28 October 2013

Poem of the Week 2013/44

Here's one for Halloween week: Joan la Pucelle Invokes Her Devils

Alarum. Excursions. Enter Joan la Pucelle.

The Regent conquers, and the Frenchmen fly.
Now help, ye charming spells and periapts,
And ye choice spirits that admonish me
And give me signs of future accidents.
You speedy helpers, that are substitutes
Under the lordly monarch of the north,
Appear and aid me in this enterprise.
Enter Fiends.
This speedy and quick appearance argues proof
Of your accustomed diligence to me.
Now, ye familiar spirits, that are culled
Out of the powerful regions under earth,
Help me this once, that France may get the field.
They walk, and speak not.
O, hold me not with silence over-long!
Where I was wont to feed you with my blood,
I'll lop a member off and give it you
In earnest of a further benefit,
So you do condescend to help me now.
They hang their heads.
No hope to have redress? My body shall
Pay recompense, if you will grant my suit.
They shake their heads.
Cannot my body nor blood-sacrifice
Entreat you to your wonted furtherance?
Then take my soul; my body, soul, and all,
Before that England give the French the foil.
They depart.
See, they forsake me! Now the time is come
That France must vail her lofty plumèd crest
And let her head fall into England's lap.
My ancient incantations are too weak,
And hell too strong for me to buckle with.
Now, France, thy glory droopeth to the dust.

William Shakespeare, Henry VI, Part One, Act V, scene iii, ll 1-29

Pucelle is French for virgin (there are many sly, flirty jokes by Joan and members of the French court indicating this title is just for show). Periapts in the second line means charms or amulets. The lordly monarch of the North is Satan; as noted last week, evil spirits were traditionally associated with the frozen wastelands of the globe's north. Buckle in the second-to-last line means struggle. Like most early Shakespeare, this is fairly direct, clear verse; he grew more complex, knotted, and vast as he grew older – not just in his poetry, but with his characters. Part of his enormous vitality as a playwright comes from his giving us more than the character really needs for his or her part in the story: there are odd lines that act as strange little flashes, illuminating a character's whole psyche. A famous example is Shylock's lament when he hears that his runaway daughter Jessica has traded a valuable ring for a pet monkey: "I had it of Leah when I was a bachelor. I would not have given it for a wilderness of monkeys." Leah is otherwise unmentioned, but presumably she is his now dead wife and the mother of the heedless runaway daughter; there's bizarre comedy in the "wilderness of monkeys" – comedy which endears the speaker to us – but also a depth of emotional attachment to his late wife that goes far beyond the stage stereotype of a miserly money-lending Jew – contrast this complexity with Marlowe's Barabas in The Jew of Malta, who is much more straightforward, though he does also have an energetic determination and a gleeful delight in his own villainy that are strangely appealing, much as Shakespeare's Richard III does.

Richard III, defeated in battle by Elizabeth I's grandfather, brings us to the political aspect of this play for its contemporary audience. Yes, what we have here is the English Renaissance/Tudor dynasty view of Joan of Arc, who had done so much to boot the English out of France about a hundred years earlier – in their minds, to accomplish that she obviously would have to be in league with Satan. Joan was basically their equivalent of a fanatical suicide bomber: driven by an alien faith to defend her homeland against what she saw as interlopers, who considered themselves not only well-intentioned but more capable and more honorable than the natives. I wouldn't really call Shakespeare's history plays propaganda – they're too complex and independent for that – but, not unreasonably, they do generally reflect the standard interpretation of his time, however subtly he undercuts some of the narratives (for example, I've always felt that Henry V, usually considered a celebratory pageant, has a questioning, satirical vein running through it). As a cultural and political antagonist, standing against their enlightened rule, Joan is linked in the eyes of a Tudor audience with the Satanic – quite directly linked, since she shows all the classic signifiers of witchdom: easy communion and bodily intimacy with evil spirits, a willingness to surrender her immortal soul for earthly aims, an ultimate defeat by the devils, who always win in the end against those who think they can bargain with them.

