I have to be honest: I have never enjoyed reading poetry, and could never understand what all the fuss was about.* In primary school (that’s elementary school to you American heathens), I recall struggling to make my poems rhyme. They went along the following tenuous lines…. “I’m a poet and I didn’t know it…” “The snow covered the mountains, look can you see the fountains?” In high school, we left the world of rhyme behind us, and instead would analyze poetry to death. In exams I “did the do” and would wax lyrical about the hidden meaning behind the words, and the rhythm, and what it all symbolized, because that is ultimately what the examiners want to read, and it worked. Lo and behold, I got that coveted A grade in my GCSE and A’ levels. (Note to anyone who wasn’t lucky enough to be educated in England – A’ levels are the equivalent of your SAT’s. There is actually a world of difference between A’ levels and SAT’s, but that’s the subject of another post.) To this day, I turn down any editing projects that involve poetry. Give me a straightforward sentence that reaches the end of the line any day.
There is one exception, however, to the “I can’t abide poetry” rule. Many moons ago, when I was a teenager, I came across in the public library a volume of selected poems by D.H. Lawrence. To give you some background information about this writer: This man was notorious in the 1920’s for his controversial and best-known novel, Lady Chatterly’s Lover, which contained some rather explicit descriptions of sexual relationships. At the time, such subjects were strictly taboo, and the novel was banned in England and the US until the sixties.
Anyway, returning to the point of this post, when I saw the name D.H. Lawrence on the spine, I immediately picked up the book. I had read another novel of his, Sons and Lovers (I am sure by now, you can detect that love was a central theme in his works), and I was a big fan. After leafing through a couple of pages, I think it would be safe to say that I was mesmerized by his poetry in which he ascribed human emotions to animals. Truthfully, after reading his poem “The Mosquito,” I have never looked at this blood-sucking insect in the same way again. Warning: the poem you are about to read is not for the faint-hearted.
|When did you start your tricks,|
|What do you stand on such high legs for?|
|Why this length of shredded shank,|
|Is it so that you shall lift your centre of gravity upwards|
|And weigh no more than air as you alight upon me,|
|Stand upon me weightless, you phantom ?
|I heard a woman call you the Winged Victory|
|In sluggish Venice.|
|You turn your head towards your tail, and smile.
|How can you put so much devilry|
|Into that translucent phantom shred|
|Of a frail corpus ?
|Queer, with your thin wings and your streaming legs|
|How you sail like a heron, or a dull clot of air,|
|Yet what an aura surrounds you;|
|Your evil little aura, prowling, and casting a numbness on my mind.
|That is your trick, your bit of filthy magic:|
|Invisibility, and the anæsthetic power|
|To deaden my attention in your direction.|
|But I know your game now, streaky sorcerer.
|Queer, how you stalk and prowl the air|
|In circles and evasions, enveloping me,|
|Ghoul on wings|
|Settle, and stand on long thin shanks|
|Eyeing me sideways, and cunningly conscious that I am aware,|
|I hate the way you lurch off sideways into air|
|Having read my thoughts against you.
|Come then, let us play at unawares,|
|And see who wins in this sly game of bluff,|
|Man or mosquito.
|You don’t know that I exist, and I don’t know that you exist.|
|It is your trump,|
|It is your hateful little trump,|
|You pointed fiend,|
|Which shakes my sudden blood to hatred of you:|
|It is your small, high, hateful bugle in my ear.
|Why do you do it?|
|Surely it is bad policy.
|They say you can’t help it.
|If that is so, then I believe a little in Providence protecting the innocent.|
|But it sounds so amazingly like a slogan,|
|A yell of triumph as you snatch my scalp.
|Blood, red blood|
|I behold you stand|
|For a second enspasmed in oblivion,|
|Sucking live blood,|
|Such silence, such suspended transport,|
|Such obscenity of trespass.
|As well as you may.|
|Only your accursed hairy frailty,|
|Your own imponderable weightlessness|
|Saves you, wafts you away on the very draught my anger makes in its snatching.
|Away with a pæan of derision,|
|You winged blood-drop.
|Can I not overtake you?|
|Are you one too many for me,|
|Winged Victory ?|
|Am I not mosquito enough to out-mosquito you?
|Queer, what a big stain my sucked blood makes|
|Beside the infinitesimal faint smear of you!|
|Queer, what a dim dark smudge you have disappeared into!|
* Disclaimer: It goes without saying that my strong dislike of poetry doesn’t extend to the poetry that my husband has on occasion written for me. That kind of poetry I will read any day.