To end the month, I just had to include an Icelandic proverb not directly translated in English – hopefully one of the more comprehensible ones. (The Icelanders have a saying about “the raisin at the end of the hotdog” which is like the gold at the end of the rainbow and roughly translates to something like being happy for finding “a cherry on top,” or an extra bit of goodness. I. Have. QUESTIONS. And as a side note, have you heard of the Swedish banana-chicken thing…? I’m getting a feeling this is a Scandinavian cultural taste which I’m happy to watch them enjoy. ) This is the quintessential Icelandic slogan, we’re told, and it’s “Þetta reddast.” It isn’t so much a …proverb as an attitude, not so much a slogan as a way of life. I read it described as “positive fatalism” once. You might have no idea how things are going to work out – you might not know what to do. But, you can’t get too down, because “Þetta reddast!” It’ll work out. Or, the closest English proverb/phrase I can think of:
“It’ll all come out in the wash.”*
(*According to Phrases.org: Henry Festing Jones, who collaborated with the novelist Samuel Butler, once quoted Butler as saying in 1876: ‘As my cousin’s laundress says, ‘It will all come right in the wash.'” From The Dictionary of Cliches by James Rogers (Ballantine Books, New York, 1985).
Greetings! Welcome to another Poetry Peeps adventure on Poetry Friday!
You’re invited to our challenge in the month of May! After such a big month for National Poetry Month, we’re taking it easy for now. Our simple task is to write a poem with the theme of string, thread, rope, or chain. Any poetic form, rhymed or unrhymed, but we’re including one of those four items. Plotting? Good! You’ve got a month to string your line(s), then share your offering on May 27th in a post and/or on social media with the tag #PoetryPals. Can’t wait to see what you come up with!
This month the Poetry Peeps wrote poems in imitation of Taylor Mali. For Laura, that meant this poem – short(ish) and sweet. Tricia explored her ideas here. Sara’s meta poem ON the poet is here, Cousin Mary Lee enfolded climate greening into her poem, Liz’s project, plus a bonus poem is here, and Andi’s popped in here. More Poetry Peeps may pop in with more words and thoughts as the weekend continues, so stay tuned. I may be very slow doing the roundup (as in finishing it next week), since I’m away from my usual haunts (and time zones) so bear with me.
I started out with the best of intentions to flatter poet Taylor Mali by imitating “Totally Like Whatever, You Know?” Alas, the longer I spent with it, the less I found flattering to say. Published in 2002, soon after the 1998 “Ebonics” conversation the talk show circuit, this poem is reflective of the social critics of that time, which is to say it hasn’t aged well. Mali’s mocking contempt echoes still of American society’s knee-jerk tendencies to mock and belittle the young, especially young girls, for the way that they speak, act, the media they consume, the bands they love, and the clothes they wear. When devaluing fully 51.1% of the population becomes automatic, misogyny persists, and follows girls into adulthood. More importantly, it leaves a mark. And men aren’t the only people who belittle and begrudge the young; it’s an American past time, which is why this poem so needled me.
I remember running into my 8th grade English teacher as a college student. She quizzed me on my activities and my GPA, and then, as I was proudly telling her my news, she interrupted. Reaching forward, she fiddled with my collar, smoothing it. “You know,” she said in a low, confiding voice like she was revealing a secret, “You’d sound so much smarter if you didn’t say ‘um, okay’ quite so often.” Well, that was me told that I wasn’t up to her level! Rather than enjoying my weekend home, I spent the rest of the time listening to myself, wincing at each “um” and “okay” and wondering desperately how people ever learned to change their speech.
I look back on that incident and seethe.*
My NPM project this year was sticky-note proverb poems. They are proverb-based and SHORT, but Taylor Mali doesn’t lend himself to short, so today I’ve creating two poems, first, the freestyle, unrhymed imitation (not my favorite style; feel free to suggest revisions in the comments), using the words of consent and consensus which are so often dismissed, and second, a sticky-note sized distillation. Additionally, today’s poem calls for a new proverb, one I’ve just made up. It is:
“Wisdom celebrates variation; not every difference suggests flaws.”
Okay, but have you noticed
how it is somehow A-okay fine
for them to get right in your face
straighten up your collar and say
“right, if you would just -” and
okay, you knew you weren’t up to par –
yeah, you couldn’t pass as perfect
or more than okay, but who is?
Okay, so, have you noticed
the ground between us
is like potholes and mountains,
it’s that uneven, which is like,
but what makes them think
the place they’re standing is
always the high ground, right?
