Saturday, January 07, 2006

Curfew Must Not Ring Tonight! Or, Self-Discipline Gone Awry

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A few days before Christmas gf and I watched Desk Set, a Tracy/Hepburn movie set in a reference department that is about to go automated (or so they think). I chose it because I vaguely remembered a drunken Christmas party scene. (Watching it, it seems that many of the scenes were drunken Christmas party scenes for Tracy, who slurs his words through most of the movie.)

One of the best things about this totally delightful movie is that the reference department under siege is all female, so the movie spends a lot of time showing how much these women know, and they know a lot. At one point Hepburn begins declaiming a poem and her best girlfriend, Joan Blondell, joins in, and they declaim and declaim with great exuberance and wild gestures. Neither of us recognized the poem, but we both immediately recognized that we SHOULD know this poem and that we had missed some huge cultural reference. So I paused the movie and googled the phrase they kept repeating: "Curfew shall not ring tonight." Turns out it was a really, really big poem, right up there with The Highwayman. It was a big hit with the elocutionary crowd, which, at the turn of the century was pretty much everyone.

So I thought, "Hey! I work on popular poetry. I teach poetry. I make my students memorize poems all the time. It's almost time for New Year's resolutions and I don't really have any yet, so I know what I'll do: I'll memorize this poem for one of my resolutions."

Brilliant idea. I found it on-line, printed it out, and taped it to the wall above the kitchen sink, so that I could work on it while I wash the dishes. It's been about a week and I have about half the poem memorized (I'm up to the part where she pushes past the sexton and dashes towards the bell) and I have to say, I hate this poem. The narrative is only mildly interesting--sure, the girl wraps her body around a bell clapper to save her lover, but that's nothing compared to the girl in "The Highwayman," who spends hours trying to wriggle out of bondage in order to lean over the barrel of a gun and shoot herself to save her lover. The rhyme is catchy, but the imagery is tepid--the only descriptive word the author knew, apparently, was white--and the last few stanzas are just a mess. I wish I had picked something more aesthetically gripping, with more luxurious words, like, well, "The Highwayman," or "Ulalume."

But I started it, so I gotta finish.


Blogger What Now? said...

Hmm, I had somehow conflated the two poems, but now I've reread them both, thanks to your helpful links. I can't believe that she lives at the end of "The Curfew" poem! I thought that the young woman always died at the end of a ballad. I agree that "The Highwayman" is a much better poem.

Did you like Deskset? It's never been one of my favorites.

9:21 PM  
Blogger Margo, darling said...

Apparently women named Bessie must sacrifice themselves, right?

I love Desk Set. It's not as fun as Adam's Rib, but it's super stylish. I love all the mid-century modern clothing and furniture. I'd watched it from about halfway through to the end several times, but had never seen the whole thing before. I think Hepburn and Tracy have great chemistry in the scene where they are getting drunk in the stacks. And I love the office party, where everyone is dancing, really dancing. And, of course, I love all that the women know EVERYTHING. Off the tops of their heads! Viva girl power.

9:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"the only descriptive word the author knew, apparently, was white."

kind of like that wretched song from "White Christmas," where the word "snow" gets repeated and repeated and repeated and never rhymed with anything except for the word "no."

fyi: Thanks to Ericormack, there is now a facebook community called "I'm in Love With (your name here) and Have to Proclaim it to the World," in which the part of you is currently being played by Laurel Holloman.


7:30 AM  
Blogger Margo, darling said...

Wow. That's way better than how I imagined myself being played when we used to joke about casting movies of our lives in college--I figured Mayim Bialik was the closest match. But with my new haircut, I look more like Jane Lynch, who played the lecherous lawyer trying to nail Laurel Holloman last year than Holloman herself!

12:22 PM  

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