Apr 29, 2012

JOHN CROWE RANSOM’S “BLUE GIRLS”


I’ve postponed posting John Crowe Ransom’s “Blue Girls” because I assumed a lot of people would scream “Sexist!” and be done with it. And I’d get it. Add that to his being a father of The New Criticism and the dubious, perhaps supercilious attitude I hear in his “Janet Waking” and “Bells for John Whiteside’s Daughter” and I wondered if another Ransom poem would be worth the bother. 


But I’ve always liked “Blue Girls,” as many teachers secretly might, given its first two stanzas about students. Of course, any teacher—or any adult over 40—can grump about heedless youth. 


Blue Girls

Twirling your blue skirts, traveling the sward
Under the towers of your seminary,
Go listen to your teachers old and contrary
Without believing a word.

Tie the white fillets then about your hair
And think no more of what will come to pass
Than bluebirds that go walking on the grass
And chattering on the air.

Practise your beauty, blue girls, before it fail;
And I will cry with my loud lips and publish
Beauty which all our powers shall never establish,
It is so frail.

For I could tell you a story which is true;
I know a lady with a terrible tongue,
Blear eyes fallen from blue,
All her perfections tarnished—yet it is not long
Since she was lovelier than any of you.

John Crowe Ransom  http://www.poemtree.com/poems/BlueGirls.htm

It’s in Stanza 3 where “Blue Girls” becomes especially interesting to me. Who else would have thought to speak of publishing young women’s unspeakable beauty, or publishing any great beauty? Is publishing what one does with or to beauty? Yet, why not?

Who would think to rhyme “publish” and “establish”?  (Granted, the abba rhyme scheme can take some credit for leading Ransom to that, but he allowed himself to be so led).  And who would think to mix that academic language with the soulful and visceral “I will cry with my loud lips . . .” to extol major but frail human, transient beauty?
 
I think Ransom's warning in the last stanza is powerful, but in Literature Land there are many powerful warnings about the pitfalls of aging along with the vanity and heedlessness of youth. It’s Ransom’s unexpected and meaningful combinations in the third stanza that are special here, and their plaintive earnestness prevents me from leaping hastily to unpleasant conclusions about the poem or the poet.

How about you? Is there something to forgive or merely overlook in Ransom? If so, do you? 


10 comments:

Pasadena Adjacent said...

I refer to it as "Kill the father and resurrect the grandfather" syndrome.

Did a few run throughs on that poem. It is a different approach to the idea of age and beauty. I don't think I understand

"And I will cry with my loud lips and publish"

The art world is well known for it's carnivorous appetite for the young and the new - is the poet getting at the idea that beauty can seduce a publisher to gather behind "less then" talents that they would otherwise dismiss come middle age? does that make sense?

Stickup Artist said...

My favorite lines are:
"Go listen to your teachers old and contrary
Without believing a word."

Reminds me of a line out of Crimes and Misdemeanors when Woody Allen says to his young niece, "Don't listen to anything your teachers say. Watch what they do and then you'll know."

Other than that, I think it's all pretty conventional with conventional ideas about beauty, fading beauty, i.e. fading female outer beauty. Substitute man or boy, and the poem would be ridiculous. 'Nough said.

Jean Spitzer said...

I like your photos of the beautiful bird.

If all the poem means is that he thinks women lose "beauty" when they age, why bother? If he considers the lady in the last stanza a "tarnished" possession, so what?

Pasadena Adjacent said...

(like the Woody Allen quote) but it does seem a little unfair - Publish or perish - those who do "do" and those who don't teach

I had to look up sward and fillets

curious reaction. maybe I should have seen it coming, being the daughter of a southern beauty queen subject to mental break downs and mental hospitals (you saw the video) ...no one knows this shit better then me and yet I think something different is going on here. Not a feminist riff but something in the way we use our youth. Youth as commodity and warning.

Such A One said...

One small bit of criticism, if you are going to take pictures of birds (or anything for that matter) get a better camera. There's nothing worse than a noise filled blurry picture of anything.

Ken Mac said...

I can learn something here.

altadenahiker said...

I liked Blue Girls, I liked it a lot. Simple, and a simply beautiful metaphor. If anyone thinks this is just about women, they're wrong.

Banjo52 said...

I've tried to respond to most of you in the next post, May 3.

Ken, good! Same thing at your place--how to visit NY without sitting in mass transit . . .

Such A One, thanks? Do you have a specific suggestion about cameras? You realize money doesn't grow on trees, at least not in Michigan. Even if it did, I'd be slow to get one of those 14" or so telephotos and a tripod. I tried something like that in the days before digital, and it made photography work and nuisance. But I do still consider upgrading--yes, for the birds.

Anonymous said...

I think Blue Girls is about a man who had his heart broken by a "blue girl". The poem is more about attachment to others than it is to one's own beauty, and how the speaker appears both lonely and distant, observing others' happiness not with contentment, or even admiration, but with the wish he had for himself and a blue girl, that never came to pass, and he has not been successful at moving on.

Banjo52 said...

Anonymous, that works for me, and I think it can coexist with most of what the others said. Thanks for the visit. Have you seen that I finally replied? Sorry to take so long.

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