Poem beginning “The”
Fall-Winter 1926/ The Exile 3 (Spring 1928)
Ahearn, Barry. Zukofsky's "A": An Introduction.
Berkeley: U of California P, 1983. 20-37.
Dembo, L.S. "Louis Zukofsky: Objectivist Poetics and the Quest for
Form." American Literature 44.1
(March 1972): 74-96. Rpt. Terrell (1979): 298-301.
DuPlessis, Rachel Blau. Genders, Races and Religious Cultures in
Modern American Poetry, 1908-1934. Cambridge UP, 2001. 166-174.
___. Purple Passages: Pound, Eliot, Zukofsky, Olson, Creeley and the Ends of
Patriarchal Poetry. U of Iowa P, 1012. 64-68.
Ma, Ming-Qian. “A ‘no man’s
land!’: Postmodern Citationality in Zukofsky’s ‘Poem beginning “The”’.” In
Scroggins (1997): 129-153.
Harold. “Zuk. Yehoash David Rex.” Paideuma
7.3 (Winter 1978): 559-569. Rpt. Terrell (1979): 235-245.
Scroggins, Mark. Louis Zukofsky and the Poetry of Knowledge.
Tuscaloosa: U of Alabama P, 1998. 124-132.
Shreiber, Maeera Y. Singing in a Strange Land: A Jewish American
Poetics. Stanford UP, 2007. 105-127.
Shoemaker, Steve. “Between
Contact and Exile: Louis Zukofsky’s Poetry of Survival.” In Scroggins (1997):
Sandra Kumanoto. Louis Zukofsky and the
Transformation of a Modern American Poetics. Berkeley: U of California P,
Tomas, John. “Portrait of
the Artist as a Young Jew: Zukofsky’s Poem Beginning ‘The’ in Context.” Sagetrieb 9.1 & 2 (Spring & Fall
Tim. The Poetics of the Limit: Ethics and
Politics in Modern and Contemporary American Poetry. NY: Palgrave
Macmillan, 2002. 27-33.
LZ’s first major work, written at age 22, “Poem beginning ‘The’”
is in part a parodic homage to his modernist elders, and especially T.S.
Eliot’s The Waste Land, published
just four years previous in 1922. It may also be relevant that Eliot’s The Hollow Men had recently come out as
well in the volume Poems, 1909-1925
(1925), which included The Waste Land
and the rest of Eliot’s best-known early poems. As with The Waste Land, LZ adds notes, in this case upping the ante by
putting them up front, and line numbers as if already a canonical text, but
absurdly numbering every line and in one instance a blank “line” (noted as “The
French Language”). Quite a few commentators have assumed the notes are
primarily satiric and even ludicrous, but, while certainly playful, for the
most part they are reliable references to other authors and works echoed in
LZ’s poem. A few remarks on “Poem beginning ‘The’” in relation to The Waste Land can be found in the
original version of “American Poetry 1920-1930,” The Symposium 2.1 (Jan. 1931): 73, as well as a 12 Dec. 1930 letter
to Ezra Pound (EP/LZ 78-79).
Title: Stanley points out that not only does LZ’s poem literally begin
with “The,” but so does the title of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land to which the poem is responding, suggesting an
emphasis on the article rather than the substantive (57).
Title “And out of olde bokes, in good feith”:
from Geoffrey Chaucer (c.1343-1400), the Proem to the “Parliament of Fowls”:
For out of olde feldes, as men seith,
Cometh al this newe corn fro yeer to yere;
And out of olde bokes, in good feith,
Cometh al this newe science that men lere.
But now to purpos as of this matere—
To rede forth hit gan me so delyte,
That al the day me thoughte but a lyte.
4 A boy’s best friend
is his mother: there are numerous versions of a popular song with this
title and refrain going back to the 1880s.
8 From the candle
flames of the souls of dead mothers: LZ notes D.H. Lawrence here, which
could refer to any number of works, but most likely Sons and Lovers (1913). The central mother-son relationship in this
novel, where the love of the mother overpowers the protagonist’s relations with
his lovers, has obvious parallels with “Poem beginning ‘The,’” and near the end
when the mother has died, the main protagonist goes up with a candle to see her
laid out one last time.
