams, notes that the anti-Beaver parties might take their rallying cry from Robert Burns’ 1792 call to arms Cock up yer Beaver.
A beaver in this context refers of course to a hat, probably but not exclusively made from beaver pelt. Burns’ air is an exhortation to the brave Johnie to set such a hat straight and have a go at the English, but it more than raises a smile on a grey Monday morning, whichever way you take it.
Cock Up Yer Beaver
When first my brave Johnie lad came to this town,
He had a blue bonnet that wanted the crown,
But now he has gotten a hat and a feather –
Hey, brave Johnie lad, cock up yer beaver!
Cock up your beaver, and cock it fu’ sprush!
We’ll over the border and gie them a brush:
There’s somebody there we’ll teach better behavior –
Hey, brave Johnie lad, cock up yer beaver!
Robert Burns (25 January 1759 – 21 July 1796)
If you’d like to hear the poem in the original Scots, the BBC has a recording read, appropriately, by Alan Cumming.
Beaver shot by Paul Stevenson, used under Creative Commons.
Brought to mind by a recent court case, and with thanks to Julian at Sybawrite, Bookkake’s Dirty Monday Poem returns for a special one-off.
“City boss denies lewd latin claim” goes the BBC headline, but it’s hard to deny your intentions when the latin in question was “irrumabo vos et pedicabo vos”. “The phrase threatens a violent sex act” says the BBC coyly, but any serious classicist knows it’s a lot more fun than that. It is of course the first (and last) line of the sixteenth of Catullus’ Carmina, the “angry love poems”, in which he furiously attacks those who disparage his work. It is also a long time favourite of the more easily amused scholar – among whom we happily count ourselves.
A literal translation is supplied below, and you’ll probably appreciate Wikipedia’s notes on the language too.
I will bugger you and face-fuck you.
Cock-sucker Aurelius and catamite Furius,
You who think, because my verses
Are delicate, that I am a sissy.
For it’s right for the devoted poet to be chaste
Himself, but it’s not necessary for his verses to be so.
Verses which then have taste and charm,
If they are delicate and sexy,
And can incite an itch,
And I don’t mean in boys, but in those hairy old men
Who can’t get their flaccid dicks up.
You, because you have read of my thousand kisses,
You think I’m a sissy?
I will bugger you and face-fuck you.
One more gem from The Amethyst, reviving Bookkake’s Dirty Monday poetry tradition:
The Hairy Prospect, or The Devil In A Fright
Once on a time the Sire of Evil
In plainer English called the devil
Some new experiment to try
At Chloe cast a roguish eye
But she who all his arts defied
Pull’d up and shew’d her sexes pride
A thing all shagg’d about with hair
So much it made old Satan stare
Who frighten’d at the grim display
Takes to his heels and runs away.
W took a little hiatus last week, so we thought we’d better give you something good to make up for it.
Daniil Kharms was one of the more extraordinary members of the St Petersburg literary scene of the 1920s and 30s. In 1928, he founded the avant-garde collective OBERIU, or Union of Real Art. Malevich gave the young oberiuty space in his academy to rehearse, with the words: “You are young trouble makers, and I am an old one. Let’s see what we can do.”
The group was short-lived; its absurdism too much for the increasingly totalitarian authorities, but OBERIU’s work has bubbled up again as a new generation of Russian writers, who read Kharms and his friends in samizdat, claim his influence.
Kharms himself took refuge in children’s literature, for which he is still widely remembered in Russia, while his more adult works are only now starting to see publication… such as this fragment, from 1930:
I love sensual women and not passionate ones. A passionate woman closes her eyes, moans and shouts and the enjoyment of a passionate woman is blind.
A passionate woman writhes about, grabs you with her hands without looking where, clasps you, kisses you, even bites you and hurries to reach her climax as soon as she can. She has no time to display her sexual organs, no time to examine, touch with the hand and kiss your sexual organs, she is in such a hurry to slake her passion. Having slaked her passion, the passionate woman will fall asleep. The sexual organs of a passionate woman are dry. A passionate woman is always in some way or another mannish.
The sensual woman is always feminine.
Her contours are rounded and abundant.
The sensual woman rarely reaches a blind passion. She savours sexual enjoyment.
The sensual woman is always a woman and even in an unaroused state her sexual organs are moist. She has to wear a bandage on her sexual organs, so as not to soak them with moisture.
When she takes the bandage off in the evening, the bandage is so wet that it can be squeezed out.
Thanks to such an abundance of juices, the sexual organs of a sensual woman give off a slight, pleasant smell which increases strongly when the sensual woman is aroused. Then the juice from her sexual organs is secreted in a syrupy stream.
A sensual woman likes you to examine her sexual organs.
Daniil Ivanovich Kharms (30 December 1905 – 2 February 1942)
It’s been a good and bad week for female (and lesbian) poets, with the appointment of Carol Ann Duffy as the UK’s first female Poet Laureate, and the death of UA Fanthorpe – who Duffy acclaims in today’s Guardian as “an unofficial, deeply loved laureate for so many people for so many years”.