Shakespeare's portrayal of Joan is not exactly rich in those generous extra lines that flesh out a character's whole world, but it is clear that she is motivated by a patriotic love of France; so this devotion to her native land must have made at least some in the audience wonder why she should be condemned for what is considered virtuous in the English. It's useful to remember that the borders between countries were much more fluid then than they are now, depending as they did on marriage alliances and dynastic succession as well as fighting; England's rule over parts of France isn't quite straightforward imperialism, and there really wasn't a single political/cultural entity called "France" that coincides with what we think of as "France" (Germany and Italy were also more a collection of occasionally quarrelsome states). In his own play on Joan, Shaw makes the point that she represents something new in the concept of nationhood. Anyway, Joan in Shakespeare's play is pretty clearly a whore and a witch, and once we get past the shock of seeing the beloved and fascinating Saint Joan portrayed that way (remember that she was not canonized until 1920, almost 500 years after her death, and this is a play written in the country she had fairly recently helped defeat), her character here is actually another of those strangely appealing Elizabethan villains, much more lively and clever than the stolid English with their dull concern with their honor. But my sympathies may say more about my own lack of honor and patriotic sentiment.

I felt slightly guilty posting this, since I've always been fascinated by Saint Joan. On my one trip to France, many years ago, I made a point of going up to Rouen, not just to see the Cathedral Monet painted over and over under different weather and lighting conditions for each canvas, but to see the remaining sites associated with Joan's imprisonment and death. There is only one squat stone tower remaining from the fortress where she was held prisoner. I spent a beautiful rainy afternoon wandering around in it, with the whole place to myself. So I had some hesitation here, but I wanted to post something seasonal other than the usual Weird Sisters from Macbeth, and Halloween, like Carnival, is a time of licensed transgression, so here she is, our saint consorting with their demons. I took this passage from the Signet Classic edition of Henry VI, Part One, but I'm going to expiate this post by mentioning some other works on Joan worth looking into: Shaw's great play Saint Joan, mentioned above; Dreyer's great film, The Passion of Joan of Arc, and Marina Warner's Joan of Arc: The Image of Female Heroism, which I liked a lot when I read it many years ago.

21 October 2013

Poem of the Week 2013/43

The Patient Witch

A lady called the Patient Witch
Lived near us long ago.
Our servants gave her off and on
A bit of coin or so,
To tell them what their dreams could mean,
And if their loves were true;
To study out their palms and say –
"A palace waits for you."
And then she always was polite,
And said, "How do you fare?
I hope your little girl is well,"
With a most pleasant air.
She mumbled much, we knew not what –
Each afternoon would wait
Beside the guide-post to the west
For some exalted fate.
She looked down every road as though
A stately coach was due,
To bear her home to somewhere else,
To folks she really knew.
"One evening," said a little boy,
The only one anigh,
"She told me pretty stories, and
She kissed my curls goodbye,
And turned into a swan and spread
Her white wings big and wide.
And flew and flew into the sky!
And I came home and cried."

Vachel Lindsay

I thought I'd head into the haunted weeks of late October with this strange and lovely poem by early twentieth-century American poet Vachel Lindsay. In some ways the title character is a traditional witch: a strange, mumbling, isolated old woman (this view is based on historical reality; see John Putnam Demos's Entertaining Satan). In other ways, she seems as much an oddity among witches as she is among her neighbors: for one thing, she's patient, rather than bad-tempered. She's polite, and has a pleasant air. Lindsay deftly sketches in the social setting: it's the (presumably less educated) servants who like to have their fortunes told; clearly there is no real palace waiting for them, but who knows what "a palace waits for you" might mean to a young servant? And they must be young, since they're asking about their loves and their futures. It's all harmless carnival fun. There's the air of a fairy tale about the whole thing; it happened "long ago" in a house with servants (the contemporary equivalent of the castles which she promises the servants after reading their palms). We hear about the "witch" only indirectly: from the servants, and later from a little boy. The somewhat archaic, childhood air is strengthened by Lindsay's use of traditional ballad meter (the steady 4-3-4-3 beat of the quatrains, with their regularly recurring rhymes).