9 legend of thin
Christ sending her out of the temple: presumably this refers to Luke
2:41-52, where the twelve year old Jesus disappears and is found by his parents
in the Temple sitting among the teachers. When they ask him why he has treated
them in this manner, Jesus replies by asking why they have sought him out and
that he is in his Father’s house. Although Jesus leaves with them, the
implication is that he already has taken on a higher mission than obedience to
12 Tyrrhenian: sea
bounded by the western coast of Italy, Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica. LZ notes
refer to Aldous Huxley’s early satirical novel, Those Barren Leaves
(1925), set at an Italian Renaissance palace owned by a wealthy English woman
near the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea. Aspiring to rekindle the glories of the
Renaissance, she gathers artists and intellectuals who carry on lengthy
discussions that expose their superficiality. Capri, on which the island setting
of Norman Douglas’ South Wind (see
next) is based, is also in the Tyrrhenian Sea.
14 South Wind…: 1917
novel by Norman Douglas (1868-1952) set on the imaginary island of Nepenthe
(based on Capri) in the Tyrrhenian Sea where a cast of expatriate characters
converse on various contemporary cultural topics. The novel was immensely
successful on its publication during the war. The south wind is a constant
physical presence in the novel and is explicitly identified with the sirocco, strong
hot and enervating winds that blow up from north Africa.
15 the age demands an
image…: from EP, “Hugh Selwyn Mauberley: Life and Contacts,” section II of
The age demanded an image
Of its accelerated grimace,
Something for the modern stage,
Not, at any rate, an Attic grace […]
18 Mauberly’s / Luini in
porcelain: from EP, “Hugh Selwyn Mauberley” (misspelled or misprinted in
LZ’s poem), the opening line of the concluding section, “Medallion,” of Part
II. Bernardino Luini (1480-1532), Milanese painter and follower of Leonardo da
Vinci; this line in EP is usually understood as alluding to a refined but
superficial artist; see CSP 195.
18 Chelifer: Francis
Chelifer is a disillusioned poet in Aldous Huxley’s Those Barren Leaves (see 12).
19 Lovat who killed
Kangaroo: in D.H. Lawrence, Kangaroo
(1923), Richard Lovat Somers is the Lawrence character who does not literally
kill Kangaroo, a charismatic political figure, but does so in the sense of
refusing to carry on the latter’s work as he is dying in the chapter “Kangaroo
20 Stephen Daedalus with
the cane of ash: in James Joyce, The
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1915) but especially in Ulysses (1922), Stephen Daedalus rarely
appears without mention of his ashplant cane.
21 les neiges: as LZ
notes, from François Villon’s most famous line, “Mais où sont les neiges d'antan?” (Where are the snows of
yesteryear?), from the ballade, “Des dames du temps jadis.”
22 Mary’s Observations:
Marianne Moore (1887-1972), Observations
(1924) was her second book and includes many of her best-known poems.
24 Kerith is long dry…:
LZ notes here both Elijah and the Irish novelist George Moore (1852-1933),
whose novel The Brook Kerith: A Syrian
Story (1916) is one of several modernist period versions of Christ after
the Crucifixion. The primary reference is to I Kings 17:3-7, with verses 5-6
used by Moore as the epigraph to his novel: “[the Lord to Elijah:] Get thee
hence, and turn thee eastward, and hide thyself by the brook Cherith, that is
before Jordan. And it shall be, that thou shalt drink of the brook; and I have
commanded the ravens to feed thee there. So he went and did according unto the
word of the Lord: for he went and dwelt by the brook Cherith, that is before
Jordan. And the ravens brought him bread and flesh in the morning, and bread
and flesh in the evening; and he drank of the brook. And it came to pass after
a while, that the brook dried up, because there had been no rain in the land.”
27 sacred wood: T.S.
Eliot’s first volume of essays, The Sacred
alluding to Homer and Odysseus’ ten years of wandering on his journey home,
which then is extended in the following line to James Joyce, Ulysses (1922), which takes place in a
single day and involves Stephen Daedalus from The Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man (see 20).
29 bibbing: moderate
but regular drinking, to tipple.
30 O why is that to
Hecuba as Hecuba to he!: from Shakespeare, Hamlet II.ii: Hamlet’s soliloquy beginning, “O, what a rogue and
peasant slave am I,” which includes the following lines referring to an actor:
What's Hecuba to him or he to Hecuba,
That he should weep for her? What would he do
Had he the motive and cue for passion
That I have?
32 given a woman’s
intuition: Tomas suggests this may allude to Tiresias, the blind prophet
who was turned into a woman for a period by Hera. Tiresias appears in The Waste Land, and Eliot’s note states
that his perspective encompasses that of the entire poem.