We’ve already featured Duffy’s poem Steam as one of our Dirty Monday poems, but Fanthorpe was the opposite of a dirty poet: a former English teacher, a hospital clerk, a Quaker, a late poet in both senses, her first verse not published until her 40s. It is a poetry full of quiet observations, of people in waiting rooms, in photographs and paintings, and, too, of religion. But its quietness is often its strength, as she reveals in one of her most loving poems, ‘Atlas’, from her collection Safe as Houses:
There is a kind of love called maintenance
Which stores the WD40 and knows when to use it
Which checks the insurance, and doesn’t forget
The milkman; which remembers to plant bulbs;
Which answers letters; which knows the way
The money goes; which deals with dentists
And Road Fund Tax and meeting trains,
And postcards to the lonely; which upholds
The permanently rickety elaborate
Structures of living, which is Atlas.
And maintenance is the sensible side of love,
Which knows what time and weather are doing
To my brickwork; insulates my faulty wiring;
Laughs at my dryrotten jokes; remembers
My need for gloss and grouting; which keeps
My suspect edifice upright in air,
As Atlas did the sky.
Her earliest poems, written while working in a hospital, have titles like ‘Julie (encephalitis)’ and ‘Alison (head injury)’ and initiated a kind of ventriloquism that was to become her trademark. Even when approaching weightier subjects, as in ‘BC:AD’, a Christmas favourite, she was capable of writing in a calm and very accessible voice:
This was the moment when Before
Turned into After, and the future’s
Uninvented timekeepers presented arms.
This was the moment when nothing
Happened. Only dull peace
Sprawled boringly over the earth.
This was the moment when even energetic Romans
Could find nothing better to do
Than counting heads in remote provinces.
And this was the moment
When a few farm workers and three
Members of an obscure Persian sect.
Walked haphazard by starlight straight
Into the kingdom of heaven.
My favourite poem however, is probably her most popular one: ‘Not my Best Side’, her cheeky and subversive retelling of Paolo Uccello’s painting Saint George and the Dragon (reproduced above):
Not my best side, I’m afraid.
The artist didn’t give me a chance to
Pose properly, and as you can see,
Poor chap, he had this obsession with
Triangles, so he left off two of my
Feet. I didn’t comment at the time
(What, after all, are two feet
To a monster?) but afterwards
I was sorry for the bad publicity.
Why, I said to myself, should my conqueror
Be so ostentatiously beardless, and ride
A horse with a deformed neck and square hoofs?
Why should my victim be so
Unattractive as to be inedible,
And why should she have me literally
On a string? I don’t mind dying
Ritually, since I always rise again,
But I should have liked a little more blood
To show they were taking me seriously.
It’s hard for a girl to be sure if
She wants to be rescued. I mean, I quite
Took to the dragon. It’s nice to be
Liked, if you know what I mean. He was
So nicely physical, with his claws
And lovely green skin, and that sexy tail,
And the way he looked at me,
He made me feel he was all ready to
Eat me. And any girl enjoys that.
So when this boy turned up, wearing machinery,
On a really dangerous horse, to be honest
I didn’t much fancy him. I mean,
What was he like underneath the hardware?
He might have acne, blackheads or even
Bad breath for all I could tell, but the dragon–
Well, you could see all his equipment
At a glance. Still, what could I do?
The dragon got himself beaten by the boy,
And a girl’s got to think of her future.
I have diplomas in Dragon
Management and Virgin Reclamation.
My horse is the latest model, with
Automatic transmission and built-in
Obsolescence. My spear is custom-built,
And my prototype armour
Still on the secret list. You can’t
Do better than me at the moment.
I’m qualified and equipped to the
Eyebrow. So why be difficult?
Don’t you want to be killed and/or rescued
In the most contemporary way? Don’t
You want to carry out the roles
That sociology and myth have designed for you?
Don’t you realize that, by being choosy,
You are endangering job prospects
In the spear- and horse-building industries?
What, in any case, does it matter what
You want? You’re in my way.
UA Fanthorpe’s works are all available from Peterloo Poets. The title of this post is taken from The Absent-Minded Lover’s Apology (1995).
It’s a cold, wet day in London today, and John Hall Wheelock’s poem of the snow-cold sea, the dawn-light and the wind seems to let a little brightness in, despite its insistence on stillness and seaweed. Happy Monday.
Dark-eyed, out of the snow-cold sea you came,
The young blood under the cheek like dawn-light showing,
Stray tendrils of dark hair in the sea-wind blowing,
Comely and grave, out of the sea you came.
Slim covered thigh and slender stockinged foot
In swift strides over the burnished shingle swinging,
Sweet silence of your smile, soft sea-weed clinging,
Here and there, to the wet bathing-suit.
O fierce and shy, your glance so piercing-true
Shot fire to the struck heart that was as tinder—
The fire of your still loveliness, the tender
High fortitude of the spirit shining through.
And the world was young. O love and song and fame
Were part of youth’s still ever believed-in story,
And hope crowned all, when in dear and in queenly glory,
Out of the snow-cold sea to me you came.