Halfway through we switch from this scene of local color to something stranger. Right after hearing of the old woman's pleasant air, we hear she constantly mumbled, but no one really knows what she's saying – is it incoherent? unintelligible? are they just not listening closely enough? During actual witch-hunts, many real-life old women must have been done to death for their mysterious mumbling. Here it serves more to emphasize something solitary, isolated, not-understood about the old woman. The traditional region of witches is the cold North, for reasons that would probably take a Golden-Bough-sized volume to explain, but here she's waiting by a "guide-post to the west": a guide-post, as if she's seeking direction, and the west, associated with the forward movement of the sun, and so by implication with the future, but also with the setting of the sun, and so with night, darkness, silence, and death. A coach, stately or otherwise, would already have been an anachronism when this poem was written, so her awaiting one helps emphasize the old woman's dislocation from her surroundings. Then we have the poignant statement that her home is "somewhere else" – wherever that is, clearly it isn't where she is now, and no matter how much she is patronized by the servants, she is nowhere near "folks she really knew."

The only witness to her end is a little boy: is he the child of one of the servants? or the son of the people in the big house who speak of "our servants"? Is he the narrator, long ago, when he was a child? Is he just a boy who happened by? Is he old enough to distinguish fact from fairy tale? The narration of the witch's end by this uncertain story-teller takes on a dreamy distance because of our uncertainty about who this boy is and how accurate he is. Again, she is unlike traditional witches; she is affectionate rather than threatening to the child, entertaining him with pretty stories, and though she is linked to uncanny forces, they are less supernatural than Natural: there is no whiff of the sulfurous Satanic about her, or the black robes of the usual witch; instead, she turns into a white swan and flies away. Is this what she has been patiently awaiting? White is often associated with purity and innocence (not always in good ways; it can also imply cowardice, and inappropriate naivete). Swans are famously beautiful and graceful (I wonder if the shadow of Andersen's Ugly Duckling, who turned into a beautiful swan, went into this particular choice of bird?); they are also associated with death: according to legend, they sing only once in their lives, right before they die. Is her flight the child's version of her death? Or his vision of her rebirth? The odd misfit old woman, this strange resident stranger, redeems herself into something beautiful, magnificent, legendary. She flies away, free, and a lone little boy cries. How can those tears not alter the man he will become?

I took this poem from Poems Bewitched and Haunted, edited by the late John Hollander, in the Everyman's Library Pocket Poets series.

14 October 2013

Poem of the Week 2013/42

Once again, it's been a little gloomy here, so I thought I would switch things up. Our first number this week is from the musical Chicago. The Prison Matron, "Mama" Morton, informs the young ladies in her charge on Murderers Row how things work under her:

When You're Good to Mama

Ask any of the chickies in my pen;
They'll tell you I'm the biggest mother . . . hen;
I love them all and all of them love me,
Because the system works, the system called: rec-i-proc-i-ty.

Got a little motto, always sees me through:
When you're good to Mama, Mama's good to you!

There's a lot of favors I'm prepared to do;
You do one for Mama, she'll do one for you.

They say that life is tit for tat, and that's the way I live;
So I deserve a lot of tat for what I've got to give!

Don't you know that this hand washes that one too?
When you're good to Mama, Mama's good to you.

If you want my gravy, pepper my ragout;
Spice it up for Mama, she'll get hot for you.

When they pass that basket folks contribute to,
You put in for Mama, she'll put out for you;

The folks atop the ladder are the ones the world adores;
So boost me up my ladder, kid, and I'll boost you up yours;

Let's all stroke together, like a Princeton crew;
When you're strokin' Mama, Mama's strokin' you!

So what's the one conclusion I can bring this number to?
When you're good to Mama, Mama's good to you!

Fred Ebb (John Kander wrote the music)

It's all very reliant on double entendres, though some of the entrendres can seem pretty single when they're naked on the page. But basically this is what Shaw said about the bawdy badinage of Beatrice and Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing: he found the substance of their quips dull, vulgar, and obvious, but the poetry and music of their phrasing elevated them to art. With songs like the ones I'm posting here, the wit is not so much in what they're saying, which is usually pretty obvious, as in the sense of swift, comical puns and flashing, unexpected twists of meaning. The music and the individual performer can really bring out such elements as the semi-buried pun on "tit" in the "tit for tat" lines, or the jokes about "getting hot" and "putting out" and "up yours." On the original Broadway cast album (from which I transcribed the lyrics), Mary McCarty has a very bawdy, red-hot-mama approach. Queen Latifah played Mama Morton in the 2002 film; she's interesting casting, since there's something inherently elegant and refined about Latifah that makes the song more sly than raunchy. Both performances work quite well. I find the line about the Princeton crew particularly hilarious. Maybe it's the contrast between the setting and the wholesome Frank Merriwell implications of "Princeton crew" (yes, I know Frank was a Yale man; in this context, same difference). An Ivy League crew team may seem like a high-falutin' reference to use in a Chicago prison, but actually it's a deft bit of scene-setting; collegiate sports were extremely popular in 1920s America, when the musical takes place.