33 Il y a un peu trop de
femme…: Fr. there is a bit too much of the female.
34 And on the
cobblestones, bang, bang, bang…: trams and their various noises crisscross the
cobblestone streets of Dublin throughout Ulysses.
38 O the Time is 5 / I
do!...: this passage echoes the pub closing section of T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land Part II. LZ notes what he
considered to be E.E. Cummings’ major volume of poetry, is 5 (1926), which aside from its various parodic versions of songs
and genres, may have suggested several specific details in “Poem beginning
‘The’”: the mention of Villon’s les
neiges at line 21 (see is 5 One,
VIII) and the parody of Edgar Allan Poe’s “Helen” at lines 168-182 (see is 5 One, IV).
45 For it’s the
hoo-doos, the somethin’ voo-doos: LZ notes this as “College Cheer,”
although it echoes Vachel Lindsay’s performative poem, “The Congo (A Study of
the Negro Race)” (1914), which includes variations on the chorus, “Mumbo-Jumbo
will hoo-doo you,” as well as mentioning “voo-doo.” See also next note.
46 And not Kings
onlelie, but the wisest men…: from Christopher Marlowe, Edward II, I.iv:
The mightiest kings have had their minions,
Great Alexander lovde Ephestion,
The conquering Hercules for Hilas wept,
And for Patroclus sterne Achillis droopt:
And not kings onelie, but the wisest men,
The Romaine Tullie loved Octavius,
Grave Socrates, wilde Alcibiades:
Then let his grace, whose youth is flexible,
And promiseth as much as we can wish,
Freely enjoy that vaine light-headed earle,
For riper yeares will weane him from such toyes.
Combined with the preceding line there is quite possibly a buried allusion,
since the original name of LZ’s alma mater Columbia University was, during the
colonial period, King’s College. Koichiro Yamauchi points out that these lines
are spoken by the elder Mortimer, suggesting a possible buried reference to LZ’s
Columbia classmate Mortimer J. Adler, the philosopher who apparently was often
called Plato by his friends (personal communication)—in any case he was a
passionate advocate of the classics and of the Great Books movement instigated
by John Erskine at Columbia (see note at 184).
52 Dalloway!: Mrs. Dalloway (1925), novel by Virginia
53 The blind portals
opening, and I awoke!: possibly echoing John Keats, “Ode to a Nightingale.”
56 Not by graven images
forbidden to us: referring to the prohibition among the Jews against
creating images of Jehovah; see especially the second of the Ten Commandments
in Exodus 20:4: “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any
likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath,
or that is in the water under the earth.”
59 Spinoza grinding
lenses: the Dutch Jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) was
excommunicated from the Jewish community of Amsterdam because of his views and thereafter
made his living as a lens grinder.
60 Cathedral Parkway:
runs east-west along the upper end of Central Park, a few blocks from Columbia
University, and becomes 110th Street on the east side. The year LZ wrote “Poem
beginning ‘The,’” his parents moved from the Lower East Side to 57 East 111th
Title An International Episode: as LZ
notes, the title of an 1879 novella by Henry James concerning typically
Jamesian cross-cultural encounters. The relevance of this allusion is not obvious,
although the work opens with the two young aristocratic Englishmen at the
center of the story arriving in New York and driving down Broadway.
62 Peter Out:
suggests the ending of T.S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men” (1925): “Not with a bang
but a whimper,” although this could also suit The Waste Land’s trailing off in shored fragments.
66 ’Tis, ’tis love, that
makes the world go round…: presumably echoes a popular song, of which there
are variations using this as their refrain going back at least to the early 19th
century. The line can be found in both Alice
in Wonderland and Charles Dickens’ Our
Mutual Friend, but also there was an 1896 hit song with this title by the
very popular Broadway writer-composers Clyde Fitch and William Furst. LZ
parodically notes Dante here, alluding to the ultimate vision of the Divine Comedy.
68 Jew goat-song: LZ
notes Franz Werfel (1890-1945), a Jewish German language writer, who wrote the
Expressionist play, The Goat-Song
(1921). Goat-song is the literal meaning of the Greek for “tragedy” (tragoidia). The play centers on a
half-human half-beast figure symbolizing the irrational forces that break out
in rebellion and violence. Hans Wagener notes: “In the United States the play
was first performed on 25 January 1926 by the Theatre Guild in New York. In
altogether 58 performances it became the event of the theatre season and a
considerable commercial success. On four Sunday afternoons the Guild scheduled
presentations and discussions by writers and journalists on the significance of
the play, filling the 2,000-seat theater. Werfel’s play was also hotly debated
in the press. […] Most importantly, Werfel was introduced to the American
public as an important European writer” (Understanding
Franz Werfel, U of South Carolina P, 1993): 50.
