Sunday Night Journal, April 29, 2018
Sunday Night Journal, May 6, 2018

52 Poems, Week 18

My first introduction to the poem I am writing about was in a novel I was reading about 30 years ago. An artist was talking to a young woman about poems that are pictures. The first poem was The Lady of Shalott, and then he quoted a more recent poem. He could only remember the first two lines which were,

O fat white woman who nobody loves,
Why do you walk through the field in gloves?

This immediately brought to my mind an image of a field in Africa where the wife of some colonial plantation owner was walking through a field where black men were harvesting some crop or other. It was a very vivid image. I can still see it; on the lefthand third of the picture, the woman's back from about the waist up, dressed in white with a wide-brimmed white hat which she is holding on with a gloved hand; a wide field of golden grass, and in the distance the dark bodies of men working in the field.

Eventually, I read the entire poem somewhere, I have no idea where, but it only reinforced my image.

O why do you walk through the fields in gloves,
Missing so much and so much?
O fat white woman whom nobody loves,
Why do you walk through the fields in gloves,
When the grass is soft as the breast of doves
And shivering sweet to the touch?
O why do you walk through the fields in gloves,
Missing so much and so much?

In my mind the author was a black man writing from the perspective of the laborers.

Well, I could not have been more mistaken. I recently found that the title of the poem is To a Woman Seen from a Train, and it was written by a white woman, Frances Darwin Comford, granddaughter of Charles Darwin. This pretty much shattered my image of the poem.

But this image is the reason I chose to write about the poem, because it illustrates the power of poetry to elicit eloquent little worlds from the readers' minds. Poems reverberate with our own thoughts, memories and experiences, and bring forth images that are unique to each reader. This can also happen with prose, but it happens more intensely in poetry.

I remember classroom discussions of poems, and how I loved to hear all the different interpretations that students were putting forth. Some of them were obviously mistaken for some reason or another, e.g., they did not know what some of the words meant, but they were still interesting. Some were plausible and some were crazy, but everyone seemed to have seen something in the poems.

I originally liked the poem, but then I found out who had written it, and the perspective of the speaker. I got defensive of the poor fat white woman, because, you know, I am one. And then, how could that judgmental person on the train know the woman in the field was unloved, or what memories she was having in the field. And then, my cynical self says that my wide experience of tall grass is that it can be itchy and full of bugs—or snakes.

G. K Chesterton apparently had some of the same thoughts that I did when he wrote this answer to Ms. Cornford's poem.

THE FAT WHITE WOMAN SPEAKS

Why do you rush through the field in trains,
Guessing so much and so much.
Why do you flash through the flowery meads,
Fat-head poet that nobody reads;
And why do you know such a frightful lot
About people in gloves as such?

And how the devil can you be so sure?
Guessing so much and so much.
How do you know but what someone who loves
Always to see me in nice white gloves
At the end of the field you are rushing by,
Is waiting for his Old Dutch?

AMDG

—Janet Cupo is a great-grandmother (and a great grandmother) on temporary (maybe) sabbatical from the workaday world.

Comments

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That is all a lot of fun, Janet!

Chesterton 1, Darwin 0.

I've never heard "Old Dutch" used that way. Wasn't sure exactly what it meant but figured I had the general idea from the context. Took me a while to find any applicable info: most references seem to be either to the language or to various commercial products using the name.

https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/dutch

Good ol' GKC!

Then their's this:... an 1880s colloquialism for a partner or friend. The phrase has a number of etymologies; two Cockney rhyming slang explanations identify the phrase as coming from "dutch plate" ("mate") or "Duchess of Fife" ("wife").

AMDG

That Oxford link just says "short for 'duchess'".

I guess the use of the term for commercial products somehow ties back into this meaning. There's a local ice cream shop called Old Dutch and I've wondered why. It only goes back to the '60s though. Maybe it's a term that would have been familiar to our parents or grandparents.

When I was a kid my grandparents and elderly aunts and uncles sometimes used "dutch" as a synonym for "trouble." Doesn't seem to apply here, though.

That's another one which always puzzled me: "in dutch." Not sure when I figured out that the Coasters were saying "She'll get you in dutch" about Poison Ivy ("You can look but you better not touch"). I must have read it somewhere and made the connection.

The Oxford English Dictionary lists a lot of “Dutch” expressions, which it says often have “an opprobrious or derisive application, largely due to the rivalry and enmity between the English and Dutch in the 17th century”. Here are a few I’ve never heard of:

Dutch auction -- 1859 G. A. Sala Twice round Clock 21 The sale is conducted on the principle of what is termed a ‘Dutch auction’, purchasers not being allowed to inspect the fish in the doubles before they bid.

Dutch bargain -- 1654 R. Whitlock Ζωοτομία 28 The contract..is not (like Dutch Bargains) made in Drinke.

Dutch concert -- 1774 D. Barrington in Philos. Trans. (Royal Soc.) 63 267 What is commonly called a Dutch concert, when several tunes are played together.

Dutch feast -- 1785 F. Grose Classical Dict. Vulgar Tongue Dutch feast, where the entertainer gets drunk before his guests.

Dutch palate -- 1687 J. Norris Coll. Misc. To Rdr. sig. a4v Fit only for a Tavern entertainment, and that too among Readers of a Dutch palate.

Dutch reckoning -- 1699 B. E. New Dict. Canting Crew Dutch-Reckoning, or Alte-mall, a verbal or Lump-account without particulars.

Those are really funny. Shouldn't there be an even more extensive set of anti-French things?

"got defensive of the poor fat white woman, because, you know, I am one."

Hm, not according to my memory.

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