Incidentally I've never seen the musical Chicago on stage, though I watched the movie recently. I have seen the 1927 silent version (Chicago) and the 1942 Ginger Rogers version (Roxie Hart) of the original, non-musical, play, so I'm familiar with the story. The big flaw with the movie version is Renee Zellweger's awful performance as Roxie (not sure if the blame belongs with her, director Rob Marshall, or both). In the other versions, Roxie may be a venal, shallow, mendacious, manipulative gold-digger (and a killer), but she's also brassy and funny and oddly likeable. Zellweger is self-pitying and mean-spirited and thinks she's a victim and basically she's just playing the wrong kind of stupid.

We had a song for Mama, so here's one for Daddy:

My Heart Belongs to Daddy

I used to fall in love with all
Those boys who maul refined ladies,
But now I tell each young gazelle
To go to Hell . . . I mean Hades!
For since I came to care for such a sweet millionaire:

While tearing off a game of golf,
I may make a play for the caddie,
But when I do, I don't follow through,
'Cause my heart belongs to Daddy.

If I invite a boy some night
To dine on my fine finnan haddie,
I just adore his asking for more,
But my heart belongs to Daddy.

Yes, my heart belongs to Daddy
So I simply couldn't be bad,
Yes, my heart belongs to Daddy,
So I want to warn you laddie,
Though I know you're perfectly swell,
That my heart belongs to Daddy
'Cause my Daddy, he treats it so well –
He treats it and treats it and then he repeats it,
Yes, Daddy, he treats it so well.

St Patrick's Day, although I may
Be seen wearing green with a Paddy,
I'm always sharp when playing the harp,
'Cause my heart belongs to Daddy.

Though other dames at football games
May long for a strong undergraddie,
I never dream of making the team
'Cause my heart belongs to Daddy.

Yes, my heart belongs to Daddy
So I simply couldn't be bad,
Yes, my heart belongs to Daddy,
So I want to warn you laddie,
Though I simply hate to be frank
That I can't be mean to Daddy,
'Cause my da-da-da-Daddy might spank –
In matters artistic, he's not modernistic,
So da-da-da-Daddy might spank.

Cole Porter

Mary Martin became a star for singing this, in a musical called Leave It to Me, in 1938. She famously and repeatedly claimed she had no idea at all what the song really meant when she first sang it, and my mother for one is calling shenanigans on that particular claim: if she, with her sheltered upbringing and convent schooling, knew right away what the song was about when she heard it, then how clueless would Martin have to be not to know? And indeed if she truly didn't know you have to wonder what she thought this barrage of clever rhymes actually meant.

"Harp" in the St Patrick's Day stanza puns on an old-fashioned slang term for an Irishman. I felt I should explain that, since I think it's not a term used much anymore, and the line always cracks me up. I suppose it's a bit of a pejorative term, but since it references Ireland's legendary bards, I, as a partial Irishman by ancestry, am not for one going to take much offense.

There are probably other version of these lyrics floating around but I transcribed these from the Bolcom and Morris performance on Night and Day: The Cole Porter Album, and their scholarly imprimatur is enough for me. It's odd now to remember that I was mildly surprised long ago to learn that Bolcom was a composer, as well as a performer of American popular song with his wife, mezzo Joan Morris.

07 October 2013

Pergolesi in Naples in Berkeley

Sunday was one of those unpleasantly hot days that smear through the occasional week here in the Bay Area. Fortunately it had cooled down by the time I arrived at First Congregational Church in Berkeley for the last concert in the first series of Philharmonia Baroque's new, thirty-third, season. Each concert this year concentrates on a particular city; last night it was Naples, with an emphasis on Pergolesi, though Handel also made an appearance, thanks to his stay in that musically influential city, as did Francesco Durante, Pergolesi's teacher. The centerpiece was in the second half, Pergolesi's famous Stabat Mater. Nicholas McGegan conducted.