70 Not the old Greeks
anymore: LZ notes this as “University Extension,” which was a pioneering
school for non-traditional or adult students established at Columbia University
in 1904 by its long-standing president, Nicolas Murray Butler (from 1902-1945),
who was a strong proponent of the core curriculum. The following lines give a
succinct version of Platonic idealism.
74 “Il Duce: I feel God
deeply”: It. The Leader, i.e. Mussolini. In 1926 there were several
assassination attempts on Mussolini and in an interview he reported stated: “I
feel God deeply. I believe in God, I am fully convinced that those who attempt
my life cannot harm me. While God protects me no human force can stop me.”
75 Black shirts:
Mussolini’s fascist followers.
76 Lion-heart, frate mio:
although Lion-heart (Coeur de lion) refers to King Richard I (1157-1199), here
it is a pet name for LZ’s younger friend Ricky Chambers, mentioned several
times in “A”, who committed suicide
in Oct. 1926, which accounts for the funereal imagery in the following through
109 (see “A”-2.6.24, “A”-3, which is an elegy for Ricky, and
“A”-7.42.3). Frate mio: It. my
brother; the phrase appears at least twice in Dante’s Purgatorio.
110 And his heart is dry…:
as LZ notes, through 129 is a translation from the Yiddish poet Yehoash,
pseudonym of Solomon Bloomgarden (1872-1927), from the volume In the Weaving (2 vols, 1919 and 1920),
whose work includes adaptations or imitations from other languages, including Arabic,
Chinese and Japanese. Yehoash made a well-known Yiddish translation of
Longfellow’s Hiawatha, which no doubt
is the version LZ mentions reading as a boy (Autobiography 33). Here LZ translates a passage of a poem entitled
“Bakhr Esh-Shytan” in the translation by Barbara and Benjamin Harshav in Sing, Stranger: A Century of American
Yiddish Poetry, A Historical Anthology (Stanford UP, 2006): 110-112. See
also 205-223 and 318-330 for further Yehoash translations, and others are
incorporated into “A”-4.
116 asilah: an Arabic name meaning strengthened; here presumably
referring to the Bedouin’s camel. Yehoash studied and translated from classical
Arabic, and his poem is sprinkled with various Arabic terms.
132 “Tilbury”: LZ notes
Edwin Arlington Robinson, Children of the
Night (1897), which includes a number of his most famous, usually grim
poems concerning characters from the imaginary New England town of Tilbury.
132 “The West-Decline”:
as LZ notes, cf. Oswald Spengler (1880-1936), The Decline of the West (1917, 1923; English trans. vol. 1, 1926).
133 “The Happy
Quetzalcoatl”: as LZ notes, cf. D.H. Lawrence (1885-1930), The Plumed Serpent (1924) concerning an
effort to revive the Aztec worship of Quetzalcoatl, who is the supreme nature
god in Aztec religion.
141 indomitaeque morti:
as LZ notes, from Horace, Ode II.xiv: “Eheu
fugaces, Postume, Postume, labuntur anni, nec pietas moram, rugis et instanti
senaectae, adferet indomitaeque morti” (Alas, Postumus, the fleeting years
slip by, nor will piety give pause to wrinkles, to advancing old age, to unconquered death).
146 “The Dream That Knows
No Waking”: there was an 1880s popular song with this title.
161 —And r-r-run —the Sun!:
probably alluding to the final lines of Andrew Marvell, “To His Coy Mistress”:
“Thus, though we cannot make our sun / Stand still, yet we will make him run”
Title More “Renaissance”: referring to
Walter Pater (1839-1894), The Renaissance:
Studies in Art and Poetry (see 165).
163 Drop in at
Askforaclassic, Inc.: see note at 184.
165 A little frost before
sundown: LZ’s note refers to Walter Pater’s The Renaissance (1873, various
revised editions), whose brief conclusion was something of a manifesto for
English aestheticism, and here LZ is referring to most famous paragraph:
“To burn always with this hard, gem-like flame, to maintain this ecstasy, is
success in life. In a sense it might even be said that our failure is to form
habits: for, after all, habit is relative to a stereotyped world, and meantime
it is only the roughness of the eye that makes two persons, things, situations,
seem alike. While all melts under our feet, we may well grasp at any exquisite
passion, or any contribution to knowledge that seems by a lifted horizon to set
the spirit free for a moment, or any stirring of the sense, strange dyes,
strange colours, and curious odours, or work of the artist's hands, or the face
of one's friend. Not to discriminate every moment some passionate attitude in
those about us, and in the very brilliancy of their gifts some tragic dividing
on their ways, is, on this short day of frost and sun, to sleep before evening.
