Marianne Moore: Poetry

April 15, 2010

“Diligence Is to Magic as Progress Is to Flight”

Published in The Egoist 2 (October 1, 1915), 158, and reprinted in Poems, 1921, and Observations, this poem disappeared from Moore’s canon after 1925.

Diligence Is to Magic as Progress Is to Flight

With an elephant to ride upon—“with rings on her fingers and bells on her toes,”

she shall outdistance calamity anywhere she goes.

Speed is not in her mind inseparable from carpets. Locomotion arose

in the shape of an elephant; she clambered up and chose

to travel laboriously. So far as magic carpets are concerned, she knows

that although the semblance of speed may attach to scarecrows

of aesthetic procedure, the substance of it is embodied in such of those

tough-grained animals as have outstripped man’s whim to suppose

them ephemera, and I have earned that fruit of their ability to endure blows

which dubs them prosaic necessities—not curios.


The popular nursery rhyme about rings and fingers goes as follows:

Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross
To see a fine lady upon a white horse
With rings on her fingers and bells on her toes
She shall have music wherever she goes.

However, there was a contemporary lyric that seems to have more of the elements of the poem. “I’ve Got Rings on My Fingers and Bells on My Toes” was popular song written by R. P. Weston and J. F. Barnes and introduced in 1909 by singer Ada Jones. Recordings abounded over the next decades, with the version by Judy Garland (Babes on Broadway, 1941) available today as a ring tone. The lyrics suggest a male narrator singing to his little Irish Rose but they were usually sung by a woman, often (even Judy Garland) with an Irish brogue.

Now Jim O'Shea was cast away
Upon an Indian Isle.
The natives there they liked his hair,
They liked his Irish smile,
So made him chief Panjandrum,
The Nabob of them all.
They called him Jij-ji-boo Jhai,
And rigged him out so gay,
So he wrote to Dublin Bay,
To his sweetheart, just to say:

Sure, I've got rings on my fingers, bells on my toes,
Elephants to ride upon, my little Irish Rose;
So come to your Nabob, and next Patrick's Day,
Be Mistress Mumbo Jumbo Jij-ji-boo J. O'Shea.

Across the sea went Rose Magee
To see her Nabob grand.
He sat within his palanquin,
And when she kissed his hand,
He led her to his harem,
Where he had wives galore.
She started shedding a tear;
Said he, "Now have no fear,
I'm keeping these wives here
Just for ornament, my dear."

In emerald green he robed his queen,
To share with him his throne.
'Mid eastern charms and waving palms
They'd shamrocks, Irish grown,
Sent all the way from Dublin
To Nabob J. O'Shea
But in his palace so fine
Should Rose for Ireland pine,
With smiles her face will shine
When he murmurs, "Sweetheart mine.”

A recording by Ada Jones is available on Wikipedia under “I’ve Got Rings on My Fingers.”Alternatively, you can click on or paste in your browserthe following URL.

A note: I hunted for this source for years and stumbled upon the 1909 song recently. When I played it for my husband, he said he’d known it since childhood when he and his sister sang it drying dishes with their dad—a confirmation of its popularity.

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