John Hall Wheelock (September 9, 1886-March 22, 1978)
Photograph by Russell Davies, used under Creative Commons.
Yesterday was the 185th anniversary of the irrepressible Lord Byron’s death at Missolonghi from a violent fever as he prepared to assault Lepanto.
Byron’s love for Greece – the attack on the Ottoman fort at the mouth of the Bay of Corinth was part of a wider campaign for Greek indepence, in aid of which Byron had refitted the Greek fleet out of his own pocket – was mirrored in his love for Greek boys. Indeed, as well as his lifelong attachments to women and his ongoing and somewhat self-created reputation as a Don Juan, it was the death of his friend Nicolo Giraud, who died fighting the Turks, that precipitated his final involvement in Greek affairs, and his final months were spent pining with unrequited passion for another youth, his teenaged page, Lukas Chalandritsano.
Love and Death, written in 1824, was one of Byron’s last works, and was dedicated to Lukas.
I watched thee when the foe was at our side,
Ready to strike at him–or thee and me,
Were safety hopeless—rather than divide
Aught with one loved, save love and liberty.
I watched thee on the breakers, when the rock
Received our prow, and all was storm and fear,
And bade thee cling to me through every shock;
This arm would be thy bark, or breast thy bier.
I watched thee when the fever glazed thine eyes,
Yielding my couch, and stretched me on the ground
When overworn with watching, ne’er to rise
From thence, if thou an early grave hadst found.
The earthquake came, and rocked the quivering
And men and nature reeled as if with wine.
Whom did I seek around the tottering hall?
For thee. Whose safety first provide for? Thine
And when convulsive throes denied my breath
The faultest utterance to my fading thought,
To thee–to thee–e’en in the gasp of death
My spirit turned, oh! oftener than it ought.
Thus much and more; and yet thou lov’st me not,
And never wilt! Love dwells not in our will.
Nor can I blame thee, though it be my lot
To strongly, wrongly, vainly love thee still.
George Gordon Byron, later Noel, 6th Baron Byron FRS (22 January 1788– 19 April 1824)
Image: Lord Byron on His Deathbed, by Joseph-Denis Odevaere, c 1826
Pierre Louÿs was quite a one, and is an old favourite of Bookkake. He was among a number of writers we seriously considered but ultimately didn’t include in the first Bookkake set. An intimate of Gide and Wilde, his work often entwined classical and lesbian themes, and his Songs of Bilitis went on to inspire the Daughters of Bilitis, the first Lesbian rights organisation in the United States.
Wikipedia has the ultimate, and enviable, epitaph: “Even while on his deathbed, Pierre Louÿs continued to write delicately obscene verses.”
The Breasts of Mnasidice
Carefully she opened her tunic with one
hand and offered me her warm soft breasts as
one offers a pair of living pigeons to the
goddess. ‘Love them well,’ she said to me,
‘I love them so much! They are dears, they are
like little children. I amuse myself with them
when I am alone. I play with them and give
them pleasure. I sprinkle them with milk. I
powder them with flowers. Their little tips
love the fine hair with which I wipe them. I
caress them with a shiver. I lay them to
sleep in wool. Since I shall never have
children and since they are so far from my
mouth, kiss them for me.
Pierre Louÿs (December 10, 1870 – June 6, 1925)
If you’ve got a suggestion for Monday’s dirty poem, don’t hesitate to get in touch…
The Fury Of Cocks
There they are
drooping over the breakfast plates,
folding in their sad wing,
and only the night before
there they were
playing the banjo.
Once more the day’s light comes
with its immense sun,
its mother trucks,
its engines of amputation.
Whereas last night
the cock knew its way home,
as stiff as a hammer,
battering in with all
its awful power.
Today it is tender,
a small bird,
as soft as a baby’s hand.
She is the house.
He is the steeple.
When they fuck they are God.
When they break away they are God.
When they snore they are God.
In the morning they butter the toast.
They don’t say much.
They are still God.
All the cocks of the world are God,
blooming, blooming, blooming
into the sweet blood of woman.
Anne Sexton (born Anne Gray Harvey) (1928—1974, Weston) was an American poet and writer. The Fury of Cocks was written in 1960.
If you’ve got a suggestion for Monday’s dirty poem, don’t hesitate to get in touch…
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Lord she’s gone done left me
done packed up and split
and I with no way to make her
come back and everywhere the world is bare
bright bone white crystal sand glistens
dope death dead dying and jiving drove
her away made her take her laughter and her smiles
and her softness and her midnight sighs—
Fuck Coltrane and music and clouds drifting in the sky
fuck the sea and trees and the sky and birds
and alligators and all the animals that roam the earth
fuck marx and mao fuck fidel and nkrumah and
democracy and communism fuck smack and pot
and red ripe tomatoes fuck joseph fuck mary fuck
god jesus and all the disciples fuck fanon nixon
and malcom fuck the revolution fuck freedom fuck
the whole muthafucking thing
all i want now is my woman back
so my soul can sing
Etheridge Knight (April 19, 1931 – March 10, 1991)