Monday, February 13, 2017

Two Homeric similes

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of Toys, and St. Nicholas too. --Poems by Clement C. Moore
In addition to the prime example of Homeric or epic simile in "A Visit from St. Nicholas," the poetical device is exemplified (albeit for mock-heroic effect) Moore's "Lines Addressed to the Young Ladies who Attended Mr. Chilton's Lectures in Natural Philosophy, Anno 1804-5":

For, as a fluid vainly strives to save
A heavier mass from sinking in its wave,
So, in the mind made up of trifles light,
All weighty truths, o'erwhelm'd sink out of sight--Mr. Chilton's Lectures
The trigram "out of sight" occurs also in Moore's "A Visit from St. Nicholas." Speaking of trigrams, I notice that MacDonald P. Jackson undercounts Moore's, in part by not including "Charles Elphinstone" in the Moore data set. Jackson reports that "to the skies" occurs 3x but a quick search at Mary Van Deusen's Searchable Text for Moore poems yields 5 hits for "to the skies":
May thy glad spirit to the skies ascend  --Jeanette / New Year
He mounts in spirit to the skies.  --The Organist
The zephyrs bore me to the skies:  --To the Nymphs of Mount Harmony
On soaring pinions to the skies.  --Old Dobbin
She follow'd, soon, her brother to the skies.  --Charles Elphinstone
Also, the trigram "not a word" occurs twice in Moore's poetry--not once as Jackson reports, failing to  include one instance in "Charles Elphinstone":
"She utter'd not a word; but such a flush..."  --Charles Elphinstone
Notice the larger parallel structure here, in which the pronoun + past-tense verb "utter'd" grammatically matches "he spoke" in "A Visit from St Nicholas."

Jackson credits Henry Livingston, Jr. only with the shared trigram of "the top of," ignoring two instances in Moore's manuscript poem "Irish Valentine":
"The top of the morn to ye! this blessed day,"  --Irish Valentine
"And I thought it was best, at the top of my letter,"  --Irish Valentine
So here's something else that merits further investigation with an improved methodology, testing to see if Moore's manuscript poems including "Charles Elphinstone" and Biography of the heart of Clement C. Moore exhibit any other trigrams shared with "A Visit from St. Nicholas."

Bingo! got one: "in a moment." Another: "the breast of," 2x. Yet another in Elphinstone: "of his eye." And another! but not in "Charles Elphinstone," this one features a SIMILE AND TRIGRAM that Jackson missed somehow in the last of Moore's lovely "Lines Written after a Snow-Storm": "transient as the snow). In Moore's The Pig and the Rooster, Jackson either missed or wrongly excluded the trigram "turn'd with a"; Moore's Pig "turn'd [turned] with a grunt" like Moore's Santa "turned with a jerk." With more complete and accurate counts, the evidence of trigrams overwhelmingly supports Moore's authorship of "A Visit from St. Nicholas."

But getting back to similes. A Visit from St. Nicholas brings a sackful, 11 similes in 56 lines:
  1.  "I flew like a flash"
  2. coursers "More rapid than eagles"
  3. "As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly... [Homeric or epic simile]
  4. "And he looked like a pedler just opening his pack."
  5. "his cheeks were like roses"
  6. "his nose like a cherry"
  7.  mouth "drawn up like a bow"
  8. "the beard of his chin was as white as the snow"
  9. "the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath"
  10. "like a bowlful of jelly"
  11.  "And away they all flew like the down of a thistle."
Generally sparing with similes, Henry Livingston, Jr. tends to employ figurative language without using "like" or "as." When they do occur in his Rebuses and elsewhere, similes are often cliched: quick as lightning (As on a summer's fervid day); "high as the stars" (Monarchs Rebus); "keen as the thorn yet as sweet as the rose" in War Rebus; and again sweet as roses in "To Miss ----- -----." Delightful exceptions are the fashionable hair-do that "swells like a knoll" in "Acknowledgment,"and Aunt Amy's leaping "like an otter" into his brother's arms, as Livingston conceives the scene in his verse "letter to my brother Beekman." Another one worth noting is the arithmetical simile using "than," where Livingston wishes master Timmy Dwight the fractionally bigger lunch: "More than Ben's as five to three." The profusion of similes in The writing of Hezekiah seems unusual for Livingston and possibly indicates a different writer.