With this sense of the splendour of our experience and of its awful brevity,
gathering all we are into one desperate effort to see and touch, we shall
hardly have time to make theories about the things we see and touch. […] The
theory or idea or system which requires of us the sacrifice of any part of this
experience, in consideration of some interest into which we cannot enter, or
some abstract theory we have not identified with ourselves, or of what is only
conventional, has no real claim upon us.”
167 Plato’s Philo:
Philo of Alexandria was a first century Hellenized Jew who attempted to
reconcile Greek (particularly Plato) and Judaic thought through allegorical
168 Engprof, thy lecture
were to me…: through 182 are a parodic rewriting of Edgar Allan Poe, “To
Helen,” echoing key words and phrases of the original. On the “Engprof” see
note at 184:
Helen, thy beauty is to me
Like those Nicean barks of yore,
That gently, o’er a perfum’d sea,
The weary way-worn wanderer bore
To his own native shore.
On desperate seas long wont to roam,
Thy hyacinth hair, thy classic face,
Thy Naiad airs have brought me home
To the beauty of fair Greece,
And the grandeur of old Rome.
Lo! in that little window-niche
How statue-like I see thee stand!
The folded scroll within thy hand—
A Psyche from the regions which
Are Holy land!
169 roast flitches of red boar: flitches are
salted and cured side of bacon (AHD). LZ may be alluding here to the Boar’s
Head Society, named after the favorite hangout of Falstaff and his gang, which
was a student literary group that met at Columbia University’s Low Library
under the supervision of John Erskine (see note at 184) and edited the poetry
journal, The Morningside, in which LZ
frequently published poems.
176 Pater: see 165.
180 Phi Beta Key: Phi
Beta Kappa is a scholastic honors society, which uses a symbolic key as a token
of membership. LZ was elected to Phi Beta Kappa while at Columbia.
183 Poe: Edgar Allan
Poe (1809-1849). It may be relevant that John Erskine (see following note) has
a four page adulatory poem to Poe in his Collected
Poems 1907-1922 (1922).
184 Gentlemen, don’chewknow…:
LZ’s note identifies this as spoken by John Erskine (1879-1951), which
indicates that lines 164-167 are as well. Erskine was an English professor at
Columbia University, specializing in Elizabethan literature, as well as a
musician and novelist. He is best known as initiator of the Great Books Program,
which began as a General Honors course in 1920, taught using the Socratic
method and emphasized an extensive but core canon of classical texts in
translation, which it is often presumed is satirically alluded to in line 163,
“Drop in at Askforaclassic, Inc.”
185 never wrote an epic:
alluding to Poe’s claim in “The Poetic Principle” (1850) that a poetic epic is
a contradiction in terms: “[Paradise Lost],
in fact, is to be regarded as poetical, only when, losing sight of that vital
requisite in all works of Art, Unity, we view it merely as a series of minor
poems. If, to preserve its Unity—its totality of effect or impression—we read
it (as would be necessary) at a single sitting, the result is but a constant
alternation of excitement and depression. […] It follows from all this that the
ultimate, aggregate, or absolute effect of even the best epic under the sun is
a nullity; —and this is precisely the fact. […] The modern epic is, of the
supposititious ancient model, but an inconsiderate and blindfold imitation. But
the day of these artistic anomalies is over. If, at any time, any very long
poems were popular in reality—which I doubt—it is at least clear that no very
long poem will ever be popular again.”
187 Gathered mushrooms…:
LZ notes Robert Herrick (1591-1674), “To Virgins, to Make Much of Time”:
Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old time is still a-flying
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.
191 Un in hoyze is kalt:
Yiddish, “and in the house it’s cold.” LZ notes that this is a “Jewish Folk
Song.” Hana Wirth-Nesher identifies this as “Oyfn Pripetshok (or Pripitchek)”
(On the hearth), one of the best known Yiddish songs, actually composed by Mark
Warshawsky in the late 19th century although often taken to be a folk song (Call It English: The Languages of Jewish
American Literature (2005): 19). The first stanza is:
Oyfn pripetshok brent a fayerl,
Un in shtub iz heys,
Un der rebe lernt kleyne kinderlech,
(On the hearth a little fire is burning, / And it is hot in the house, /
And the rebe’s teaching the little children, / The ABC); trans. Ruth Rubin).
