Pure Poetry

I've always enjoyed limericks, especially ones involving train conductors, well endowed chaps from Nantucket or farms lads confused in their milking. Let me tell you about one from 1984.

I had just started teaching, in the Computer Science department. By a decision worthy of Wrong-Way Corrigan, Admin decided to plop our department in the midst of the so-called College of Business. So there we were, nestled among Sales and Marketing, Management and other dreck Martianus Capella never could have imagined in his wildest nightmares. It was useless trying to argue that our field (as opposed to data processing with which they confused it) is an area of pure mathematics, and belonged more properly in the College of Natural Sciences. Our administrators would have put Turing, Von Neumann and Gödel to work as clerks in a department store.

Our dean lived for appearances; respect came with a job title. Physically he was a dead ringer for Herb, with a personality (if you can denote it thus) not unlike Beetface's. The latter two appear in The Round Robin, should you wish more details. Being part of the business milieu, he found it incumbent on him to always wear his uniform: the expensive and uncomfortable three-piece suits required by his trade.

He assumed the moniker Pin Eyes due to his extremely pale blue orbs, each focused to the smallest black pupil imaginable. If he had been human, you might have suspected opioid abuse. And Mormonism did little to soften his angles. I always suspected his wives wore hoopskirts.

Pin Eyes made Madame Defarge seem like the class clown. And though lacking knitting needles, he kept just as ominous notes. In particular, each year we had to file a professional development plan with Pin Eyes, and then at the end of the year he would render his assessment of our progress. No matter how sterling was one's performance, he always countered with "Your progress is satisfactory." Never "Splendid" or "Good job!" or even "Above Average!" Imagine Pin Eyes heading up a medical college. One of the researchers announces he has just discovered a cure for cancer, to which he receives the response, "Your progress is satisfactory."

Notably, out of the fifty-some faculty in the College of Business, only two of us had papers published regularly. Steve was a fine professor of Economics, young like me, sharp as a tack, and gave the appearance of having just got off a multicolored bus arriving from Haight-Ashbury. It galled Pin Eyes no end to announce at the faculty convocation each fall that Steve and I had both had new papers appear.

This was the warm welcome to academic life I received. It was only natural, then, that after not too long in the traces, I penned a limerick to commemorate the chap.
There was an old man from Mankato,
Who wanted to emulate Plato,
With no qualities seen,
They made him a dean,
Now his brain is a half-baked potato. 
Pin Eyes' number two in command was cut from the same cloth. He too, took an instant disliking to me, even though I sported a fresh haircut. I'll always remember toiling on the difficult problem (back then) of speech synthesis. (For what it's worth, this is all well worked out nowadays). To demonstrate my results, I had the circuitry and software put on a little show for some colleagues. Just as the associate dean walked by my office, the computer voice uttered in a well modulated tone, "I would like you to lick my scrotum." The guy had no sense of humor. Anyway, can there be any worse position in the world than associate dean? Does it make you recall John Nance Garner? And does a school really need two roadblocks when one is surely sufficient to impede traffic?

But let's return to limericks. I'm sure I've mentioned just how much Jacques' speech in Shakespeare's As You Like It means to me. Take a moment to read this powerful and beautiful soliloquy again, preferably aloud:
All the world ’s a stage,   
And all the men and women merely players:   
They have their exits and their entrances;   
And one man in his time plays many parts,   
His Acts being seven ages. At first the Infant,          
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.   
Then the whining School-boy, with his satchel   
And shining morning face, creeping like snail   
Unwillingly to school. And then the Lover,   
Sighing like furnace, with a woful ballad           
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a Soldier,   
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard;   
Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,   
Seeking the bubble reputation   
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the Justice,           
In fair round belly with good capon lined,   
With eyes severe, and beard of formal cut,   
Full of wise saws and modern instances,—   
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts   
Into the lean and slippered Pantaloon,           
With spectacles on nose, and pouch on side;   
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide   
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,   
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes   
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,           
That ends this strange eventful history,   
Is second childishness, and mere oblivion,—   
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
Well, a couple weeks ago I was watching another lively debate on YouTube featuring the late Christopher Hitchens, and he mentioned a friend of his, the poet and historian Robert Conquest. The name was new to me, though he lived to be nearly 100 and died just last year. Notably, he wrote quite the limerick in his dotage that will probably outlast anything he ever did. It is Conquest's version of the above, showing how with just a little judicious editing one can pare all the dead brush and get straight to Will's point and with alacrity. Here goes (and read it aloud to hear the rhythm properly):
Seven Ages: first puking and mewling
Then very pissed-off with your schooling
Then fucks, and then fights
Next judging chaps' rights
Then sitting in slippers: then drooling.
I'll say it again: the English language is one of the most amazing inventions humans have ever wrought.  

Next installment: θέλημα

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