Okay, but had you noticed
how they steal your words when they
crush your voice, grind words into pulp,
when they smother your spark
had you noticed why? they silence you –
like you’re just a piece of work
right, but if they would just,
back off, you could work out
making the pieces
Okay, so you had noticed
that consensus creates strength, that two heads
are better than one? so, okay you seek approval –
yeah, sometimes you ask permission –
So? you don’t know if you’re allowed
to take up space, to speak
aloud, so you rehearse
your sounds, right?
and you check your strengths
’til you know them
Okay, so had you noticed
your flex, your stretch, how strong
you’ve grown? they did not, which is like,
fine, whatever –
you’ve blown past their
Want more poetry? Poetry Friday is hosted today at Jone’s place.. Hope you have a wonderful weekend.
*I taught school, too. I recognize that for some, the job is changing the world through their students. But, I’d really rather leave the world unchanged than be remembered for the kind of casual cruelty that implies someone sounds/is stupid.
One of the Poetry Princess the other day mentioned how she likes that I sometimes write about things I don’t like. I kind of laughed – there are a LOT of things I don’t like, and honestly, I need to write poems about them so no one else has to hear my rants. Today I’m writing about an American proverb I don’t particularly enjoy. It was yet another of those often repeated during my childhood. It’s one which seems to imply incompetence needing to step aside for those who are better equipped to carry things out. It’s just… irritating.
And this one’s not just home grown, its origin is the American political arena, and is credited to the celebrated “plain speaker” Harry S. (did you know the middle initial doesn’t stand for anything?) Truman as far back as 1942 when he was a senator, and evolved into the phrase we know today during his presidency in 1949. It’s a bit of a snarky one:
“If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.”
– Harry S. Truman, 33rd President of the United States
In a world plagued with experts, I’m happy to get out of the kitchen and let somebody else’s goose cook. Happy Almost Weekend.
I kind of like the agrarian proverbs – ones that tell you when to make hay, or what to think when it’s a red sky in the morning. Those are… kind of easy, you know no one will ever figure out who wrote them, so provenance isn’t at issue, and you can make them mean whatever you want, since you’re not a farmer. This proverb is a bit more direct – though the provenance is equally murky.
Myriad names have been tied to this proverb, though surprisingly, the first printing in English is in an English Bible translations in Ecclesiastes, which states, “The way of sinners is made plain with stones, but at the end thereof is the pit of hell.” (Although why I’m surprised at the Bible in a proverb about hell, I don’t know…) Being “made plain with stones” is an accurate description of trail-marking, or cobblestones. A reference in 1791 leaves out the road altogether, until A Hand-book of Proverbs, published it in 1855, puts it all together with:
Is moss a good thing, or a bad thing? I’ve never figured that out. We do know it grows slowest of most plantlife, thus the meaning of today’s proverb is that a person who is never still never gathers the detritus of stillness — the things we have to pack up when we move.
I have a friend who is on her seventeenth move in her adult life this month — seventeen states, I believe — and she has a little less “moss” than the average person, perhaps, but she has stuff. Books, bed, couch. At one point in my life, I was able to pack everything I owned into a 4’x 2′ steamer trunk. Is my life better now that I cannot?
Are bald rocks that bad? Surely a question for the ages.
The first appearance of this proverb in print was in 1508, in Adagia, the annotated collection of Greek and Latin proverbs, compiled during the Renaissance by Dutch humanist Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus. Its first appearance in English was some years later in 1546, in A Dialogue conteinyng the nomber in effect of all the Prouerbes in the Englishe tongue, by John Heywood:
Today’s proverb is both ancient and Chinese, and though it might be cliché’s first assumption, it’s not written by Confucius. Surprise, there are hundreds more sages and creators of proverbs from this ancient culture! Today’s proverb is from the Tao Te Ching. Though this book isn’t found on B&N’s website in its entirety, it exists in various copies and dialects and is a widely studied, widely argued over classical Chinese text. The Tao Te Ching is usually credited to Lao Tzu, though others argue it was written by someone else, and is probably something from between the 4th and 6th century BC. It’s ancient. So, we have a genuine Chinese proverb, though the wording isn’t the same as we use now. Originally it said, “A journey of a thousand li (a traditional Chinese unit of measure, approx. 0.3 mile/0.5 km.) starts beneath one’s feet.” No one knows how or when, but as the quotation came West (probably because no one could figure out what a li was), the phrase turned into:
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
Nope, I’m not actually ready… but I’m going anyway.
PS – yes, I know I can’t really draw an airplane.
Today’s proverb is actually fairly recent, as proverbs go, with a straightforward provenance. According to Phrases, it was printed anonymously in a news sheet called the Hampshire Advertiser, in Southampton, England in August, 1857. It appears in the first stanza of a rather bad poem — and a rather long poem. Eleven stanzas of …erm, instruction. I haven’t read it myself, but apparently the ultimate line of every stanza is the same:
Ye votaries of sofas and beds
Ye sloths who exertion detest,
This maxim I wish to drive into your heads
A change is as good as a rest.
