Spoor of Desire: Selected Poems
is available for $16.00 from FootHills Publishing, P.O. Box 68, Kanona NY 14856 or see www.foothillspublishing.com.

Tourist Snapshots is available for $8.95 from Randy Fingland, CC Marimbo, P.O. Box 933, Berkeley CA 94701 or see www.ccmarimbo.com.

Dada Poetry: An Introduction was published by Nirala Publications. It may be ordered on Amazon.com for $25 plus shipping. American buyers may order a copy from me for $23 including shipping.

The other books are also available from the author William Seaton. Write seaton@frontiernet.net.


A categorized index of all work that has appeared on this site is available by looking under the current month in the Blog Archive section and selecting Index.

This site is listed in BlogCatalog and
Literature Blogs
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Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Index

The index now features hypertext connections. Simply click on any title below to read it.

Though this listing serves, I think, a clear purpose, not every posting falls easily into the categories. One essay might equally be placed under literary theory or medieval texts while another might fit under memoir, politics, or travel. Translations with comment might be either criticism or translation. Poke around a bit.

The categories are:

1. speculative, familiar, performance pieces, and other essays

2. literary theory

3. Greek texts (and a couple of Latin)

4. medieval texts

5. other criticism
A. 16th-19th century
B. 20th century to the present
C. Asian texts
D. songs
E. Notes on Recent Reading
F. Rereading the Classics
G. Every Reader's Poets

6. translation

7. poetry

8. politics

9. memoirs

10. travel


1. Speculative, familiar, performance pieces, and other essays
Agnostic Credo and Vita (October 2015)
Axiology and Subjectivity (October 2014)
Annual Report (August 2014)
Beards (December 2013)
Biking (November 2009)
Biking as a Spiritual Discipline (April 2017)
Cell Phones (June 2017)
Cookbooks (April 2014)
Dead Reckoning (February 2011)
Deer (December 2012)
Documents of the first Surreal Cabaret (March 2012)
Documents of the second Surreal Cabaret (June 2012)
Documents of the third Surreal Cabaret (October 2013)
Documents of the fourth Surreal Cabaret (July 2014)
Documents of the fifth Surreal Cabaret (February 2015)
Drugs and Religion (June 2016)
Dust: a meditative riff (November 2009)
Food for the Gods (December 2011)
Hippie (April 2011)
Immortality (July 2012)
Iowa Communards (December 2011)
A Library’s Commonplaces and Curiosities (May 2011)
The Mannerly Hedonist (February 2013)
Notes and Inserts (June 2016)
Polka (November 2012)
On Pronunciation and Pedantry (September 2015)
In Praise of Bias (November 2014)
Still Biking (November 2012)
A Structural View of Certain Oracles (August 2015)
Supermarkets (October 2010)
Taking Off (November 2009)
Worn Tools (June 2013)


2. Literary theory
Afloat on the Ocean of Words (April 2016)
Allusion (March 2015)
Art and the Marketplace (April 2010)
The Familiar Note in Poetry (January 2017)
The Formation of a Christian Rhetoric (April 2011)
How and Why to Signify (July 2011)
Idea of Comedy (January 2012)
The Inconsequential Bayonets of Art: Militant Rhetoric and the Avant-Garde (May 2010)
Lament for the Loss of the Avant-Garde (March 2010)
Millenarian Rhetoric and the Avant-Garde (August 2010)
On the Proper Ends of Literary Study [James Seaton] (July 2014)
Placing the Popular in the Structure of Literature (October 2010)
The Pleasures of the Familiar in Literature (June 2016)
Poetry Amid the Fierce Chaos of the World (December 2009)
Prof. Wellek, Prof. Leavis, and Prof. de Man (December 2015)
The Question of Literary Value (August 2014)
Riddles and Poetry (March 2015)
The Signifying Monkey Talks Literature (April 2010)
Some Notes Toward a Theory of the Avant-Garde (October 2013)
Sontag's "Against Interpretation" (September 2016)
Sweet Treason: Translating Lyric Poetry (November 2009)
Thoughts on Mythology (March 2013)
Transformation of Convention (August 2013)
What is Poetry? (February 2012)
Winged Words: Notes on the Oral Performance of Poetry (May 2010)


3. Greek texts (and two Latin)
Aphrodite’s Bed: Love in the Homeric Hymn (August 2010)
The Birth of Erato: Lyric, Vision, and the Spread of Writing (January 2010)
Dionysos and the Pirates (February 2012)
Ekphrasis in Apollonius: Jason's Cloak (May 2017)
Gorgias (February 2010)
Hermes and the Art of Poetry (March 2013)
Longinus' Sublime (May 2012)
Notes on Pan (June 2014)
Oedipus and the Meaning of Polysemy (July 2011)
Poetry's Long Memory [Horace] (July 2016)
Professors Kick the Willy Bobo [on Athenaeus] (December 2009)
The Role of Rhetoric in Theocritus (February 2011)
The Role of Wine in Nonnus' Dionysiaca (February 2016)
Sappho’s Holy Tortoise Shell: Eros and Poetry in Ancient Greece (December 2009)
Seneca the Elder (March 2010)
A Skeptic's Faith [Sextus Empiricus] (January 2015)
Two Passages from Marcus Aurelius (June 2011)
The Web of Myth in the Hymn to Heracles (June 2012)


4. Medieval texts
The Aesthete of Desire: Lancelot and Courtly Love (July 2012)
The Aesthetics of Ambiguity in a Medieval Lyric (December 2012)
Aesthetic Principles of the Middle English Romance (July 2010)
Appropriation of Biblical Narrative in Patience (February 2013)
Bernart and the Music of Ideas (September 2016)
The Buddha in Europe: the Apologue of the Man and the Unicorn in Barlaam and Ioasaph (January 2011)
Chaucer’s Version of the Golden Age (June 2011)
A Conventional Ending in a Middle English Romance (September 2011)
Courtly Love in Romance of the Rose (August 2012)
Distant Rhyme in Two Medieval English Lyrics (August 2011)
The Early English Carol (June 2010)
Geoffrey of Vinsauf (April 2010)
Figures of Love in Lydgate's Temple of Glas (January 2014)
Functions of Alliteration in Thirteenth Century Lyrics (February 2011)
Hypermetric Lines in Beowulf (January 2011)
An Introduction to the Troubadours (January 2010)
Mechthild von Magdeburg (July 2010)
A New Look at Jaufré: Amor de Lonh as Criticism (December 2010)
Odin and Poetry (December 2015)
Openings in the Middle English Romance (July 2010)
The Pearl-Poet’s Use of Link-Rhymes (November 2011)
Phonetics and Semantics in the Last Line of Beowulf (March 2011)
Piers Plowman and the Man in the Moon (October 2011)
The Prima Etade of Literary Ambition [Petrarch] (March 2011
Transformation of Convention in Early Minnesang (April 2011)
Two Early Ballad Tales of Robin Hood (October 2014)
William IX (September 2010)
Who is Piers Ploughman? (June 2013)


5. Other criticism

A. 16th-19th century
Ambivalence in Thomson's The Castle of Indolence (March 2012)
Baudelaire's "Painter of Modern Life" (July 2017)
Big Bill Otter's Sprees and Frolics (November 2013)
A Decadent's Dilemmas [Dowson] (March 2015)
Does Crabbe Look Forward or Back? (February 2016)
Dolce's Aretino (September 2015)
The Double Plot of Salem Chapel (December 2016)
Gascoigne's "Notes of Instruction" (September 2013)
Godwin's Theatre of Calamity (September 2015)
Herrick the Divine (August 2014)
Keats' "Thing of Beauty" (November 2016)
Marius the Epicurean as a Modern (April 2015)
Moby Dick and the Density of the Aesthetic Text (January 2016)
"Monk" Lewis, Mr. Coleridge, and Popular Taste (July 2015)
A Note on Dryden and "Dramatick Poesy" (September 2012)
A Note on Radcliffe's The Italian (October 2012)
Pierce Penniless (May 2013)
The Play of Convention in Shakespeare's Sonnet 153 (April 2017)
The Problem with Swinburne (June 2015)
Rimbaud's Use of Montage (October 2016)
Shelley”s “Ode to the West Wind” as Structuralist Charm (May 2011)
Sir Thomas North's The Moral Philosophy of Doni (September 2013)
The Skeptico-Semiotico-Mystic: Carlyle's Sartor Resartus (June 2015)