The song continues by entreating the children to learn the Hebrew alphabet
which they will come to understand embodies the history and sufferings of the
Jewish people and from which they can take strength in the future.
197 your Russia that is
free: the Russian Revolution took place in 1917; LZ’s parents emigrated from
what was then part of Russia (now Lithuania) in the 1890s.
199 “So then an egoist can
never embrace a party…: LZ notes the German philosopher Max Stirner
(1806-1856), The Ego and His Own
(1844; English trans. 1907):
“A party, of whatever kind it may be, can never do without a confession of
faith. For those who belong to the party must believe in its principle, it must
not be brought in doubt or put in question by them, it must be the certain,
indubitable thing for the party-member. That is: One must belong to a party
body and soul, else one is not truly a party-man, but more or less—an egoist.
Harbor a doubt of Christianity, and you are already no longer a true Christian,
you have lifted yourself to the ‘effrontery’ of putting a question beyond it
and haling Christianity before your egoistic judgment-seat. You have—sinned
against Christianity, this party cause (for it is surely not e.g. a cause for
the Jews, another party.) But well for you if you do not let yourself be
affrighted: your effrontery helps you to ownness.
So then an egoist could never embrace a
party or take up with a party? Oh, yes, only he cannot let himself be embraced
and taken up by the party. For him the party remains all the time nothing
but a gathering: he is one of the party, he takes part.
best State will clearly be that which has the most loyal citizens, and the more
the devoted mind for legality is lost, so much the more will the State, this
system of morality, this moral life itself, be diminished in force and quality.
With the ‘good citizens’ the good State too perishes and dissolves into anarchy
and lawlessness. ‘Respect for the law!’ By this cement the total of the State
is held together. ‘The law is sacred, and he who affronts it a criminal.’
Without crime no State: the moral world—and this the State is—is crammed full
of scamps, cheats, liars, thieves, etc. Since the State is the ‘lordship of
law,’ its hierarchy, it follows that the egoist, in all cases where his
advantage runs against the State's, can satisfy himself only by crime” (trans.
Steven T. Byington).
205 Winged wild geese,
where lies the passage…: through 223 a translation Yiddish of a Yiddish
poem by Yehoash (see 110) entitled “Cheshvan,” indicating a month in the Hebrew
calendar (Schimmel 243); translated as “October” by Barbara and Benjamin
Harshav in Sing, Stranger: A Century of
American Yiddish Poetry, A Historical Anthology (Stanford UP, 2006):
101-102. LZ has apparently reversed the order of the two parts of the poem,
with the opening line of the original translated at 211.
245 Dawn’t you think Trawtsky rawtaw a darrling?: Leon
Trotsky (1879-1940) Russian revolutionary leader; who at the time of this poem
was locked in a struggle with Stalin as to who would be the successor of Lenin
as leader of the USSR. LZ’s note indicates the source as Max Beerbohm, whose
book of satiric drawings, A Survey
(1921), includes one of two young society ladies, both smoking and one lying on
a sofa holding a book, with the title, “Politics,” and the caption: “‘M’dyah,
doncher think Trotsky must be rarther
a darling? Doncher think it would be rarther
divine if we had some one rarther
like him here? Isn’t there something rarther
touching about him? Of co’rse a Red Terror would be rarther awful while it larsted. But orl the same, I do think,’
245 Tchekoff: Anton
Chekhov (1860-1904), Russian fiction writer and playwright.
248 the Angles—Angels—: LZ
notes the Venerable Bede’s Anglo-Saxon Ecclesiastical
History, which gives an account of the arrival of the Germanic tribe Angli
or Angles into Britain where they settled in what became Northumbria, where
Bede lived. The identification of Angles with angels appears in a story about Pope
Gregory I who sent the first missions to Christianize Britain: “It is reported,
that some merchants, having just arrived at Rome on a certain day, exposed many
things for sale in the marketplace, and abundance of people resorted thither to
buy: Gregory himself went with the rest, and, among other things, some boys
were set to sale, their bodies white, their countenances beautiful, and their
hair very fine. Having viewed them, he asked, as is said, from what country or
nation they were brought? And was told, from the island of Britain, whose
inhabitants were of such personal appearance. He again inquired whether those
islanders were Christians, or still involved in the errors of paganism? And was
informed that they were pagans. Then fetching a deep sigh from the bottom of
his heart, ‘Alas! What pity,’ said he, ‘That the author of darkness is
possessed of men of such fair countenances; and that being remarkable for such
graceful aspects, their minds should be void of inward grace.’ He therefore
again asked, what was the name of that nation? And was answered, that they were
called Angles. ‘Right,’ said he, ‘for they have an Angelic face, and it becomes
such to be co-heirs with the Angles in heaven’” (Book II, Chap. 2, trans. L.C.