The first half was framed by orchestral pieces, opening with the sinfonia from Pergolesi's opera L'Olimpiade, and closing with Durante's Concerto for Strings No. 2 in G minor. There were not actually all that many players up on the stage, but they produce an opulent, full sound. I enjoyed the coruscating elegancies of the baroque. There was a pause after the first piece, when a couple of latecomers were seated. The concert started at 7:30, but really would have been better off starting at 7:00, for the benefit of those of us who have not yet reached the bliss of retirement. Handel vocal selections came as the creamy filling between the orchestral numbers.

David Daniels and Carolyn Sampson were the soloists. Daniels is of course well known, the standard bearer and the standard for a generation of countertenors. He was in rich voice last night. But like the flighty lively crowds of Naples pleasure-seekers that McGegan invoked (at least in my mind) at the start of the concert, I was swept up by what was new to me, so with no disrespect intended to Daniels I'm going to go on about Sampson. If I've heard her before, it's been on recordings where I didn't really pay attention to the list of singers (which is not unusual for me; sorry, I'm generally more about composer and work). She was sensational, with a beautiful limpid soprano. She's an attractive blonde with a glam presence; she came out in a long dark red gown with black trim and a sparkling necklace. The dress was strapless and my first thought was, She looks great but I hope she puts a shawl on before the Stabat Mater, so I guess the Carmelite Sisters of Charity who taught in my grammar school did their work well. (To put you out of your suspense right now, she came out for the second half with a black bolero jacket over her dress, looking still stylish but also appropriate – well done!)

Daniels and Sampson sang two Handel duets, with a solo apiece in between. First was Io t'abbraccio from Rodelinda, followed by Daniels in Dove sei from the same opera; then Sampson sang Da tempeste from Giulio Cesare, followed by Caro/Bella from the same opera. It was all very satisfying but Sampson's solo turn was for me the highlight; she not only sang beautifully but she caught the character of Cleopatra perfectly; this was a woman for whom flirting was like breathing, with a pleasing teasing tone. The lively extravagance of her ornamentation in the repeats was quite seductive.

Obviously a different tone was called for after the intermission, with the lyrical passion of the Stabat Mater, the antique prayer meditating upon Mary's suffering at the foot of the cross. There was more program rustling for this part, which was unfortunate though expected. Oddly the program had the first stanza of the poem on the bottom of the same page that had the aria texts, though there was plenty of room to put the entire text with translation of the Stabat Mater on the next two pages, which would have reduced the rustling. Even better would be to use supertitles. The performance flowed swiftly, with fluid intensity. We were nearing the end ("Fac ut portem Christi mortem, / passionis fac me sortem / et plagas recolere" : "Grant that I may bear the death of Christ, / grant me the fate of His passion / and the remembrance of His wounds") when a fairly powerful earthquake jolted the building. A momentary look of panic spread across some faces but the performers carried on without a pause. On the whole, the evening was a sumptuous immersion in the warmth of the Italian baroque. The next city, to be explored 15 - 19 November, is an unusual and interesting choice for a baroque ensemble: St Petersburg. Check it out here, especially if you're one of those looking for new adventures in old music.

Poem of the Week 2013/41

Sonnet. On Being Cautioned against Walking on an Headland Overlooking the Sea, because it was Frequented by a Lunatic

Is there a solitary wretch who hies

   To the tall cliff, with starting pace or slow,
And, measuring, views with wild and hollow eyes
   Its distance from the waves that chide below;
Who, as the sea-born gale with frequent sighs
   Chills his cold bed upon the mountain turf,
With hoarse, half-uttered lamentations, lies
   Murmuring responses to the dashing surf?
In moody sadness, on the giddy brink,
   I see him more with envy than with fear;
He has no nice felicities that shrink
   From giant horrors; wildly wandering here,
He seems (uncursed with reason) not to know
The depth or the duration of his woe.

Charlotte Smith

This poem was published in England in 1797. The French Revolution had begun in 1789 with the destruction of the royal prison, the Bastille, and as the country across the channel slowly descended from talk of liberty and the Rights of Man into the murderous convulsions of the Reign of Terror (convulsions which ended around 1794, to be replaced by a slow crawl towards Napoleon's dictatorship and a new series of wars), both the inhabitants and the government of Great Britain were increasingly aware of the impoverished, the lowly, the struggling, the beggars and cripples, the miserable and crazy and usually invisible in their midst – aware of them not only as individuals deserving sympathy and understanding instead of ridicule and condemnation, but also deserving of dignity. There was also a growing and linked awareness that they were a potentially dangerous social force, an angry mob-in-the-making, like the ones in France that had killed the king. (Never mind that the British had killed their own king in 1649 and been ruled by their own dictator for a while; they had later reverted to monarchy, and times had changed.) A changing attitude towards the dispossessed led what we might call the possessed, particularly the government, to keep a watchful wary eye on those who seemed too interested in French ideas about liberty, equality, and fraternity. The world was looking much more unstable. It was a jittery time.

