Oct 10, 2013

e.e. cummings, Robert Frost's "Design" and Politics 2013

Design by Robert Frost        

Robert Frost’s Italian sonnet, “Design” is somewhat similar to e.e. cummings' English sonnet, “When Serpents Bargain”   (when serpents bargain for the right to squirm... (22) - Poem By E. E. Cummings - Read Classic Poetry Online) in asking questions about the nature of animals, humans, and the possibility of order in the universe. “Design” tends toward philosophy while “When Serpents Bargain” is a satire on the legal and commercial dealings of humans.

Strangulation in High Places
But both poems convey dark themes softened by lightness, innocence, playfulness in language and tone—more so in “When Serpents Bargain” than the grimmer study of animal behavior and the possibility of cosmic chaos in “Design.”

In my October 2 post on cummings’ “When Serpents Bargain,” I mentioned that I’d been a little cantankerous about the poem back on April 7, 2011.  (No pressure, but it’s here if you’re interested: 


Although I share cummings’ dim view of human wheeling and dealing, in which every serpent-of-a-person is trying to sell a used car in bad repair, it might be childishly romantic (reverse narcissism?) to think we’re crazier than critters in nature. 
We might be trying and failing to deal with complex matters of morality and law (witness our present situation in the U.S. Congress), 
but animals solve their diplomatic problems by eating each other. 
Gunboat Diplomacy

Also, when an animal fails, he dies alone in the field for lack of medical care or food. Birds fall out of the sky. The philosophizing, lawyer-izing verbiage that cummings mocks in “When Serpents Bargain” is our spastic effort to avoid eating each other or dying alone in a field. 

Maybe the animals’ free-market way is good for Republicans, Libertarians and anarchists, but me, I’ll take the modified welfare state, yes, the Nanny state. What’s wrong with nannies? They’re paid to like us when our parents are too busy or too mean for liking. They're paid to be kind. When we get a haircut, we don’t bellow about The Barber State, do we?

I prefer the limited version of Nanny State that encourages earning our victuals and our pleasure, but let’s not go all Tea Party and dump people on the curb to bleed out if they fail or get sick. Alone. Except for the Tea Partier, who is the stranger standing over the fallen man and chanting Bible verses or Christian rock music. The guy on the curb needs macaroni, not a parable. 

Maybe the heroic cardinals have it right. A couple of years ago I mentioned here my cardinal couple, who, for about a week, adopted and fed, beak to beak, an orphaned white-crowned sparrow chick, in my back yard.
Steadfast but Pondering

Tom, my most hard-core evolutionist friend, thinks I’m lying about that. He said, “But John, I don’t see the evolutionary advantage in [the cardinals’] behavior.” As gently as possible, I said, “That’s the point, Dumbass!”

I restrained myself from going all Hamlet-and-Horatio on him, but I was on the verge of reminding Tom that “there are more things in heaven and earth, Tom, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” (Everyone should have a friend named Horatio. Look what he did for Miami forensic investigations). 

By the way, my friends and I regularly refer to each other as Dumbasses or worse. That’s one thing I like about us. We tell the Truth on those rare occasions when we can find it. On the other hand, each of us thinks he’s found Truth way more often than he has. I suppose that makes us pretty Tea Party-ish. Once again, irony thrives, even in a world full of blinders and misguided faux earnestness.

The fact remains, I witnessed those cardinals for several days as they fed the Other, the alien, who might grow up to compete with them for food. I called the local Audubon Society, which confirmed that such charity happens in the animal kingdom, and yes, cardinals are among the chief do-gooders. Nanny Cardinals. Baby sparrows.



Anonymous said...

You've covered a whole lot of territory here.

As the dominate species (other than bugs, I suppose), it's not surprising that our rules of engagement speak the loudest. Other species have complex societies, communication, rules. Some quite similar to ours.

There's an argument that compassion itself is an evolutionary adaptation. Less poetry, and more quid pro quo in the long run. I'm not thrilled with that thought, but it's possible.

I think that's why I find such, what? -- beauty? hope? comfort? -- in stories of a dog saving a kitten, a dolphin who saves a human, or your cardinals feeding a sparrow.

Cruel Garters Blog said...

I think if you start playing with line-breaks midway through your post, The New Yorker should bite. (That's if they have any sense of kairos at all.)

And that Frost poem is a doozy, particularly the end of the octave. How can that many stressed syllables play nice in two little lines of pentameter? Evolution? A conscious decision to live peacefully next to the unstressed syllables? I'm at a loss here.

RuneE said...

That was an interesting post indeed. The political situation in the US (as seen) from Europe is very curious. It seems that a minor part of the peoples representatives can send your country to the dogs (and taking the rest of the world with them) to escape from giving people the right of proper health care. That is like shooting yourself in the foot and not being able to treat it. And most curious of all: Your constitution doesn't seem to have a rule for dealing with it.

Stickup Artist said...

Besides your intellect, and incredible way with words, I have found even more reasons to love you. Close observation of nature will always inform us, and I couldn't agree more with your mention of Politics 2013 in relation to your observations. Yes, evolution is going in the direction of survival of the compassionate. Yeah!

Anonymous said...

I should never revisit a site, because I always see a spelling error. Dominant.

Banjo52 said...

Thanks, all. Too much good stuff here to hurry through it, so once again I’ll turn it into my next post, hopefully tomorrow or Monday.

Karin, when I went back to my April 2011 post on cummings, I found, I think, 3 typos. To err is human, etc. Mostly etc.

Banjo52 said...

Stickup, your check is in the mail. Thank you!

Banjo52 said...

Karin, I thought about shortening it or dividing that post into sections, but my Inner Windbag got the best of me. Again.

Karin and Stickup, thank you! I have heard something along those lines—that (some?) evolutionists see an advantage to altruism and cooperation, rather than competition. The whole business fascinates me. And yes, those feel-good animal (and human) stories help.

Maybe I’ve said this before: I have a passive-aggressive reaction to anyone’s certainty about almost anything, so when evolutionists (with whom I usually agree or to whom I usually concede) say Such-and-Such had to have cannot have happened, I hear something like a holy-roller saying we should kill 13.7 sheep every eighth Thursday because Corinthians said so. And while we’re near the barn, eat a snake and burn a virgin.

Cruel Garters, thanks. I don’t think you’re at a loss at all. I think you’ve just created a whole new discipline, which we’ll label, temporarily, Evolutionary Metrics and Survivalist Scansion. It too will be sought by The New Yorker. Or, a stressed syllable and an unstressed syllable walk into a bar . . . . Or, how many unstressed syllables does it take to screw in a stressed syllable? (If these get dumb, you’ll let me know, right?)

Rune, thanks. This whole political business is too bizarre to believe. Your take on it shows more understanding of facts, history, fairness, and the U.S. constitution than any right-wing, so-called American extremist over here has demonstrated.

Jean Spitzer said...

Some amazing photos.

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