Pandemic poems 4: “Fever 103°”

Fever 103° by Sylvia Plath

Pure? What does it mean?
The tongues of hell
Are dull, dull as the triple

Tongues of dull, fat Cerberus
Who wheezes at the gate. Incapable
Of licking clean

The aguey Tendon, the sin, the sin.
The tinder cries.
The indelible smell

Of a snuffed candle!
Love, love, the low smokes roll
From me like Isadora’s scarves, I’m in a fright

One scarf will catch and anchor in the wheel,
Such yellow sullen smokes
Make their own element. They will not rise,

But trundle round the globe
Choking the aged and the meek,
The weak

Hothouse baby in its crib,
The ghastly orchid
Hanging its hanging garden in the air,

Devilish leopard!
Radiation turned it white
And killed it in an hour.

Greasing the bodies of adulterers
Like Hiroshima ash and eating in.
The sin. The sin.

Darling, all night
I have been flickering, off, on, off, on.
The sheets grow heavy as a lecher’s kiss.

Three days. Three nights.
Lemon water, chicken
Water, water make me retch.

I am too pure for you or anyone.
Your body
Hurts me as the world hurts God. I am a lantern——

My head a moon
Of Japanese paper, my gold beaten skin
Infinitely delicate and infinitely expensive.

Does not my heat astound you! And my light!
All by myself I am a huge camellia
Glowing and coming and going, flush on flush.

I think I am going up,
I think I may rise——
The beads of hot metal fly, and I love, I

Am a pure acetylene
Virgin
Attended by roses,

By kisses, by cherubim,
By whatever these pink things mean!
Not you, nor him

Nor him, nor him
(My selves dissolving, old whore petticoats)——
To Paradise.

***

Pandemic poetry 3: “The Influenza”, 1890

Winston Churchill in 1895

The Influenza (excerpt)

Yet Father Neptune strove right well
To moderate this plague of Hell,
And thwart it in its course;
And though it passed the streak of brine [the English Channel]
And penetrated this thin line,
It came with broken force.
For though it ravaged far and wide
Both village, town and countryside,
Its power to kill was o’er;
And with the favouring winds of Spring
(Blest is the time of which I sing)
It left our native shore.

    — by Winston Churchill, aged 15, affected by the pandemic known then as the Russian Flu in 1890

Pandemic poetry 2: “The Influenza”

The Influenza 

Influenza, labeled Spanish, came and beat me to my knees;
even doctors couldn’t banish from my form that punk disease;
for it’s not among the quitters;
vainly doctors pour their bitters into ailing human critters;
they just sneeze and swear and sneeze.

Said my doctor, “I have tackled every sort of ill there is
(I have cured up people shackled) by the gout and rheumatiz;
with the itch and mumps I’ve battled,
in my triumphs have been tattled,
but this ‘flu’ stuff has me rattled,
so I pause to say G. Whiz.”

I am burning, I am freezing, in my little truckle bed;
I am cussing, I am sneezing, with a poultice on my head;
and the doctors and the nurses say the patient growing worse is,
And they hint’ around of hearses, and of folks who should be dead.

Doom has often held the cleaver pretty near my swanlike neck;
I have had the chills and fever till my system was a wreck;
I have had the yaller janders, foot and mouth disease and glanders,
and a plague they brought from Flanders on an old windjammer’s deck.

But this measly influenzy has all other ills outclassed;
it has put me in a frenzy, like a soldier who’s been gassed;
if the villainous inventor this my lodge of pain should enter
I would Use the voice of Stentor till he had been roundly sassed.

May the ‘influenza vanish!
Of all ailments it’s the worst;
but I don’t believe it’s Spanish – haven’t thought so from the first;
on my couch of anguish squirmin’,
I’ve had leisure to determine that the blamed disease is German,
which is why it is accurst.

– by Walt Mason, a survivor of the Spanish flu, 1918

***

Pandemic poetry 1: “You’ve got the Flu, boy, You’ve got the Flu.” (1919)

When your back is broke and your eyes are blurred.
And your shin-bones knock and your tongue is furred,
And your tonsils squeak and your hair gets dry,
And you’re doggone sure that you’re going to die,
But you’re skeered you won’t and afraid you will,
Just drag to bed and have your chill;
And pray the Lord to see you through
For you’ve got the Flu, boy,
You’ve got the Flu.

When your toes curl up and your belt goes flat,
And you’re twice as mean as a Thomas cat,
And life is a long and dismal curse,
And your food all tastes like a hard-boiled hearse,
When your lattice aches and your head’s abuzz
And nothing is as it ever was,
Here are my sad regrets to you,
You’ve got the Flu, boy,
You’ve got the Flu.

What is it like, this Spanish Flu?
Ask me, brother, for I’ve been through,
It is by Misery out of Despair,
It pulls your teeth and curls your hair,
It thins your blood and brays your bones
And fills your craw with moans and groans,
And sometimes, maybe, you get well —
Some call it Flu — I call it hell!

By  J.P. McEvoy, published in The Arizona Republic, 1919

President’s, Presidents’ or Presidents Day?

Gilbert Stuart Williamstown Portrait of George Washington / Wikimedia Commons

Gilbert Stuart Williamstown Portrait of George Washington / Wikimedia Commons

Well, which is it? Presidents Day, Presidents Day or Presidents Day? Is the name of the American public holiday, which we’ll be celebrating on Monday, spelled with an apostrophe or not? And assuming it is a possessive day, i.e. belonging to either the first or all of our presidents, where should the punctuation be placed accordingly? Continue reading

The editor: linguist, diplomat, empath, and more

This is an unusually personal and serious post for Glossophilia, but I’ve been thinking a lot recently about what it takes to be a good editor. Over the past year or so I’ve been editing my late father’s diaries, as well as discussing with my family the words that will mark his gravestone. Both experiences — especially in such an emotionally-laden context — have made me reflect more on what a delicate and important process the editor’s job is. As a professional editor of nearly 35 years, in a world that’s driving this particular role/profession towards sure and imminent extinction, I’m aware of and keen to expound the value an editor brings to our world of communication. It’s a complex job that goes far beyond just the nuts and bolts of linguistic proficiency. Here’s my take on it.

Continue reading