Skepticism and Poetry in Keats' "The Eve of St. Agnes" (February 2015)
A Structural View of Meredith's The Ordeal of Richard Feverel (June 2017)
The Texture of Traherne’s Religious Thought (October 2010)
Thematic Continuity and Development in the Poetry of Christopher Smart: the Jubilate Agno and the Minor Poems (November 2010)
Thomas Love Peacock and the End of Poetry (August 2017)
Travelers [Marco Polo, Twain, Robert Byron](April 2012)
Trollope's Appeal (December 2012)
Two Notes on Hawthorne's Blithedale Romance (July 2014)
The Use of Nostalgia in Eliot's Scenes of Clerical Life (August 2015)

B. 20th century to the present
Another Look at The Seven Lively Arts (June 2013)
Apologia for a Fondness for Pound (November 2012)
Are Uncle Tom's Children Bound by History? (April 2014)
Banjo (March 2017)
A Brief History of Negritude (February 2017)
Comics (February 2010)
Conrad's Shadow-Line (June 2014)
The Critical Palimpsest: Black African Literature through White American Eyes (January 2010)
Dada in America (April 2012)
Eisenstein's Strike and the Problem of Realism (April 2013)
Epiphanies in Dubliners (May 2016)
False Translations (August 2016)
The Fetish of the Primitive in Twentieth Century Art (April 2015)
A Few Films (November 2016)
A Few Proletarian Writers (March 2012)
Flash Reviews of Thirty African Novels (November 2011)
Flyin’ with the Muses: Kirpal Gordon’s Eros in Sanskrit (May 2011)
Hell's House (November 2013)
Kerouac’s Weakness and Strength (January 2011)
Kurt Seligmann's Moderate Surrealism (November 2016)
Kurt Seligmann's Riddlesome Symbols (March 2017)
The Last Poets (March 2016)
The Legacy of the Beats (March 2014)
The Lyricism of the Ugly: Celine's Mort à Crédit (December 2014)
The Man with the Golden Arm and a Friend with Six Seeds (January 2014)
Onitsha Market Literature (February 2015)
Pig and Possum Teach Poetry (May 2014)
A Poem by Theodore Roethke (September 2011)
The Power of Picasso's Sculpture (November 2015)
Remarks on the Grassroots Poetry Scene (July 2017)
Saki's Novels (April 2015)
Sartre's "Black Orpheus (February 2017)
Some Poetry Reviews (December 2012)
Sound Poetry and Edith Sitwell's Facade (July 2013)
Two Graffiti (May 2011)
A Very Funny Fellow [Lev] (May 2012)

C. Asian texts
Friendship and Romance in Ming Stories (February 2014)
Han Shan (December 2010)
Journey to the North (December 2013)
Liezi (October 2012)
Lu Xun (October 2010)
Monkey Rides Again (January 2013)
Notes on Liu Xie (August 2011)
Tang Stories (April 2016)
Theme and Tone In Kokoro (September 2016)
A Tibetan Novel (March 2017)
The Trials of Lady Ochikubo (April 2014)

D. songs
Blind Willie Johnson Preaches (May 2017)
"Down the Dirt Road Blues" [Charley Patton] (October 2011)
Fishing Blues [Henry Thomas] (October 2015)
Foggy Dew as Symbol (July 2012)
The Imagery of Hokum Blues Songs (July 2015)
"Lady Maisry" (November 2013)
"Moon Goin' Down" [Charley Patton] (May 2013)
The Mule in Blues Imagery (August 2017)
The Paraklausithyron Blues (May 2016)
"The Red Rooster" [Willie Dixon] (March 2014)
Robert Johnson and the Devil (September 2012)
Skip James' Blues Imagery (May 2015)
“Spoonful” and the Accretion of Meaning (December 2012)
"The Three Ravens" (August 2013)
Trinidadian Smut (April 2016)
Truckin' (November 2014)
“Walkin’ Blues” [Son House] (December 2011)

E. Notes on Recent Reading
Notes on Recent Reading [Melville, Greene, and Whalen] (September 2011)
Notes on Recent Reading 2 [Crane, The Crowning of Louis, Thornlyre] (October 2011)
Notes on Recent Reading 3 [Kipling, San Francisco Mime Troupe, Lynn’s Tao-te-ching] (November 2011)
Notes on Recent Reading 4 [Sarah Scott, de La Fayette, Wharton] (January 2012)
Notes on Recent Reading 5 [The Deeds of God in Rddhipur, Burney, Cooper] (January 2012)
Notes on Recent Reading 6 [Jewett, Addison, Crabbe] (February 2012)
Notes on Recent Reading 7 [Nabokov, Austen, Grettis Saga] (April 2012)
Notes on Recent Reading 8 [Bakhtin, Lewis, Brown] (May 2012)
Notes on Recent Reading 9 [Plutarch, Tacitus, Williams](June 2012)
Notes on Recent Reading 10 [Voltaire, France, Dryden](July 2012)
Notes on Recent Reading 11 [Wright, Kerouac & Burroughs, Gilbert] (August 2012)
Notes on Recent Reading 12 [Huxley, Norris, Dōgen](September 2012)
Notes on Recent Reading 13 [Mirabai, Wood, Trocchi] (November 2012)
Notes on Recent Reading 14 [Algren, Hauptmann, Rolle] (January 2013)
Notes on Recent Reading 15 [Hemingway, Orwell, Gaskell]{February 2013}
Notes on Recent Reading 16 [Howells, Ford, Mann] (April 2013)
Notes on Recent Reading 17 [McCarthy, Chang, Snorri](July 2013)
Notes on Recent Reading 18 [Radcliffe, Stendhal, Erasmus](October 2013)
Notes on Recent Reading 19 [Powers, Zhang Ji, Vietnamese folk song] (February 2014)
Notes on Recent Reading 20 [Rowe, Stevenson, Issa] (May 2014)
Notes on Recent Reading 21 [Fussell, Mahfouz, Watts] (August 2014)
Notes on Recent Reading 22 [Waugh, Belloc, Okakura] (October 2014)
Notes on Recent Reading 23 [Naipaul, Dinesen, Spillane] (January 2015)
Notes on Recent Reading 24 [Fielding; Izumo , Shōraku, and Senryū; Plath] (June 2015)
Notes on Recent Reading 25 [Baskervill, Gissing, Capote] (July 2015)
Notes on Recent Reading 26 [Tuchman, Premchand, Cocteau] (November 2015)
Notes on Recent Reading 27 [Forster, Sackville-West, Capote] (January 2016)
Notes on Recent Reading 28 [Verne, Waley, Hurston] (March 2016)
Notes on Recent Reading 29 [Achebe, Jewett, Villiers de l'Isle-Adam] (October 2016)
Notes on Recent Reading 30 [Bradford, Scott, Marquand] (April 2017)
Notes on Recent Reading 31 [Marlowe, Trollope, p'Bitek] (August 2017)

F. Rereading the Classics
Rereading the Classics [Burton] (November 2011)
Rereading the Classics [Gogol] (August 2012)
Rereading the Classics [Goldsmith] (December 2016)
Rereading the Classics [Kleist] (February 2012)
Rereading the Classics [Montaigne] (December 2013)
Rereading the Classics [Rabelais] (December 2011)

G. Every Reader's Poets
Every Reader's Blake (May 2017)
Every Reader's Herrick (December 2015)
Every Reader's Hopkins (May 2016)
Every Reader's Milton (January 2017)
Every Reader's Pope (May 2015)
Every Reader's Shelley (November 2014)
Every Reader's Skelton (March 2016)
Every Reader's Wyatt (December 2014)
Every Reader's Yeats (January 2015)


