In an Alien Tongue


I am not certain where I saw a reference to Phyllis McGinley and her poetry, but I was intrigued. Also influenced by a forward by W.H. Auden,  I ordered a copy of Three Times, a collection of some of her poetry, first printed in 1960.  It arrived this afternoon.  Auden begins his forward thus:

Phyllis McGinley needs no puff.  Her poems are known and loved by tens of thousands.  They call for no learned exegesis.  If a Ph.D. thesis is ever written about her work, it will be in an alien tongue and an alien alphabet.

From her book:

The Angry Man

                                              The other day I chanced to meet
                                              An angry man upon the street–
                                              A man of wrath, a man of war,
                                              A man who truculently bore
                                              Over his shoulder, like a lance,
                                              A banner labeled “Tolerance.”
                                              And when I asked him why he strode
                                              Thus scowling down the human road,
                                              Scowling he answered, “I am he
                                              Who champions total liberty–
                                              Intolerance being, ma’am a state
                                              No tolerant man can tolerate.
                                             “When I meet rogues,” he cried, “who choose
                                             To cherish oppositional views,
                                             Lady, like this, and in this manner,
                                             I lay about me with my banner
                                            Till they cry mercy, ma’am.” His blows
                                            Rained proudly on prospective foes.
                                            Fearful, I turned and left him there
                                            Still muttering, as he thrashed the air,
                                           “Let the Intolerant beware!”
And I like this one too:
            Midcentury Love Letter
                                     Stay near me. Speak my name.  Oh, do not wander
                                     By a thought’s span, heart’s impulse, from the light
                                     We kindle here.  You are my sole defender
                                     (As I am yours) in this precipitous night,
                                     Which over earth, till common landmarks alter,
                                     Is falling, without stars, and bitter cold.
                                    We two have but our burning selves for shelter.
                                    Huddle against me. Give me your hand to hold.
                                   So might two climbers lost in mountain weather
                                   On a high slope and taken by the storm,
                                   Desperate in the darkness, cling together
                                   Under one cloak and breathe each other warm.
                                   Stay near me.  Spirit, perishable as bone,
                                   In no such winter can survive alone.


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