57 years ago today, Canto 1 of John Shade’s Pale Fire completed

The poem always gives me the shivers.  Especially the stanza I had to learn by heart for Mrs. Kramer’s third grade class in English language arts.  We had to stand in front of the class.  Yes, she was an odd teacher.  Drove around in a VW minibus.  Anyway, I can still write it out by heart.

I was brought up by dear bizarre Aunt Maud,
A poet and a painter with a taste
For realistic objects interlaced
With grotesque growths and images of doom.
She lived to hear the next babe cry. Her room
We’ve kept intact. Its trivia create
A still life in her style: the paperweight
Of convex glass enclosing a lagoon,
The verse open at the Index (Moon,
Moonrise, Moor, Moral), the forlorn guitar
The human skull; and from the local Star
A curio: Red Sox Beat Yanks 5-4
On Chapman’s Homer, thumbtacked to the door

In those days we had no idea of the profound meaning embedded in the stanza.  Maybe Mrs. Kramer knew that, and enjoyed hearing the voices of the innocent recite the terrifying lines?  Could any child now, able to look up Chapman’s Homer on the Internet, not hear in their head the sound of cracking skulls?

About mkevane

Economist at Santa Clara University and Director of Friends of African Village Libraries.
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