Sunday, April 25, 2010

Scrutable Poetry Corner: "Life's Problems" by Patience Eden

Poetess Patience Eden nails it in this May 17, 1930 poem in The New Yorker: "Life's Problems."
When I was twenty-three I could
Discern the evil from the good;
I quickly knew which way to turn,
Which path to take, which path to spurn;
Not only this--I could decide
What all my friends should do; I tried
To steer them competently through
Their troubles...and they asked me to!
Responsible as traffic lights
I sent them to their lefts...and rights.

But now that I am forty-odd
I hesitate advising God
About a case of turpitude,
It somehow seems a little crude:
And furthermore I have no views
On bigamy or jazz or booze:
Quite recently I was beset
By problems in a kitchenette--
I could not choose the proper site
For dish-towels to dry at night!
Amen, Eden! How to explain this temperament that comes on many with age? Is it hormonal? Is it from so many years of negotiating with people of all different kinds? Is it a desire for comfort and easy socialization after scuffling with the world? Is it the cynicism of seeing all your sacred cows get tipped over -- one by one -- by their critical inadequacies?

I think it's all of the above. I still have the knee-jerk desire to bludgeon others with my opinions, but I'm learning when it's appropriate to do so, and also -- I hope -- blunting the edges of my criticism a bit.

Unless I'm playing the ROLE of critic, of course.

PS: Who was Patience Eden? Apparently her real name was Martha Thomas Banning, but other than that I can't find any biographical information. She was certainly one of the New Yorker poetry stalwarts, writing under both names from the magazine's inception and into the early '40s.

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