6. Translation
Alkaios' Happy Hour (January 2017)
Becher's "Someone Stands Up" (October 2012)
Christian and Dedicatory Epigrams from the Greek Anthology (March 2010)
Emmy Hennings (February 2010)
Emmy Hennings Poems (More from Die Letzte Freude) (November 2010)
Four Poems from the German of Richard Huelsenbeck (January 2010)
Four Quatrains by Wang Wei (January 2013)
Hans Arp (April 2010)
The Homeric Hymn to Dionysos (February 2012)
Horace I.21 (July 2016)
Hugo Ball (July 2010)
Hymn to Aphrodite (August 2010)
Hymn to Heracles the Lion-Hearted (June 2012)
Hymn to the Night [Novalis](March 2012)
Hymn to the Night II [Novalis] (July 2012)
Hymn to Pan (May 2014)
Leonidas of Tarentum (May 2010)
A Mixed Bag of German Translations (August 2014)
Rimbaud's "The Lice-Pickers" (March 2014)
Seven Poems from Léon-Gontran Damas (February 2017)
Some Anonymous Middle High German Lyrics (August 2011)
Three Horatian Odes (November 2012)
Translations of William IX (September 2010)
Wordsworth Speaks German (July 2011)
Yet Two More Versions of Wang Wei (June 2011)


7. Poetry
African poems (August 2010)
Domestic Incidents from the Life of the Lama Swine Toil (June 2017)
How to Be a Poet (June 2010)
The Liturgies of the Lama Swine Toil (September 2012)
Mexican poems (September 2010)
Poems from New Mexico (July 2010)
Poems from Turkey (June 2010)
Produce poems (May 2010)
The Soap Opera of the Pair Who Forgot Themselves, but only Temporarily (August 2012)
Some Sonnets (April 2010)
Three Poems from Peru (August 2011)
Two Lyrics on Death from Central America (January 2012)


8. Politics
Black Lives Matter (August 2016)
Economic Democracy (July 2013)
The Fiftieth Anniversary of the Port Huron Statement (June 2012)
Hard Rain Still Fallin’ (September 2010)
How to Get Serious about Fighting Crime (January 2010)
Local Politics (May 2015)
In Memory of a Generation's People's Heroes (October 2015)
Occupy Wall Street (November 2011)
The Role of Higher Education (November 2010)
The Socialist Martin Luther King (February 2016)
The Triumph and Tragedy of Revolution (December 2016)
Two Exemplary Anecdotes from the Sixties Student Movement (September 2013)
Utopia (November 2015)
Voluntary Poverty (October 2011)
Why I am a Socialist (March 2010)


9. Memoirs
Baby Boomer Reads the Beats (April 2012)
A Brief Literary Life (September 2012)
A Garland of Greek Professors (December 2010)
A Glimpse of Robert Bly (August 2012)
Grandparents (December 2009)
High School (August 2014)
Hip Poets of Seventies San Francisco (January 2011)
How I Came to Work at Scott Foresman (July 2017)
How I Was Hired to Teach in Nigeria (May 2011)
IWW (April 2011)
March in Cicero (December 2009)
A Memorable Roomer (June 2014)
My Most Politically Active Year (February 2011)
Nova Academy (March 2011)
Pestering Allen [Ginsberg] (March 2012)
Poetry on the Loose (September 2011)
A Scholar's Debut (October 2012)
Sherman Paul (August 2016)
Suburbanite in the City (November 2010)
Tim West (March 2013)
VISTA Trains Me (June 2011)


10. Travel
Arrival in Nigeria (August 2015)
Acadiana [Lafayette, Louisiana] (May 2010)
An Armenian Family in Bordeaux (December 2014)
Carnival [Portugal] (May 2012)
Cookie Man [Morocco] (October 2011)
Creel (October 2010)
Dame Fortuna in Portugal (May 2012)
Dinner with Mrs. Pea [Thailand] (April 2013)
Election Day in Chichicastenango (January 2012)
An Evening in Urubamba (July 2011)
Festival in Ogwa [Nigeria](January 2011)
On the Ganges' Shore (August 2013)
The Guru of Guinness (July 2016)
Haarlem (July 2010)
Hitchhiking in Algeria (September 2010)
Hitchhiking in France (January 2014)
Hungarian Food (December 2010)
Introduction to Tourist Snapshots (June 2010)
Jemaa el Fna (December 2010)
Knee-deep in History [Vietnam, Cambodia] (February 2014)
Najibe’s Stories (September 2011)
Nigerian Names and Vehicle Slogans (March 2011)
A Palm Wine Shack [Nigeria] (December 2011)
Portraits from a Floating World: Anonymous (October 2016)
Portraits from a Floating World: Najibe and Sandro (February 2010)
Portraits from a Floating World: Gahlia and Jack (June 2010)
Portraits from a Floating World: Leslie Spector and Pa’ahssyzy (August 2010)
A Problem on the Border [Algeria] (June 2011)
A Reading in Kathmandu (November 2009)
Sacred Space as Sideshow [Prague] (February 2010)
St. Joseph’s Day at the Laguna Pueblo (April 2011)
A Stroll around Lake Bled (May 2013)
Strong Stuff [Marrakech] (October 2012)
Tetouan (November 2010)
The Theory of Souvenirs (April 2012)
A Trip to India (January 2016)
Two Parades [India and Peru] (August 2011)
The Valley of Beautiful Women [Eger, Hungary] (March 2010)
Vignettes of Sunny Nigeria (March 2011)
A Waterfall near Marrakech (February 2011)

The Mule in Blues Imagery



Poetry typically contains a far greater concentration of rhetorical figures than prose. Figures of speech, thought, and sound regularly heighten the reader’s pleasure as well as refining the theme and tone. Each metaphor is a tiny riddle, the sudden solution of which provides a pleasure similar to that of many jokes. A sense of an exhilarated dance of ideas may be created by systematic image systems. But such figures are not mere ornamental decoration. They also allow the expression of new ideas and subtle shades of familiar ones. Rather than obscuring content, they render it precise.

Though, since the Romantic era, critics have celebrated “innovation” to the disadvantage of tradition. The use of such conventional images has been criticized as unimaginative, but a close study indicates that even when frequently used, a good poet will find the potential in such convention not only for considerable latitude, but even for eloquence.

One rhetorical device is allusion. Within every body of poetry, be it ancient Greek epic, troubadour lyric, or Elizabethan sonnets, certain poetic figures recur, building an ever-greater matrix of meaning. In the country blues tradition, one of the most beautiful and powerful bodies of American lyric in the first half of the twentieth century, a good many metaphors reflect the rural setting in which the songs were composed. With loving affection women are sometimes described as cows, while men may be compared to roosters. Another beast that occurs in a substantial number of early blues songs is the mule, the common work animal of the South. In a broad, though not inclusive, sample mules, which the listener might expect to be something of a cliché with a set, decodable meaning, in fact occupy a broad semantic field with a variety of implications. [1] Sometimes, indeed, they are the basis for set formulae which correspond more closely to popular ideas of a literary convention, while other uses are anomalous or unique.

In general the image of a mule is employed by the musical poets of the genre with rich flexibility. One finds characteristics associated with the animal that are familiar to even contemporary urbanites such as stubbornness, industriousness, and a powerful kick, but even these are far from identical in context.

One dramatic evidence for the image’s versatility is its near equal use to describe men and women. [2] In the songs in which the mule is identified with a man, the singer may refer to the mules stubbornness as when Barefoot Bill in “From Now On” sings “I’m going to “act just like a doggone mule.” A number of songs note the mule’s untiring capacity for labor. For instance, Blind Blake in his “Good-Bye Mama Moan” claims to his credit that ““I been your hard-working mule,” and Washboard Sam promises “I’ll work like a doggone mule” in “Save It for Me.”

