2020 Countdown, day 15: when you just can’t take it anymore

Fifteen days till the end of 2020 and four days till the official start of winter. Winter, the dreaded season, the season Dr. Fauci has been warning us about since the pandemic began. If Fauci weren’t such a gentlemen, Ezra Pound’s expletive-filled “Ancient Music” could be his cri de coeur. I left the poem in a tangle of undergrowth and trees on a cold and dreary day.

 

poem is white speck in middle of picture

 

Ancient Music

by Ezra Pound

 

Winter is icummen 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,

Damn 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.

 

 

Lighting candles is all well and good but sometimes darkness just needs to be cursed. Lean into your inner Howard Beale and yell out the window, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!” Or if you can manage the pronunciation, have at it with Pound’s “Ancient Music.”

 

This is a parody poem, of course. Maybe you were forced to study “Sumer is icumen in” in high school or college. To jog your memory, it begins—

 

Sumer is icumen in,

Lhude sing cuccu!

Groweþ sed and bloweþ med

 

And springþ þe wde nu,

Sing cuccu!

 

As much as I dislike winter, I dislike medieval poetry more. This poem in particular. Maybe because “Sumer is Icumen In” was always showing up in anthologies and syllabi, unwanted as dandruff. But I’ve changed my mind, as is my human prerogative. I came across a musical version and found out it was written as a song (sometimes called “The Cuckoo Song”) to be sung in a round, my favorite kind of song. Listen how pretty it is

 

 

When sumer is icumen in 2021, hopefully the good parts of our old collective life will be icumen in too. Meanwhile, feel free to curse the darkness. Old Ezra’s here to help.

 

*

 

I don’t have the requisite energy today for Ezra Pound’s life. Let’s just say it was complicated. Here’s the Reader’s Digest version:

 

Born in 1885 in Idaho, died 1972 in Venice. Singular figure in modern literature. Poet and critic. Literary mentor of Eliot, Hemingway, Joyce. Founder of the Imagist school of poetry. Ex-pat. Fascist collaborator. Anti-semite, at least for a time. Psychiatric patient. Author of one of my favorite poems, “In the Station of the Metro.”

 

Link here for a fuller discussion of his politics and here for one on his life and work.

 

 

 

 

 

3 Comments

  1. truus visser

    Dear ,

    You are so much a comfort these days,

    I enjoy specially this serie very much,

    Kindeste egards,

    Truus Visser from Zeewolde, the Netherlands, in a severe lockdown again

    >

    1. poemelf

      Truss, Hang in there. We are all together in this, and it does my heart good to know that poetry connects us across continents. Thanks for readying and commenting!

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