Ye children of Fashion and Wealth,
With countless indulgences blest,
Remember that indolence preyeth on health
A change is as good as a rest…
Ah, the Victorian Era, ever ready with the didactic bit of poetry to drive into your heads. Sheesh.
“A change is as good as a rest.” – English proverb
…if you’re counting sheep
as the hours slip by
at least in fresh sheets
you’re sleepless – dignified.
Is a change as good as a rest? Not… really. But, if nothing else, it helps you rest, a little.
Growing up Southern-adjacent (with Southern-born relatives but not having spent much time there yourself) means hearing a lot of weird phrases and stories of which you’re not quite sure you know the meaning… One of the odder phrases was, “You’d better feed ’em with a long spoon.”
I always heard this proverb outside of home in reference to some animal or other which couldn’t eat properly. There’s an Aesop fable about a stork and a fox having a meal, and one needed a shallow dish and one needed a vase…? Or something. Another variation is an allegory of people in heaven (or hell?) wearing casts and having to feed each other from across the table with long spoons, in order to live…? But, at home this saying meant to stay WELL away, on the other side of the table, in order to feed with a long spoon this ravening beast you’d somehow led to your table … so that it would not bite off your hand.
Obviously, I had to look this one up.
Once again this is a very old proverb, from 14th c. England, where having a meal with the Trickster was seen as a distinct possibility. Human beings were taught that they were often tricked and messed about by the devil, and so they were more than a little wary.
We first find this proverb in Chaucer’s Canterbury collection, in the Squire’s Tale, 1390. Therfore bihoueth hire a ful long spoon That shal ete with a feend. Therefore, whoever would eat with a fiend must have a very long spoon. (Note to self: avoid meals with fiends.)
“He who sups with the devil should have a long spoon.”
With a whip and a chair
We’ve a banquet to prepare:
No, that’s not bloodthirsty roaring.
He’s been sleepy – that’s him snoring.
You’ve heard shouting? shrieking? yelps?
It’s SO hard to find good help.
Me, be careful? You’re obsessed!
He’s just any other guest…
Happy weekend, dear ones. Keep your friends close, and your fiends… somewhere outside arm’s reach.
Thanks to Ye Olden Tymes or the Middle Ages, there are a ton of proverbs and sayings about the devil. Most people feared the forest, the dark, and the unknown beasties within it, and helpful religious leaders identified any fearful unknown as the devil and capitalized on the idea of toeing the line to avoid being fed to it. When the average person began to read and consider arguments, truths and opinions for themselves, those fears didn’t diminish – rather they shifted. Though a literal devil might have taken a backseat, the fear of social hell took precedence…
Therefore, to avoid being thought of as indolent or ignorant, everyone wanted to be thrifty, clean, and reverent, so enter the idea of keeping busy. Or at least looking busy. This idea is so old that the first mention of this proverb is way back in the fourth century. The first finding of this phrase in (Middle) English comes from Chaucer in 1405 saying, “Dooth somme goode dedes, that the deuel, which is oure enemy, ne fynde yow nat vnocupied.” Do some good deeds, so that the Devil, which is our enemy, won’t find you unoccupied.
There are myriad variations of this proverb. My sixth-grade teacher, Mrs. Martin, told us that “Idle hands are the Devil’s workshop” which I always found confusing and unlikely. My father told us that idle hands were the Devil’s playthings – which seemed less unlikely, and to my literal mind, definitely more worrying. To keep things clear, we’ll go with the earliest, not the most popular version of this proverb:
“The devil makes work for idle hands.”
Just kidding, kids. This is just what my parents believed, for reasons best known to themselves and having nothing AT ALL whatsoever to do with me. *cough*
More poetry? Poetry Friday is hosted today at Reflections on the Teche.
One memorable summer I shared a room with my two older sisters. For some reason or another as I recall, my older sister was in trouble for being untidy, and my eldest sister was in trouble for something else, thus all the three of us sibs were shoved into one space. As you might expect, things got… intense. The usual sibling squabbles were turned up to eleven. We had the usual parental cleanliness pressure, but with the shared space there was increased stress and I — cracked. That summer I became mildly obsessed with keeping things straight – from my possessions and the masking tape lines my eldest sister had put on the floor of our room to the sections of food on my plate. I lined up my shoes and organized my hair clips.
I hear people in jail can also become obsessively neat…
Let me tell you, that sibling experiment ended with a great sigh of relief for all involved.
“A place for everything and (put) everything in its place.”
Though the Oxford Book of Quotations notes this proverb from the 17th century, there’s no follow-up reference. The closest discovered before 1799 is included in a collection called A Century of Sermons, by one John Hacket, Bishop of Lichfield, in 1675 which simply states that “the Lord hath set everything in its place and order. The phrase exactly as we know it didn’t appear in print until 1842, and was in keeping with myriad other cheerfully didactic Victorian phrases that were taken as conventional wisdom and not authored by anyone in particular.