In the regular structure of the poetic transformation of convention, [3] any association can be inverted, denied, or altered in a variety of other ways. For instance, whereas the two references just cited are positive, asserting the speaker’s qualifications as a partner, others are negative. Big Bill Broonzy in “Big Bill Blues” refuses to take orders from his beloved, saying, “cinch I ain’t going to be your mule,” and Sonny Boy Williamson indignantly objects, “You want Sonny Boy to be your mule.” (“Low Down Ways“). [4]

But the changes the poet can ring on the theme of the mule do not cease there. With a phrase very little different from those already cited, the physical power of the animal can also exemplify the singer’s sexual energy and endurance as in Will Weldon’s enthusiastic “Hitch Me to your Buggy and Drive Me Like a Mule.”

The mules may equally suggest the woman’s sexual energy as in Huddie Ledbetter’s “Honey, I’m All Out and Down” with its unmistakably erotic lines: “Wouldn't mind a jug : honey on the mule's
behind/Yes a brownskin woman : make a preacher lay his Bible down.” In Texas Alexander’s “Levee Camp Moan Blues” the mule is simply decodable as a lover: “Lord I couldn't find a mule” and the virtues of a country girl are said to make her a “jewel brown mule” (Walter Vincon and the Mississippi Sheiks, “She Ain’t No Good”). Her mule-like power is praised by Ed Bell whose lover is “strong as a mule” in “She’s a Fool Gal.”

The mule’s connotations may, however, be negative for women as well as men. For instance, Blind Lemon Jefferson says his beloved was acting “just like a balky mule.” (“Balky Mule Blues“ ) and Willie Baker in “Mama, Don’t Rush Me Blues” says “Mama you been just like : says a farmer's mule/longer I live with you : harder you is to rule.” [5]

A good share of the references to women as mules employ the set formula familiar to all blues lovers in a long list of variations all including the phrase “left me a mule to ride.” [6] In each of these songs, the singer notes the departure of his lover, often on a train, leaving him only a mule to ride. Ride, of course, is a common euphemism for sexual intercourse, so the formula simply states the love-longing of the singer, though sometimes including such subtle variations as David King’s lament in his “Sweet Potato Blues” that “the mule laid down and died.”

The other most common set formula is one in which the mule is again male: the complaint that the lover has been two-timed, that there is “another mule kicking in my stall.” Here the mule is again masculine with the stall representing the feminine. Very often the formula is simple as in Tampa Red’s “It’s Tight Like That”: “Found another mule : kicking in my stall.” [7] Variations include Kokomo Arnold’s reversal in “Your Ways and Actions”: “my mule is kicking in your stall” and the inclusion of the phrase in the old song “Seven Drunken Nights” [8] by Coley Jones in his “Drunkard’s Special” which includes the lines “I went home drunk as I could be/There's another mule in the stable : where my mule ought to be.”

There remain a number of usages of mule imagery that fit none of the patterns I have described. Several singers refer to actual mules with no apparent other meaning. For instance, Robert Wilkins’ “New Stock Yard Blues” speaks of actual stockyards and livestock purchasing and Sleepy John Estes’ “Tell Me About It” complains about a rural boss insisting that sharecroppers share a mule. [9] The effects of hard liquor are associated with the kick of a mule by Kid Prince Moore in “Bug Juice Blues” and by Robert Hicks (Barbecue Bob) in “Blind Pig Blues.” Blind Lemon Jefferson in “Long Lonesome Blues” declares “Well the blues come to Texas : loping like a mule,” though he might as well have said a rabbit or a deer. The endless variety of other potential uses for mule imagery is suggested by the miscellany of lines I have not yet mentioned. [10]

The use of poetic conventions, such as the mule image in American blues, is, like all figures of speech, not a code in which one word is simply substituted for another. It is a complex system of association and connotation that generates an ever-widening semantic field. Both through the calculated imprecision of the correspondence between tenor and vehicle and the additional enrichment of meaning through allusion, image clusters and other figures distinguish poetic from non-aesthetic uses of language. They enable the writer to express precise shades of thought as well as inviting delight from the receptive consumer.





1. My database is the excellent “Michael Taft’s Pre=War Blues Lyrics Concordance” available at http://dylan61.se/michael%20taft,%20blues%20anthology.txt.WebConcordance/framconc.htm. I have appended a complete list of songs from his catalogue that mention mules. In my essay songs and artists are cited by name, making them simple to locate on the list, whereas in endnotes I use sometimes the titles and sometimes only the numbers assigned to each. In the few cases in which several versions of a song were released in the same year, the texts differ enough that the reader may have to check each to find the relevant material.

2. In fourteen songs the mule is identified with a man and in seventeen with a woman. References to men occur is 7, 9, 10, 11, 13, 14, 15, 21, 24, 26, 30, 43, 44, and 47. Those to women are in 2, 4, 6, 8, 13, 20, 27, 28, 34, 35, 39, 40, 42, 48

3. For the general concept see my “Transformation of Convention” on this site. For specific applications in practical criticism, see, among other essays available here “Transformation of Convention in Early Minnesang,” “The Early English Carol,” or “William IX.”

4. See also the similar complaint in Richard Rabbit Brown’s “James Alley Blues”: “she want to drive me like a mule.”

5. Similarly Roosevelt Sykes in “No Good Woman Blues” says, “I won't try no mule : that don't know gee from haw/I don't want no woman : she just soon as say yes as to say no”

6. The formula appears in 13, 20, 34, 39, and 48.

7. The formula appears also in 4, 11, 16, 18, 32, 33, 41, and 49.

8. “Seven Drunken Nights” is the usual Irish title. This popular, slightly ribald song is a variation of the Scottish one collected by Child “Our Goodman.” It is related as well to the English broadside "The Merry Cuckold and the Kind Wife."

9. In a similar vein Sleepy John Estes in “Working Man Blues” inveighs against automation, saying “white folks you ought to work/ More mules and men.”

10. For Blind Willie McTell a mule’s tail suggests public hair. (“Kind Mama”) In Blind Bogus Ben Covington’s “Boodle-Um-Bum Bum” “scared my mule away” refers to the singer’s dope selling being disturbed. For Peter Chatman (Memphis Slim) “son just don't lead a doggone mule” means to look out for number one. (“Me, Myself, and I”) In Big Bill Broonzy’s “Grandma’s Farm” “got a note my black mule died” means a change of lovers. Finally Charlie Bozo Nickerson’s line in “Move that Thing,” while obscure, is doubtless obscene: “The mules backed up : in my face.”






1. Texas Alexander “Awful Moaning Blues. Pt. 2” 1929
2. Texas Alexander “Levee Camp Moan Blues 1927 (two versions)
3. Kokomo Arnold “Front Door Blues” 1925
4. Kokomo Arnold “Front Door Blues” 1935
5. Kokomo Arnold “Your Ways and Actions” 1938
6. Willie Baker “Mama, Don’t Rush Me Blues” 1929
7. Barefoot Bill (Ed Bell) “From Now On” 1929
8. Ed Bell “She’s a Fool Gal” 1930
9. Blind Blake “Bootleg Rum Dum Blues” 1928
10. Blind Blake “Goodbye Mama Moan” 1928
11. Big Bill (Broonzy) “Big Bill Blues” 1932 (two versions)
12. Big Bill (Broonzy) “Grandma’s Farm” (two versions) 1920
13. Richard Rabbit Brown “James Alley Blues” 1927
14. Washboard Sam (Robert Clifford Brown) “Lowland Blues” 1937
15. Washboard Sam (Robert Clifford Brown) “Save It for Me” 1938
16. Charlie Campbell “Goin’ Away Blues” 1937
17. Peter Chatman (Memphis Slim) “Me, Myself, and I” 1941
18. Kid Cole “Niagara Fall Blues” 1928
19. Blind Bogus Ben Covington “Boodle-Um-Bum Bum” 1928
20. Walter Davis “Travelin’ this Lonesome Road” 1935
21. Memphis Minnie (Lizzie Douglas) “He’s in the Ring” 1935
22. Sleepy John Estes “Tell Me About It” 1940
23. Sleepy John Estes “Working Man Blues” 1941
24. Hound Head Henry “Low Down Hound Blues” 1928
25. Robert Hicks (Barbecue Bob) “Blind Pig Blues” 1928
26. Son House “My Black Mama, Part 1” 1930
27. Blind Lemon Jefferson “Balky Mule Blues“ 1929
28. Blind Lemon Jefferson “Lemon’s Worried Blues” 1928
29. Blind Lemon Jefferson “Long Lonesome Blues” 1926
30. Blind Lemon Jefferson “Rabbit Foot Blues” 1926
31. Coley Jones “Drunkard’s Special” 1929 (five recordings)
32. Maggie Jones “You May Go But You’ll Come Back Some Day” 1924
33. Stovepipe No. 1 (Sam Jones) “Bed Slats” 1927
34. David King “Sweet Potato Blues” 1930 (two versions)
35. Huddie Ledbetter “Honey, I’m All Out and Down” 1925
36. Blind Willie McTell “Kind Mama” 1929
37. Kid Prince Moore “Bug Juice Blues” 1936
38. Charlie Bozo Nickerson “Move that Thing” 1920
39. Bessie Smith “J.C. Holmes Blues” 1925
40. Roosevelt Sykes “No Good Woman Blues” 1930 (two versions)
41. Henry Thomas “Texas Easy Street Blues” 1928
42. Walter Vincon (Mississippi Sheiks) “She Ain’t No Good” 1930
43. Will Weldon (Casey Bill) “Hitch Me to your Buggy and Drive Me Like a Mule” 1927
44. Peetie Wheatstraw “When a Man Gets Down” 1936
45. Tampa Red (Hudson Whitaker) “It’s Tight Like That” 1928
46. Robert Wilkins “New Stock Yard Blues” 1935
47. Sonny Boy Williamson “Low Down Ways“ 1938
48. Sonny Boy Williamson “Shotgun Blues” 1941 (two versions)
49. Leola B. Wilson “Back-Biting Bee Blues” 1926


