Sunday, October 07, 2012

Your Sunday Poem

Fifty years ago, Don Marquis, a writer for the Evening Sun in New York, created a free-verse writing cockroach -- Archy -- who created his poetry on Marquis' typewriter late at night by leaping down head first onto he keys. Since it was too laborious to jump down on the shift key all the time, Archy wrote in lower case.  Archy had a friend, Mehitabel, "an alley cat of questionable character," and wrote poetry that was often mordantly critical about the human condition. My husband and I named our first cat Mehitabel, even though she was of sterling character.  Come to think of it, we also named our first car, a beat up VW van, Mehitabel, too.  

men talk of money and industry
of hard times and recoveries
of finance and economics
but the ants wait and the scorpions wait
for while men talk they are making deserts all the time
getting the world ready for the conquering ant
drought and erosion and desert
because men cannot learn


Sewertoons AKA Lynette Tornatzky said...

Great poem! Out of the mouths of insects.... Hey, as true now as it was when first typed. Thanks for posting, I had forgotten all about this.

Churadogs said...

Don't think Marquis is read much nowadays, but those characters have entered the lexicon.

Sewertoons AKA Lynette Tornatzky said...

I hope that they don't fall out as the population ages!

Alon Perlman said...

This is some scary cool contemporary cat laying down some serious apocalyptic scat

A great selection- very messianic. Good comments toons -but the cucaracho is using his cabeza.

I love the lower caps only- whowudda thunk it. Archy even has an allcaps chapter. Works well for me, but now the android masters insist on capitalizing our words for us.

So after reading the poem (and thinking krazy kat, a cartoon I am familiar with) and with a little research, I found out that this was a 1916 newspaper series. Don Marquis's “First” book publication dates to 1925 or 27, and from about 1931 was illustrated by George Harriman, the illustrator of the surrealistic Krazy Kat cartoon series, a character already existing by 1911. Incidentally; Harriman lived in Arizona and, but before it became a Cadillac desert, and Hollywood about the time Mulholland was starting the desertification of Owens valley, but that is a whole other Chinatown.
But as far as pets living free and being happily housebroken or bugs Fahrvergnügen (הנהיגה אהבת) not dropping an axle on the grapevine, perhaps you were lucky in that the original source for the name Mehitavel is not a reluctant feline channeling Cleopatra’ but a rare biblical name.
Don apparently had a “Pete”, did you?
Meheitav'el apperars in various translations as; God makes happy".” Delighted”” god benefits”"God rejoices". My initial translation is “in the goodness of the lord’ or “in the beneficence of God” The root is tov=good, and El =God with mehe (“of the”, “from the”) being a tense and verb modifier with a possible dual interpretation of direction “from god” or less likely “to god”. The translation is as always dependant on context. But it may be futile to search the Hebrew bible for the true meaning of the name of an Edomite princess (the name also appears as a man’s name).
Certainly expect to find it lost in further from Greek translations into King ’s English. Seriously; Emanuel-son of a maiden- it just doesn’t have the right ring to it.

Churadogs said...

One google site shows Mehitabel as the mother of Lilth, and is Sumerian. ?? Somehow she translated into ancient Hebrew?

Anonymous said...

Oh, it's the same four old ladies talking to each other again.

Anonymous said...

I meant three. Sorry. Two of you talk twice.

Alon Perlman said...

Back to Archy- Mehitabel’s song.

But what is the source for Don’s (archy) choice?
And what will happen if you name your cat mehitabel? that is one possibility…

Alon Perlman said...

Mehitabel -I recognized it instantly as Hebraic biblical because of the “El” ending, and because it was phonetically familiar to me, being bilingual. So I was inspired to look it up.

As a name in the USA it seems to have gone out of use after the civil war era. It appears directly in the old testament bible twice Genesis 36:39; 1 Chronicles 1:50, but as “Mehetabel” among descendants of Essah the Edomite brother of Jacob. There is also one mention of the name as male.