In 1798, the year after this poem was first published, Wordsworth and Coleridge published the first (anonymous) edition of Lyrical Ballads, a collection that not only concentrated on what we might these days call "the marginalized" as suitable subjects for poetry – no fine ladies and witty gentlemen, no gods, but only the humble, the poor, farmers, fishermen, "idiot" children, mumbling old women in crooked country lanes – but did so in language that was mostly radically stripped down, sounding much more colloquial than people expected when they picked up a book that called itself "poetry."

One of the fascinating things to me about this particular sonnet is how it joins two eras; it still uses the elevated, slightly formal diction of the eighteenth century, but presages the coming Romantic movement in literature, with its interest in wandering, melancholy, alienation, and insanity: a wild subject held fast in a traditional form. I've sketched broadly some of the political, social, and artistic currents informing the time, but of course there's more than that going on; this also seems like an intensely personal poem, with an unusual approach to an unusual subject. The biographical headnote for Smith in my source for this poem (Eighteenth-Century Women Poets: An Oxford Anthology, edited by Roger Lonsdale) states that one reason for her "considerable reputation" was "an intense but mysterious melancholy. . . ." and this quality is much in evidence in her other poems in the collection.

In addition to inner alienation, and the unavoidable social currents that form the figurative air we breathe and shape the thoughts we think, there might be other literary influences: this is just a feeling of mine, but this sonnet – with its cold winds blasting the beetling cliff, the dangerous waves far below, its wandering hollow-eyed lunatic, and particularly its deeper consideration of whether insanity is not perhaps the appropriate response to our existence – reminds me of King Lear, particularly the scenes in which Edgar, disguised as the mad Poor Tom, guides his newly blinded father Gloucester to the cliffs of Dover.

The sonnet is of the type usually described as Italian or Spenserian, meaning it consists of an octave and a sestet in iambic pentameter (as opposed to the English or Shakespearean form, consisting of three quatrains and a concluding couplet, again in iambic pentameter). The octave is taken up with a vivid description of the lunatic and his setting; they seem inextricably linked and mixed, the waves and winds sighing and chiding as if they had human voices, the lunatic responding in incoherent murmurs (like the waves of the sea) and hoarse, inarticulate cries. He seems oddly more connected to the natural world than any rational person would be (a reminder that lunatics were also known as "naturals" in an earlier era). He is a "solitary wretch" but the headlands also seem solitary and, to sophisticated urban eyes, wretched: isolated from humans, stripped down to essentials. The description is so detailed that we can feel that the poet's imagination has been drawn in an empathetic way to the wandering madman (and bear in mind that earlier in that century it had been common practice to go to madhouses to laugh at or moralize upon the behaviors of the insane).

The opening line of the sestet ("In moody sadness, on the giddy brink") is where the poem really turns; after the first eight lines, we would initially assume that Smith is continuing her description of the lunatic, but the next line begins with (and so the preceding line must modify) I. And it is only then that we realize that she is now describing not the lunatic but herself; her grammar shapes our understanding, linking her with the lunatic she had been warned against. She then makes the startling, offbeat announcement that she envies rather than fears this wretched outcast, for two somewhat contradictory reasons. First: he is released from social conventions (the "nice felicities") and free to experience the "giant horrors" of life, instead of shrinking from them as in polite, conventional, rational society. These horrors might be the existential terrors that visit us in dark and half-dreaming states, or perhaps the sort of political paranoia and persecution that had seized France and was threatening England. But then she also says she envies him because his lunacy prevents him from understanding "the depth or the duration of his woe": reason is seen not as the ultimate human blessing, as in the Enlightenment, but instead is described as a curse; at least the lunatic, "uncursed by reason," is better off than the poet, since he seems not to know "the depth or the duration of his woe."