Notes on Recent Reading 31 [Marlowe, Trollope, p'Bitek]



The Jew of Malta (Marlowe)

The Jew of Malta is as full of plot turns as a Hitchcock film and consistently supported by Marlowe’s marvelous swinging pentameters. Its dark and cynical world is signaled by the initial appearance of the Senecan ghost of Machiavelli (called Machiavel, surely in part to sound like “make-evil”) who boasts in the prologue:

Admired I am of those that hate me most.
Though some speak openly against my books,
Yet they will read me and thereby attain
To Peter’s chair.

As Jews had been expelled from England in 1290 by Edward I, it is unlikely that many in Marlowe’s audience had ever seen one. Still, anti-Semitic stereotypes were sufficiently persistent that the play includes a reference to ritual murder of children and the title character is not only rapaciously greedy and amoral, but also has a large nose (apparently an artificial one for the stage). It seems likely that Marlowe, notoriously an unbeliever in an age when atheism or even heterodoxy could be most severely punished, was himself little concerned with the issue of Jewishness except as a sign of outsider status. There are several unnamed minor Jewish characters who do not seem monstrous; Ithamore, the Muslim slave, is fully as vicious as his Hebrew master, and the Christian Governor of Malta shrinks from no deceit in pursuit of his interests. When the two friars are competing for Barabas’ patronage, they fall to blows. Surely, then, the Jew is a Jew symbolically, employing conventions already centuries old, and the slur, if slur it be, is against humanity itself..


The Prime Minister (Trollope)

I have elsewhere discussed the slightly guilt-tinged pleasure I find in Trollope. The Prime Minister, for all its thousand pages, is little different from others. It possesses, indeed, boasts of, the same placid confidence in things as we find them and people as they are with the exception of a few unmanly scoundrels (and with gaze averted from the lower orders except for an occasional comic or pathetic turn). The faults of those who are not scoundrels derive always from weakness or simple-mindedness and are thus treated with considerable indulgence. This volume ends in a celebratory wedding and thus may claim the name of comedy, though a good deal of the sentimental is folded in along the way. Perhaps the clearest indicator of Trollope’s tone is the sort of names he tosses off, especially for lesser characters. In The Prime Minister himself plays a considerable role, for how could a Duke of Omnium do otherwise, and along the way the reader encounters such characters as Sir Orlando Drought, Lord Cantrip, Sir Timothy Beeswax, the Earl of Earlybird, Sir Damask Monogram, the Marquis of Mount Fidgett, Mr. Rattler, and Sir Omicron Pie.


Song of Lawino (Okot p’Bitek)

This poem, by the Ugandan Okot p’Bitek was originally written in the middle 1950s in metered and rhymed lines in the Luo language of the author’s Acholi people. Its free verse translation by the author a decade later was widely read, the first long African poem to enjoy global attention. The work shares with p’Bitek’s first novel, Lak Tar Miyo Kinyero Wi Lobo (1953, later translated into English as White Teeth) the theme of conflict between tradition and modernity, between African custom and European practice. The poem, subtitled “An African Lament,” details the grievances of a first wife whose husband has taken to Western tastes including a citified second wife. Using what the reader can only assume to be the literary devices of Luo poetry and employing some arresting figures of speech, the neglected wife praises the value of customary mores and calls her husband a dog of the whites, though ready to turn tp praising him as the son of a chief if he will only himself take pride in his African culture. The book’s success brought some knowledge of African practices to curious American and European readers. As in Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, the footnotes are conveniently edited into the story. The author deserves credit for trying to employ indigenous language in a work of modern literature, but the worthy experiment yielded a disappointing result. It is enough to see the woodcut illustrations by Frank Horley which look as though they belong is a child’s storybook.

Thomas Love Peacock and the End of Poetry



Thomas Love Peacock’s satiric essay “The Four Ages of Poetry” is far less well-known than the essay it inspired in response, Shelley’s “Defence of Poetry.” While the popular disparity is adequately explained by the second author’s far greater eminence, it is also true that Peacock’s ideas have little currency today while the exalted notions of the poet’s role set forth by Shelley remain widely accepted. The first appeal of the text to a contemporary reader is likely Peacock’s acerbic wit; he refers, for instance, to the Lake poets as an “egregious confraternity of rhymesters” and to Wordsworth in particular as “a morbid dreamer.” [1] The essay like the conversations in Peacock’s entertaining romans à clef, can scarcely be taken at face value [2]. Indeed, one of the principles set forth in the essay is that poetry, which is to say, imaginative writing in general, is designed only to entertain and not to embody truth. Nonetheless, the radical objections Peacock makes are not peculiar to him or to his age, but rather are similar to points made by earlier critics. To cite only two examples, Plato condemned poetry in the Republic as an inadequate imitation of reality and as an exciter of unruly and uncontrollable passions that weakens rationality, and Bacon considered poetry to be merely “a dream of learning,” a sort of “feigned history” without a role in the advancement of knowledge. A response (reasoned, perhaps, as well as passionate) is therefore appropriate to the essay, though the critic of Peacock the critic will find himself seriously answering claims which to the writer may have been primarily facilitators of a most enviable wit.

Peacock maintains that poetry has value as entertainment only, lacking any capacity for expressing truth. Its prestige in the past was, he argues, due to the primitive state of more effective forms of investigation by the likes of “mathematicians, astronomers, chemists, moralists, metaphysicians, historians, politicians, and political economists.” From a point of view shaped by eighteenth century rationalism, he likewise condemns the aesthetic emphasis on emotions and pleasure.

Unsympathetic as the contemporary reader may be to these conclusions, certain of Peacock’s points are compelling. The fact is that Peacock’s concluding claim that poetry’s downward slip is bound to continue, its weaknesses making Parnassus appear “far beneath” the eminence occupied by scientific, factual, and technological thinkers, might seem to have been substantially confirmed. No one could deny that poetry has been far further marginalized in the nearly two hundred years since the essay appeared in the Literary Miscellany. [3]

In addition, despite the limited information available in Peacock’s day about ancient (and modern oral) poetry, his survey of the history of poetry is in part consistent with more recent researches. The trajectory with which he predicts poetry’s diminished future arises from his accurate observation of its central role in earlier ages, though here his raillery begins to interfere with his facts. He notes that poets had been in archaic times “not only historians but theologians, moralists, and legislators” engaged in “delivering their oracles ex cathedra, and being indeed often themselves (as Orpheus and Amphion) regarded as portions and emanations of divinity.” His satiric vein intrudes to the detriment of his argument when he claims that the result of the poets’ “reputation of inspiration” is their “faculty of leading multitudes by the nose.” Though “the sole depositories of all the knowledge of their age,” their “knowledge is rather a crude congeries of traditional phantasies than a collection of useful truths.”