As for precise spellings- B being pronounced as V - there is the loss in translating through multiple language filters Hebrew to Aramaic to Greek to English. Then there is a specific problem identified in Ancient versus modern Hebraic word usage with a word meaning changing into the exact opposite rather than a slight alteration. And also the mention of names from the surrounding civilizations that sound similar but have other meanings.
Once you invoke Lilith it becomes open ended, because the figure Lilith is supposed to have been the “Original Adam’s” mate and is the prototype female vampire. And a Sumerian Goddess or God there is a supposed connection with Mesopotamian texts- female demons Līlīṯu
Also the first self liberating woman, and the first explanation for crib death. The root “lyl” translates as “night”, “it” “Ith” a feminizing suffix. That she is also the supposed daughter of a goddess mehitabel only adds to the mix.
So looking for instances of Lilith in the old testament by a word search within a bible compilation I found only one mention Isaiah 34:14 going to the verse where it appears.
It has to do with the ongoing transformation of religion while previous (Goddess) archetypes persist and penetrate the “newer” testament.
In fact (I found out later) the “Lilith” identification with a person occurs in interpretations of the Zohar (Kabala) which is attributed to the 2nd century CE and may be as late as 13th century CE , contains Greek influences and was written in Europe far from the context of the animals common to Israel (ancient Judea) and Edom (Edom =Red, an area close to Petra in Jordan)
Or, the earliest Greek translation of the old testament; the Septuagint, (200 years BCE) which influenced early Christian writings may had introduced these.

Keeping to a narrow biblical context it is amazing to see how “Lilith” is translated into “screech owl” versus “night demon” -
A little more searching showed that in Jewish lore “Lilith” in the context of “monster” appears first in the Babylonian Talmud (Jewish study of the old testament) which is written from about 325 C.E. at the time of Constantine and the start of the Christian era.
Further examining the above collection it appears that “Satyr” also appears in some translations, while the original Hebrewשָׂעִ֖יר pronounced “Sha-ir” simply means “hairy” (My first interpretation-and that of some translators “shaggy haired goat” which is an actual species found in the Israeli desert near Jerusalem. The term “hairy” would differentiate the Syrian Goat (Capra mambrica) from the Ibex).

Then, further research found that the common scopes owl is named, “Shair” and that lilit is the modern Hebrew name for a desert owl. I was lead astray because a previous verse notes Yansuf- a third name in Hebrew for “Owl”. No translation seems to recognize 3 species of the owl family.
So two transmogrifications are no coincidence- Isaiah’s listing of common local animals has been demonized.

Alon Perlman said...

And about this point I decided that perhaps I should read the larger context of the chapter –At my first reading of verse 14, I thought it only about nocturnal animals-(that was my bias)
Now this writing is taking place as a prophecy during the Assyrian expansion into Judea 800 BC, long after the reign of David. At this time Isaiah is living in the historical land of Israel.

So the meaning of an original biblical passage ending with the return of the inhabitants of the natural desert along with their sounds and behaviors is transmuted.
And later translations of the source (lacking in a connection to the literal environment of the land) now incorporate the later demonic perspective into the myriad translated versions of this old testament.
So much for biblical literalism.
The larger context of the verses in Isaiah are about the future destruction of Edom, describing a ruin of nations and the prevailing of a return to wild.
I then realized that I was really experiencing the tunnel vision. This divergence had come full circle. Isaiah is prophesying about the ruined cities occupied by wild things in of the desert land of Edom - Don’s Cat, Mehitabel is prophesying of the ruins occupied by insects.
It’s very much the same thing.

Edom’s nobles won’t have anything left there
that can be called a kingdom.
All of its princes will vanish.
13 Thorns will cover its forts.
Bushes and weeds will cover its safest places.
It will become a home for wild dogs.
It will become a place where owls live.
14 Desert creatures will meet with hyenas.
Wild goats will call out to each other.
Night creatures will also sleep there.
They will find places where they can rest.