250 If I am like them in
the rest…: LZ notes Shakespeare’s The
Merchant of Venice through 265, from which he draws on passages from
back-to-back scenes in Act III (see also 262). From III.i:
Shylock: To bait fish withal: if it
will feed nothing else, it will feed my revenge. He hath disgraced me, and
hindered me half a million; laughed at my losses, mocked at my gains, scorned
my nation, thwarted my bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine enemies; and
what's his reason? I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands,
organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed with the same food, hurt
with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means,
warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you
prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us,
do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that. If a
Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrong a
Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge. The villany you teach me, I will execute,
and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction.”
253 Shagetz: or
shegetz, Yiddish, a young non-Jewish man, usually with derogatory implications
of being rough or untrustworthy.
254 Donne: John Donne
(1572-1631), whose “Elegy on the Lady Marckam” may be echoed in the following
line: “Of what small spots pure white complaines! Alas / How little poyson
cracks a christall glasse?” (Shoemaker 35).
255 leopard in their spots:
presumably from Jeremiah 13:23-25, where Jeremiah admonishes Jews who take up
foreign ways: “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots?
Therefore will I scatter them as the stubble that passeth away by the wind of
the wilderness. This is thy lot, the portion of thy measure from me, saith the
Lord; because thou hast forgotten me, and trusted in falsehood.”
256 says their Coleridge, /
Twist red hot pokers into knots: alluding to an epigram by Samuel Taylor
Coleridge (1772-1834), “On Donne’s Poetry”:
With Donne, whose muse on dromedary trots,
Wreathe iron pokers into true-love knots;
Rhyme's sturdy cripple, fancy's maze and clue,
Wit's forge and fire-blast, meaning's press and screw.
villainy they teach me…: see note at 250.
262 It is engendered in the
eyes…: through 265 from a song or madrigal in Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice III.ii, sung
while Bassanio is deciding on which casket to choose (this song is quoted 3
times in Bottom 60, 175, 286):
Tell me where is Fancy bred,
Or in the heart, or in the head?
How begot, how nourishèd?
It is engender’d in the eyes;
With gazing fed; and Fancy dies
In the cradle where it lies.
Let us all ring Fancy's knell;
I'll begin it, —Ding-dong, bell.
266 I, Senora, am the Son
of the Respected Rabbi…: from Heinrich Heine (1797-1856), last stanza of
the ballad “Donna Clara,” in which the mysterious ideal lover of the
aristocratic and virulently anti-Semitic Donna Clara reveals his identity:
Ich, Sennora, Eur Geliebter,
bin der Sohn des vielbelobten,
großen, schriftgelehrten Rabbi
Israel von Saragossa.
I, Senora, your beloved,
Am the son of the respected,
Worthy, erudite Grand Rabbi,
Israel of Saragossa. (trans. Emma Lazarus)
Kadish wird man sagen: from Heinrich Heine, “Gedächtnisfeier”:
Keine Messe wird man singen,
keinen Kadosch wird man sagen.
Nichts gesagt und nichts gesungen
wird an meinen Sterbetagen.
No mass will be sung,
No Kaddish will be said,
Nothing said nor sung
On my deathdays. (trans. Margit Waas)
270 Under the cradle the
white goat stands, mother…: from a well-known Yiddish lullaby, “Raisins and
Almonds” (Schimmel 244), from Abraham Goldfaden’s 1880 romantic operetta Shulamis (Shulamith):
Under Baby’s cradle in the night
Stands a goat so soft and snowy white
The Goat will go to the market
To bring you wonderful treats
He’ll bring you raisins and almonds
Sleep, my little one, sleep.