His selective view is apparent in his characterization of “iron age” poetry as wholly sycophantic, serving primarily “to disseminate the fame of [a chieftains’] achievements and the extent of his possessions.” He sounds very nearly like a vulgar Marxist before the time of Marx when he states categorically, “This is the origin of poetry, which, like all other trades, takes its rise in the demand for the commodity, and flourishes in proportion to the extent of the market.” According to Peacock this was a period of undisguised selfishness and raw power in which poets serve to gratify the egos of the strong, their business being “to disseminate the fame of [the local nobleman’s] achievements and the extent of his possessions.”

Here he mistakes the part for the whole more than promulgating outright error. Surely the professional role of the early poet -shaman-priest-legislator cannot be justifiably reduced to that of a pure mountebank, the epithet Peacock uses for poets. If the intellectual leadership of the species had been an utter humbug, the scientific progress Peacock admired could never have occurred. He writes in the same vein that primitive religion, apart from serving the vanity of rulers, was nothing but “ignorance and fear.” a more balanced view of the facts would recognize that oral poetry engages many themes other than praise of the ruling house, and that early religion embodies considerable subtle symbolic figuration of the order of the world having little to do with ruling class propaganda.

It is certainly true that one function of literature is to confirm received ideas, to reassure readers of what they have always thought was true. A portion of this reinforcement of socially accepted views is undoubtedly to confirm the nobility and excellence of the powers that be, and thus to encourage peace and social order. However, only a portion of art is conservative in this sense. Poetry may also cause its consumers to conceive new ideas, to question assumptions, and to perceive contradictions, ambiguities, and mysteries. Some works tend more toward the one end of this spectrum; some toward another, but in neglecting the critical potential of poetry, Peacock is guilty of distortion. (For him, this may be no error, but merely the set-up of a clever line. He notes that the bards of old times were always pleased to celebrate the strength of their lord, “being first duly inspired by that of his liquor.”)

In any event he considers poetry an inappropriate tool for investigating reality. Poets such as Wordsworth who “had retreated from the world for the express purpose of seeing nature as she was” instead can see only what “she was not,” “a sort of fairy- land which they peopled with mysticisms and chimaeras.” In his enlightened modern times, Peacock confidently declares, “with the progress of reason and civilization, facts become more interesting than fiction,” making poetry obsolete.

Apart from complaining that poetry cannot lead to truth, Peacock objects as well to its association with pleasure and emotion. To him the beauty of poetry’s melody is for the naïve and simple, “pleasant to the ears of uncultured men, who are easily caught by sound.” He dismisses the harmony of metrical patterns as nothing but “language on the rack of Procrustes.” The reader realizes that in Peacock’s semi-utilitarian view, all pleasure is necessarily trivial and child-like.

Similarly, to judge by this essay emotion for Peacock amounts to little more than “puling sentimentality.” He ridicules “sentiment, which is canting egotism in the mask of refined feeling; passion, which is the commotion of a weak and selfish mind; pathos, which is the whining of an unmanly spirit; and sublimity, which is the inflation of an empty head.” Far from praising the cultivated sensibility of the poet’s audience, he considers them vulgar, “that much larger portion of the reading public, whose minds are not awakened to the desire of valuable knowledge, and who are indifferent to any thing beyond being charmed, moved, excited, affected, and exalted.” They are nothing but “a multitude of listless idlers, yawning for amusement, and gaping for novelty.”

Overstated (and amusing) as this may be, it is misleading as well in this context. All organisms seek to pursue pleasure and avoid pain; the principle is fundamental to our species no less than to other animals. Further the world, even in modern times, is hardly as clear and simple as Peacock’s argument would imply. However clever our rationalizations may be, we are governed by emotion and by irrational motives, and we are beset by ambiguities, contradictions, and insoluble mysteries, especially when contemplating the chief concerns of our lives: love, death, and the divine. These are specifically the areas in which factual, “scientific” discourse fails, and poetic discourse excels. What Peacock repeatedly calls “chimaeras” is in fact the daily stuff of our consciousness.

Toward the end of his piece, almost like a punch line, Peacock says that, as so many excellent poems are already in existence, no more need be written. But this provocative claim is undercut by the fact that its author has seen fit to compose a highly literary essay using all the devices of rhetoric to present it. In very much the same manner as a lyric or a short story, Peacock is inviting his readers to imagine, “What if one were to say this . . .?” If the result is Bacon would call “feigned history” few would wish to substitute unimaginative prose, however transparent. The significant objects of contemplation are never emptied out by analysis; there is always a further word to be added. There is no end of poems and there is no end of essays.




1. The entire passage following is worthy of quotation.
“”While the historian and the philosopher are advancing in, and accelerating, the progress of knowledge, the poet is wallowing in the rubbish of departed ignorance, and raking up the ashes of dead savages to find gewgaws and rattles for the grown babies of the age. Mr. Scott digs up the poachers and cattle-stealers of the ancient border. Lord Byron cruizes for thieves and pirates on the shores of the Morea and among the Greek Islands. Mr. Southey wades through ponderous volumes of travels and old chronicles, from which he carefully selects all that is false, useless, and absurd, as being essentially poetical; and when he has a commonplace book full of monstrosities, strings them into an epic. Mr. Wordsworth picks up village legends from old women and sextons; and Mr. Coleridge, to the valuable information acquired from similar sources, superadds the dreams of crazy theologians and the mysticisms of German metaphysics, and favours the world with visions in verse, in which the quadruple elements of sexton, old woman, Jeremy Taylor, and Emanuel Kant, are harmonized into a delicious poetical compound. Mr. Moore presents us with a Persian, and Mr. Campbell with a Pennsylvanian tale, both formed on the same principle as Mr. Southey's epics, by extracting from a perfunctory and desultory perusal of a collection of voyages and travels, all that useful investigation would not seek for and that common sense would reject.”

2. Shelley wrote to Peacock on March 21, 1821, calling his own essay “an antidote” to Peacock’s, but minimizing their differences, saying “ You will see that I have taken a more general view of what poetry is than you have, and will perhaps agree with several of my positions, without considering your own touched.” It has been suggested, for instance by P. M. Yarker in the introduction to the Everyman edition of Headlong Hall and Nightmare Abbey, that Peacock conceived the “Four Ages” intentionally playing straight man to Shelley’s vatic poet.

3. In this twenty-first century, it seems that any politician’s appeal for support for schools must insist that education is centered in what is today called the STEM curriculum. Not poetry alone, but the very ideal of a liberal education has withered.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Baudelaire’s “Painter of Modern Life”



Numbers in parentheses refer to the translation of Baudelaire’s essay readily available at http://www.writing.upenn.edu/library/Baudelaire_Painter-of-Modern-Life_1863.pdf. The French text may be read at https://www.uni-due.de/lyriktheorie/texte/1863_baudelaire.html among other sites. Numbers in brackets refer to endnotes.


In “The Painter of Modern Life” Baudelaire managed to define the character of the art of his own time with sufficient acumen and aptness that much of what he said remains useful today, a century and a half later. Indeed, to many literary historians Baudelaire is the first modern poet. In his own time, Verlaine declared that he represents “puissament et essentiellement l’homme modern” [1], and this opinion has since become a commonplace. [2] Baudelaire’s exemplary painter (called in the essay M.G. but since identified as Constantin Guys) is described as self-taught, transcending earlier aesthetic standards. The artist’s peculiarly modern excellence is a result of his radical rebellion and his absorption in the modern scene, his fascination with the tumult and confusion of mass life in the present urban-centered era, redefining what has become of “the work of art in an age of mechanical reproduction,” in Benjamin’s phrase. In many ways Baudelaire’s vision was prescient, extending the trajectory of artistic Bohemia beyond his own day and anticipating twentieth century concepts of hip, while in certain respects, in particular the willful facelessness of Monsieur M.G., Baudelaire’s judgement seems wide of the mark.

