Marianne Moore: Poetry

November 23, 2011

“Pedantic Literalist” and a “Paper Muslin Ghost”

“Prince Rupert’s drop, paper muslin ghost”

“Pedantic Literalist,” line 1.

Moore published “Pedantic Literalist” in The Egoist for June 1, 1916 (See Schulze 211) and Bryher and H. D. placed it first in Poems, 1921. Paper muslin is a glazed cotton fabric said by most online dictionaries to be “used for linings, etc.” There is a reference to a ballet skirt made of “pink paper muslin” as well as an article in St. Nicholas Magazine on how to make a cabana for bathing-suit-changing  out of it and an umbrella (tie  9-foot strips of paper muslin to the edges and hang it from a tree).  But “paper muslin ghost” occurs in a popular verse found, among other sources, in the Yale University College Courant for January 28, 1871, p. 43. Perhaps unsavory by today’s standard, the verse had a long life among favorites for children.

The Unlucky Lovers

Fanny Foo-Foo was a Japanese girl,

A child of the great Tycoon;

She wore her head bald, and her clothes were made

Half petticoat, half pantaloon;

Her face was the color of lemon peel,

And the shape of a table spoon.

A handsome young chap was Johnny Hi-Hi,

And he wore paper muslin clothes;

His glossy black hair on the top of his head

In the form of a shoe brush rose,

His eyes slanted downward, as if some chap

Had savagely pulled his nose.

Fanny Foo-Foo loved Johnny Hi-Hi,

And when, in the usual style,

He popped, she blushed such a deep orange tinge,

You’d have thought she’d too much bile,

If it hadn’t been for her slant-eyed glance

And her charming wide mouth smile.

And oft in the bliss of their new born love,

Did these little pagans stray

All around in spots, enjoying themselves

In a strictly Japanese way:

She howling a song to a one string lute,

On which she thought she could play.

Often he’d climb to a high ladder’s top,

And quietly there repose,

As he stood on his head and fanned himself

While she balanced him on her nose,

Or else she would get in a pickle tub,

And be kicked round on his toes.

The course of true love, even in Japan,

Often runs extremely rough,

And the fierce Tycoon, when he heard of this,

Used Japanese oaths so tough

That his courtiers’ hair would have stood on end

If only they’d had enough.

So the Tycoon buckled on both his swords,

In his pistol placed a wad,

And went out to hunt for the truant pair,

With his nerves braced by a “tod,”

He found them enjoying their guileless selves

On top of a lightning rod.

Sternly he ordered the gentle Foo-Foo

To “come down out of that there!”

And he told Hi-Hi to go to a place—

I won’t say precisely where.

Then he dragged off his child, whose spasms evinced

Unusually wild despair.

But the Tycoon, alas! was badly fooled,

Despite his paternal pains,

For John, with a toothpick, let all the blood

Out of his jugular veins;

While with a back somersault on to the floor

Foo-Foo battered out her brains.

They buried them both in the Tycoon’s lot,

Right under a dogwood tree,

Where they could list to the nightingale and

The buzz of the bumble-bee;

And where the mosquito’s sorrowful chant

Maddens the restless flea.

And often at night, when the Tycoon’s wife

Slumbered as sound as a post,

His almond shaped eyeballs looked on a sight

That scared him to death almost—

‘Twas a bald headed spectre flitting about

With a paper muslin ghost.

1 Comment »

  1. Holy Cow.

    Comment by Kirby Olson — December 8, 2011 @ 10:25 am |Reply


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