Although famous on its own, the lullaby was originally part of a longer song,
in which the mother goes on to prophesize that the baby will become a rich
merchant. It seems likely Zukofsky was familiar with the operetta or at least
its songs since he clearly refers to its story at 280: Shulamith, having gotten
lost in the desert and then trapped in a well, is rescued by Absolom, who pledges
to marry her, calling on the “the cat and the well” as his witnesses—a promise
he fails to keep. Goldfaden (1840-1908) would undoubtedly have been a familiar
name to LZ in his youth as he is considered the founder of Yiddish theatre and
lived the last few years of his life in NYC, where on his death the New York Times called him the “Yiddish
Shakespeare.” There are numerous translations of Goldfaden’s lullaby, but
presumably Zukofsky made his own adaptation.
277 Tophet: city near
Jerusalem particularly identified with the worship of Molech and its practice
of sacrificing children. LZ possibly has in mind Jeremiah 19:14-15: “Then came
Jeremiah from Tophet, whither the Lord had sent him to prophesy; and he stood
in the court of the Lord’s house; and said to all the people, Thus saith the
Lord of hosts, the God of Israel; Behold, I will bring upon this city and upon
all her towns all the evil that I have pronounced against it, because they have
hardened their necks, that they might not hear my words.”
280 Shulamite: the
female beloved in Song of Solomon, but here the central character in
Goldfaden’s Shulamis (see 270).
281 In my faith, in my
hope, and in my love…: as LZ notes, through 285 from Henrik Ibsen
(1828-1906), the dramatic poem Peer Gynt
(1867), a satiric fantasy; LZ is quoting the translation of William and Charles
Archer (1892). Lines 281-283 are from a lullaby at the very end of the play
sung by Solveig to comfort Peer—although Solveig is not literally his mother,
he refers to her here as “mother and wife,” although earlier in the play he had
abandoned her. Lines 284-285 are from the end of Act III: the stage direction
indicates Peer’s action at the moment of his mother’s death, and then the
following line is his subsequent remark as he is about to set off on aimless
288 The Royal Stag is
abroad, / I am gone out hunting…: unidentified; LZ notes as “Popular
291 Angles: see 248.
292 faisant un petit bruit,
mais très net: Fr. makes a little noise, but very neat.
295 katydid: a type of
American grasshopper, whose name is onomatopoeic of the distinctive loud noise
it makes, as mimicked in the following line, with euphemistic suggestion as
305 Baedekera Schönberg: the usual assumption is that
this refers to the Viennese Jewish composer Arnold Schönberg (1874-1951), who
pioneered atonal music in the early decades of the 20th century (Tomas 59).
However, in context this is perhaps simply a parodic European (and gentile) sounding
female name. Baedekera suggesting the famous Baedeker series of travel books,
mentioned in T.S. Eliot’s “Burbank with Baedeker: Bleistein with a Cigar”
(1920), and thus a tourist perspective on high culture. Schönberg literally means beautiful mountain.
309 Our God immortal such
Life as is our God: LZ notes this line as from Bach and also from “Myself.”
This line as well as the phrase “errant star” at 311 are from a 1925 poem, “For
a Thing by Bach,” apparently a translation or adaptation of a Bach text that LZ
published in Pagany (Oct.-Dec. 1930)
and also quoted many years later in “A”-18.391.12-17.
310 Bei dein Zauber, by thy
magic: as LZ notes, from Beethoven, Ninth
Symphony, fourth movement (Ode to Joy): “By thy magic is united what stern
custom parted wide, / All mankind are brothers plighted, / Where thy gentle
wings abide” (Schiller’s text).
311 Open Sesame, Ali Baba,
I, thy firefly…: although LZ’s note identifies these two lines as also from
Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (see
previous note), they are from Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s orchestral suite, Scheherezade (1888), based on tales from
the Arabian Nights (Tomas 59).
313 O my son Sun, my son,
my son…: see David’s lament for Absalom in II Samuel 18:33: “And the king
was much moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept: and as he
went, thus he said, O my son
Absalom, my son, my son Absalom!
would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!” (Tomas
meinen grossen leiden mach ich die kleinen lieder: from the first stanza of
a Heinrich Heine song set by various composers”
Aus meinen großen Schmerzen
mach ich die kleinen Lieder;
die heben ihr klingend Gefieder
und flattern nach ihrem Herzen.
my great sorrows
I make small songs;
they lift their ringing feathers
and flutter to her heart. (trans. Emily Ezust)
318 By the wrack we shall
sing our Sun-song…: through 330 adapted from Yehoash’s “Oif di Churvos” (On the Ruins); see 110.
Schimmel points out that LZ changes the original “I” to “we.”