Going far beyond those who contributed to the Salon des Réfusés, Baudelaire chooses to champion a self-taught artist (2) who worked primarily as an illustrator and cartoonist. This choice implicitly overturns not merely the specific taste represented by the Académie des Beaux-Arts’ Salon de Paris, the most prestigious French exhibit since the middle of the eighteenth century, which Manet and the impressionists were challenging. Baudelaire’s more far-reaching critique questions fundamental aesthetic values, thus anticipating the rhetoric of the twentieth century Futurists, Dadaists, and Surrealists.

Indulging his taste for provocation, Baudelaire praises M.G. for not being an artist but rather a “man of the world” (“homme du monde”). He asserts that most artists are “very skilled brutes, mere manual laborers, village pub-talkers with the minds of country bumpkins.” This conventional type is “tied to his palette like a serf to the soil.” On the other hand with a bias toward the irrational that has been familiar since the Romantic era M.G.’s integrity is implied when he is said to paint like a barbarian, a child, a drunk, or a convalescent. (1,3) [3]

This posture echoes the poet’s rebellious impulse to overturn values. The very title of his principal work Les Fleurs du Mal arises from a perverse wish to celebrate what the world condemns. [4] Often he does not trouble to provide justification, relying instead on the strength of his vituperation to stimulate a corrective review of values rather than straightforwardly making a case for alternatives. Who, indeed, would actually celebrate evil? What Parisian would feel only “spleen” while strolling the streets of the capital? Baudelaire’s fascination with lesbianism likewise signals more an attempt, successful as it happened, to be outré than a fetish of his own. Just as much supposed diabolism (in outlaw biker and heavy metal imagery, for instance) is not so much devil-worship as baiting the pious, Baudelaire seeks a rhetorical, not a logical, effect in his selection of the outstanding modern artist.

The man of the world exemplified by his chosen artist is a “spiritual citizen of the universe” “who understands the world and the mysterious and legitimate reasons behind all its customs.” (2) How does he gain such hermetic wisdom? Baudelaire defines two types of privileged observers: the dandy and the flâneur.

Both represent observers who are at the same time detached and wholly absorbed in the urban scene. The dandy expresses in what would today be called lifestyle choice “the aristocratic superiority of his mind.” Never “a vulgar man,” he “comes close to spirituality and to stoicism.” His personal cultivation of beauty, a “form of Romanticism,” implicitly reproaches the bourgeoisie. (10) The pose of the aesthete, the apostle of beauty, of course, flourished with the aid of Pater in Wilde and Whistler and then in Saki and Ronald Firbank. The dandy remained recognizable in the crowds at San Francisco’s Fillmore, done up in beads and crystals and feathers, gowns and robes and unlikely thrift store ensembles. Whether or not Baudelaire was correct in claiming that “dandyism is the last flicker of heroism in decadent ages,” representing ‘what is best in human pride,” it is quite certain that it represents “opposition and revolt.” (11)

Yet M.G.is not exactly a dandy. Though Baudelaire says he “would have a sheaf of good reasons for the word ‘dandy’ implies a quintessence of character and a subtle under-standing of all the moral mechanisms of this worlds,” he resists using the label. While “the dandy aspires to cold detachment,” his artist friend is a passionate lover of life with even an “excessive love of visible, tangible things.” (4)


"Thus the lover of universal life moves into the crowd as though into an enormous reservoir of electricity. He, the lover of life, may also be compared to a mirror as vast as this crowd: to a kaleidoscope endowed with consciousness, which with every one of its movements presents a pattern of life, in all its multiplicity, and the flowing grace of all the elements that go to compose life. It is an ego athirst for the non-ego, and reflecting it at every moment in energies more vivid than life itself, always inconstant and fleeting.” (4)


This characterization becomes very nearly a definition of art in general for surely the “multiplicity” and “flowing grace,” of lived experience, even its “inconstant and fleeting” nature are not unique to modernity.

The distinction between dandy and flâneur is elucidated by Baudelaire’s use of Poe’s story “The Man of the Crowd.” The narrator who had been idly observing the scene in the street in just the sort of receptive mood Baudelaire had praised as typical of the man of the world, “in one of those happy moods which are so precisely the converse of ennui—moods of the keenest appetency, when the film from the mental vision departs.” Enjoying this heightened consciousness he observes various easily categorized and understood types when he notices an old man and is struck by “the absolute idiosyncrasy of its expression.” Motivated to pursue this enigmatic figure in an attempt to discover his secrets, he concludes after trailing him for an entire day and night, what he had suspected from the outset. He declares, without the slightest evidence, that the old man "is the type and the genius of deep crime.” Thus it is a mercy that he remains inscrutable: "es lasst sich nicht lesen.”

The story’s narrator, then, resembles M.G. in his fascinated attachment to the outside world, while the man he is shadowing remains like the dandy, altogether beyond reach, detached, unreadable. Only the former can provide us, the readers, with a story, but the latter is similarly extraordinary, the first distinguished from the masses by his perceptive sensibility and the latter by his entire involvement in a mysterious but demanding game of engagement. One feels the “man of the crowd” sees through the charades of social life and, rather than withdrawing in reaction, submerges himself entirely in a principled but pointless act of performance art.

The notion of the anonymity of the modern city in which everyone a “a man of the crowd” doubtless influenced Baudelaire in his most striking false prediction. He maintains that M.G. who is, after all, a journalist who typically does not own his work but sells it to a publisher who may or may not even credit him, embraces this obscurity. The reader is told that he “carries his originality to the point of modesty,” that he does not even sign his drawings. Baudelaire’s modern ideal is to “be at the very centre of the world, and yet to be unseen of the world.” (4) Absorbed in the crowd, wholly participating in the mass experience “the observer is a prince enjoying his incognito wherever he goes.” (4)

Many phenomena of art since his time vindicate elements of Baudelaire’s idea of the modern. Dadaists, Surrealists, and others have reinforced his displacement of earlier ideas of beauty. Modern works tend to pervasive fragmentation (evident, for instance, in collage and in such poetic epics as Paterson and the Cantos). The investment of moderns in ephemera, in conceptual and performance works is entirely consistent with Baudelaire’s definition of the modern as foregrounding “the transient, the fleeting, the contingent.” The absorption of the artist in mass culture is evident in Pop Art, street art, and the crossovers into advertising by such figures as Man Ray and Andy Warhol. Indeed, in modern American culture such commercial works as Breaking Bad are often accepted as art even by highly educated people.

If modern artists have more typically sought fame than emulating M. G.’s “modesty,” traces, perhaps of a contrary tendency may be seen in Pessoa’s concealment behind personae, Warhol’s dictum that “in the future, everyone will be world-famous for fifteen minutes,” [6] some street and guerilla artists, the Diggers’ Communications Company and the Atelier Populaire in 1968 Paris.

With the end of the old system of patronage, artists were thrown into the marketplace, while, at the same time, their alienation and rebellion led them to resent the bourgeoisie which had become their likeliest customer base. The replacement of the old dichotomy of courtly and popular art was supplanted by a shrinking field of “fine art” and an expanding one of mass commodified art. Baudelaire’s response to the dilemma of the artist in the modern world defined trends which have remained influential to the present day.



1. Verlaine, Œuvres posthumes, p. 8.

2. Among the more influential statements of this idea are in Walter Benjamin’s essay “On Some Motifs in Baudelaire” and Harold Rosenberg’s The Tradition of the New.

3. Other maneuvers meant to evade the conscious mind have included chance operations and outsider art.

4. Baudelaire’s wish to épater la bourgeoisie succeeded so well that the book could not be printed in its entirety in France until 1949.

5. Trailing after people on the street has been packaged as a work of art by numerous artists. The best-known version is doubtless Vito Acconci’s Following Piece.