The use of similes by Moore and Livingston invites statistical analysis for relative rates of frequency. Frequency rates for the use of similes could supply an interesting and valuable kind of internal evidence of their different poetical styles. The raw counts for the word like in Mary Van Deusen's Searchable Text for Moore and Searchable Text for Livingston are spectacularly revealing of the essential difference, even allowing for Moore's larger corpus of work and inevitable deductions from both totals for non-comparative usages.
"LIKE" raw count
Moore = 140  [excluding by my count 5 instances = 135]
Livingston = 18  [excluding 1 =  17, + 23 for Henry Plus = 40 absolute max]
(Henry Plus = 23)
The extended simile, a characteristic feature of Moore's narrative verse, is not in Livingston's repertoire of poetical devices. Nothing in Livingston's entire body of known poetry suggests that he could have written the Homeric simile in "A Visit from St Nicholas," comparing the upward flight of Santa's "coursers" (Moore's word in A Trip to Saratoga, used nowhere by Livingston) to the natural phenomenon of windblown leaves.

Indeed, Livingston seldom works in a straightforward narrative mode. He is more typically a poet of emblematic situations and conceits. Most characteristically, Livingston gravitates to allegory, apostrophe, and personification. Along with his country humor, Livingston's poetical letters (to my brother Beekman; to master Timmy Dwight") exhibit a kind of prosopopeia, representing speech or action by an absent or imaginary person. Elsewhere, too, Livingston favors the rhetorical device of personification, especially allegorical personification (for example, "Lux'ry and her sister Folly" in "An Invitation to the Country"; "Hilarity danc'd" in "To a gentleman on his leaving Pakepsy"). Livingston's metaphors very often support a central governing conceit, as in the allegory of the vine and oak, and the moral fable of birds, beasts and bat.

When Livingston does offer a simile, his impulse characteristically is to change rather than extend it. Thus, in the 1787 Carrier Address, Livingston pictures duelists "bold and bluff as Hector." Rather than continue in the Homeric vein, with further allusions to the Trojan war, Livingston immediately (and anachronistically) gives his modern Hectors "pistols" to brandish "Like lions."

Clement C. Moore regularly employs similes and extends them at will, particularly in his longer narrative efforts. Below are additional examples of extended similes from other poems by Clement C. Moore including "A Trip to Saratoga" and "Charles Elphinstone."

 [On attractive yet morally grounded belles:]
They're like the plaything children call a Witch;
Made of a weight attach'd to somewhat light.
Howe'er you twist or twirl it, toss or twitch,
It has a saving power that brings it right.  --A Trip to Saratoga 50
Men of deep learning, or of sterling worth,
Were in the crowd conceal'd and to be sought;
Just as the finer metals, deep in earth 
Are mostly found, ere to the view they're brought.
Perchance some careless genius might be told
By flashes he unconscious threw around,
That seem'd like grains of sparkling virgin gold
Strewn by the hand of Nature o'er the ground.  A Trip to Saratoga 52-3
While rapid motion, as the carriage flies,
Stirs up new life and spirit in the soul,
Just as the mantling foam and bubbles rise
In generous wine that's dash'd into the bowl  --A Trip to Saratoga 42-3
Such pleasure 'twas to dwell upon the thought,
They almost wish'd the motion to restrain.
Just as we see a child delay to taste
Some ripe and tempting fruit 'tis wont to prize;
Nor will it to the dainty pleasure haste;
But still puts off the feast, and fondly eyes.  --A Trip to Saratoga 60
Society is like a running wheel.... From a Veteran Belle 142-3
The hell-engender'd harpy flitting round,
Like to a web-wing'd bat, in sultry climes,
That darts its noiseless flight round lighted hall
And sheds a horror o'er th' assembled throng.
This sight th' infernal swarm could ne'er abide;
But shrank, like midnight thieves who unawares
Find sudden light break on their stealthy steps,
And watchful guardians set to oppose their way.

"We graft a devil on that tender plant,
"With it to grow and be with it but one,
"And make it yield, in time, the fruits of hell,
"Till, like unto a worthless canker'd branch,
"It be pluck'd off and cast into the flame.

Yet was there naught of sullen discontent
To cloud her pallid cheek and brow serene;
For, e'en when gushing tears betray'd her woe,
A placid smile would from her features beam,
Like sunshine breaking through a gentle rain.

With this last breath his trembling soul came forth;
And Cosmocrator rush'd to bear it off.
But, from the host of heaven a spirit came,
And snatch'd it from his grasp - and George was sav'd!
A bird, thus, floating on a rapid stream,
Whose violence forbids it to take wing,
Just as it rushes o'er the cataract's brow
To meet destruction in the roaring gulph,
Is caught and borne upon the viewless air,
And, circling, wings its joyous flight aloft.*

* This is said to happen with water fowl on the rapids of Niagara.
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