6. On the screen of a television set by Banksy is written "In the future, everyone will be anonymous for 15 minutes,"

How I Came to Work at Scott, Foresman



Teaching Greek tragedy, I sometimes sought to explain fate neither as providence nor predestination, but simply as what one does not know until it unfolds in experience. I asked students to think of how their lives were dependent on chance, not merely their own paths, but even their existence. Had their parents not chanced to meet, through countless events, fortuitous in the sense of leading to their births, they would not be sitting in my classroom. Then I suggested they reflect on the same improbability extending back through grandparents and all the previous generations. In this light each individual’s substantial and indubitable existence was at the same time almost impossibly unlikely and altogether ordinary.

I recall one of John Cage's anecdotes about a woman – I cannot chase it down just now since my copies of Silence and A Year from Monday have vanished from my shelves – o every book less is regretted one day! Cage tells of a woman who had spent her entire adult life in a small New England town. When asked what had brought her there, she said that she had bought a bus ticket when young to the furthest destination she could afford. She never left. Itself implausible, the story is a charming fable of randomness in human life that makes sense to me. In my own life chance has pushed forward quite shamelessly.

During the late sixties, after my university graduation and marriage, the draft was still pursuing me. While the more level-headed among my contemporaries may have pursued professional credentials or begun saving for a down payment, I had dreams of poetry and travel. (Persistent for dreams, these have never left me.) Lacking altogether the career direction that seems to possess most of today’s youth, I realized with some regret that I had to find a job. My hostility to capitalism made most salaried positions distasteful. I would have felt a fraud in any corporate setting, regardless of my productivity. It is often inconvenient to possess values.

My antipathy toward “straight” jobs had, however, a corresponding benefit. Because of the fact that I greeted a host of options with a single reaction (can I carry off the imposture?), I found them all equally acceptable (and equally unacceptable), creating a wide range of choice.

Many of my former classmates stepped into positions open in those days to anyone with a liberal arts degree such as teaching in the Chicago schools or working for the welfare (as it was called). At that time a B.A. was also the ordinary qualification for executive trainee tracks in the business world, so it seemed as though, if Selective Service would just leave me alone, I could certainly find something.

Responding to the random prompts of classified advertisements, I applied all over the place in Chicago: an insurance company or two, a bank, even the Pinkerton agency. I was found to be unqualified as a night watchman by the last, but the bank gave me a job offer contingent only, they said, on my security background check. After a few days they must have heard something, because the offer was withdrawn.

Eventually I found my way to a little one-room employment agency, high in an old Loop office building, the kind with mail chutes next to the elevators in which one could occasionally see letters flash by on their speedy trip from higher floors. This one man operation specialized in placing applicants as writers and editors. The agent’s commission, though steep (more than a month of the worker’s salary) was, in those olden days, paid entirely by the hiring company. The proprietor of the agency sat at a capacious pre-computer desk heaped with papers, one of which occasionally fluttered to the floor as he chewed an unlit cigar and talked. It was the sort of enterprise, I realized, that survived solely on account of this single individual’s contacts and their faith in his judgement. After he had sized me up, he said, “Well, I think I’ve got two good spots for you, one at least, maybe two. Are you willing to write pornography?”

Thinking myself ready for most anything other than manual labor and thinking, perhaps, of Henry Miller and Anais Nin, I assented and, a day or two later, headed out to the west side for an interview at a small company that published three tabloid papers a few notches below the Enquirer and the Star as well as four or five skin magazines (as the pre-pornography genre was known). The production area for the tabloid was a single large room with long tables, more like a lunchroom than an editorial office, with a few glassed-in areas for the head editors. I learned at my interview that my language skills had impressed them. They thought I could scan the heap of equally lurid European tabloids to which they subscribed in search of articles to translate. They were unconcerned about obtaining rights. “Oh, they’re probably stealing from us. That’s the least of our concerns.” I would have the opportunity not only to translate, but to use my own creative powers as well. I got a short course in making stories up from nothing. “For instance, we might run a story with a headline, ‘President Nixon’s Wife Seeks Divorce’ and then quote some unnamed ‘experts’ about potential tell-tale signs. It’s simple to say very nearly anything you like without any problems. Then we could find pictures of each of them scowling and place them together so it looks like they are reacting to each other.”
I did a bit of writing as a sample and had lunch with the staff where I was not surprised to find some interesting people, a number of travelers, artists, poets, and at least one undergoing a novel. I figured I could live with this bunch. The next day I got an offer and asked for a few days to consider.

The following day was the second interview the employment agent had lined up, this one with the textbook company Scott Foresman, famous then for its Dick, Jane, and Sally readers, though it published a wide range of other books, including college texts, and Thorndike-Barnhart dictionaries. This looked very much like a “straight” job. The offices were in a modern building with vast lawns in suburban Glenview, everyone wore suits, and I felt like I had to act a part to make the right impression. To be quite certain I could do that, I took some benzedrines before driving out for my interview. Here, too, my supposed language skills were the excuse for my being considered to work on a series of world literature books aimed at high school honors English classes. That head editor rapidly decided I wouldn’t fit their needs, but I had talked in such a scintillating manner that she referred me to a colleague who was directing the development of a four-year series of books aimed at “inner city” (meaning minority-dominated) schools.

I was to learn that Scott Foresman’s dedication to racial equality was influenced primarily by market forces. Mindful of the civil rights movement but also of Southern states, not a few of which had state-wide text adoption, the publisher had a number of versions of Dick, Jane, and Sally. One was immaculately white, another included darker faces in non-speaking roles, and a third had African-American characters who actually interacted with the angelic suburban stars. There did not seem to be an all-black edition, which must have been an oversight, as all-black schools certainly did (and do) exist. However, the burning cities of the mid-sixties summer riots had unnerved the powers that be enough to call for the War on Poverty and special funding for urban, under-performing, disadvantaged, education. So the corporations responded, and the project for which I was being considered was a result.

Little remains to tell. Perhaps because my recent experience as a VISTA volunteer attested to my suburbanite’s understanding of the underclass, I got an offer from Scott Foresman to be an editorial assistant. I considered. While I felt at home in the demi-mondaine atmosphere of the first option – it would have likely made a more entertaining story -- I possessed just enough prudence to realize that the second would look better on a resumé. So I accepted and spent a few years in a pleasant window office there (though more often hiding out in the carrel at the back of the library), living on very little on Chicago’s far North Side, amassing money to see the world. I learned that among the workers were no less a percentage of artistic, even hip, people than at the disreputable publisher: poets, artists, scholars, some real characters. I found that that to be a high school textbook editor was tantamount to being a high school textbook author. The concept for the series was attributed to a teacher but every word in the finished project, the selection of the readings, the teacher’s manual and other apparatus were all composed entirely in-house. I was told, “There has to be a working teacher as author. He can go and do publicity at professional meetings, but he doesn’t have time to actually write the thing.”

The pace was very comfortable. At least three hours out of four were my own. After a while I joined a simpatico car pool, most of the members of which went immediately to the subsidized cafeteria when we arrived to linger over coffee and pastries before even reporting to their areas. The director of another project hired a new editor, fresh from a spell at the Lama Commune where he had departed after the group failed to accept his suggestion that everyone act out the previous night’s dreams every morning. The fact was that his services were not really needed for six months. I came to understand this lassitude about our productivity when I saw a pie chart of the expenses of publication in which our work was almost unnoticeable among the costs of advertising, salesmen’s commissions, and the actual printing.

When I had to participate in large meetings with marketing staff or potential customers, my boss’s boss, vice-president of editorial services, sometimes made semi-embarrassed but good-humored references to my long hair or my Western boots, but I was never told to conform. I could perhaps have become too comfortable there.

As the time for my departure, known to me but not to them, approached, this v.p. began hinting that there was “something sweet” in store for me shortly. Realizing after sufficient clues that he meant a promotion I kept silent about leaving, thinking that to report a higher title would be advantageous in the future. I don‘t even recall if I made it to the position of “assistant editor,” but I am quite certain it would never have made any subsequent difference if I had.