Tag Archives: poem

Annabel Lee

Main Piece:

Charleston is known to be like one of the most haunted cities in America, because there have been lots of tragedies like fire, earthquake, and more crazy stuff. So there are ghost tours all around the city, and a lot of places are supposedly haunted. One spot that’s pretty famous is the Unitarian Church graveyard. People claim to have seen a young woman there at night, and that woman is supposedly the ghost of Annabel Lee. There’s an old Charleston story, like Antebellum era, where a Virginian sailor falls in love with Annabel Lee, a sweet Charleston girl, while he was stationed in this city. But her father disapproved, and while separated she died of syphilis. Where it gets interesting is that Edgar Allan Poe wrote a poem about Annabel Lee. Poe was actually enlisted in the navy and was actually stationed in Charleston, and he met his wife Virginia there. His wife also died young from tuberculosis, and people speculate how Poe wrote the poem based on the local Charleston legend and combining it with his own story. The poem is also the last thing Poe ever wrote, he died two days after finishing that poem. So when people say they see the ghost of Annabel Lee, it’s more likely that it’s actually the ghost of Virginia, because Annabel Lee was a fictional character.

Background:

My informant currently resides in Los Angeles, but was born and raised in Charleston, South Carolina. Sullivan’s Island, a region in Charleston, is where the historic forts used during the colonial era. This region has rich history and lore about spirits and ghosts, and it’s also where my informant is from. Ghost stories of Charleston, from what my informant has described to me, are very common and are tossed around especially amongst younger children. While not all of the residents of Charleston may believe these stories, the city still attracts plenty of tourists enticed by these spirits.

Context:

The conversation took place at my apartment in Los Angeles, and no other person was present during our conversation. It was a comfortable setting with no notable distractions.

My thoughts:

I found this piece particularly interesting, more so than other ghost stories, because it’s a mixture of actual folklore and literature. The myth of Annabel Lee predated Poe, but it was his poem that made this story mainstream to the rest of the world. And because his poem was so heavily based on his own life, it resulted in an interesting amalgamation of an author inserting himself into a folklore to enrich the myth even further.

Family Poetry Tradition

Subject:  Family tradition of Narrative Verse.

Collection:

“Are you ready?

There are strange things done in the midnight sun

By the men who moil for gold;

The Arctic trails have their secret tales

That would make your blood run cold;

The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,

But the queerest they ever did see

Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge

I cremated Sam McGee.

 

Now Sam McGee was from Tennessee, where the cotton blooms and blows.

Why he left his home in the South to roam ’round the Pole, God only knows.

He was always cold, but the land of gold seemed to hold him like a spell;

Though he’d often say in his homely way that “he’d sooner live in hell.”

 

On a Christmas Day we were mushing our way over the Dawson trail.

Talk of your cold! through the parka’s fold it stabbed like a driven nail.

If our eyes we’d close, then the lashes froze till sometimes we couldn’t see;

It wasn’t much fun, but the only one to whimper was Sam McGee.

 

And that very night, as we lay packed tight in our robes beneath the snow,

And the dogs were fed, and the stars o’erhead were dancing heel and toe,

He turned to me, and “Cap,” says he, “I’ll cash in this trip, I guess;

And if I do, I’m asking that you won’t refuse my last request.”

 

Well, he seemed so low that I couldn’t say no; then he says with a sort of groan:

“It’s the cursèd cold, and it’s got right hold till I’m chilled clean through to the bone.

Yet ’tain’t being dead—it’s my awful dread of the icy grave that pains;

So I want you to swear that, foul or fair, you’ll cremate my last remains.”

 

A pal’s last need is a thing to heed, and I swore I would not fail;

And we started on at the streak of dawn; but God! he looked ghastly pale.

[at a bird] Oh yeah, there he goes!

He crouched…ah, let’s see…

He crouched on the sleigh, and he raved all day of his home in Tennessee;

And before nightfall a corpse was all that was left of Sam McGee.

 

There wasn’t a breath in that land of death, and I hurried, horror-driven,

With a corpse half hid that I couldn’t get rid, because of a promise given;

It was lashed to the sleigh, and it seemed to say: “You may tax your brawn and brains,

But you promised true, and it’s up to you to cremate these last remains.”

 

Ah… I’ll just skip a little…

The trail was bad, and I felt half mad, but I swore I would not give in;

And I’d often sing to the hateful thing, and it hearkened with a grin.

 

Till I came to the marge of Lake Lebarge, and a derelict there lay;

It was jammed in the ice, but I saw in a thrice it was called the “Alice May.”

And I looked at it, and I thought a bit, and I looked at my frozen chum;

And “Here,” said I, with a sudden cry, “is my cre-ma-tor-eum.”

 

Some planks I tore from the cabin floor, and I lit the boiler fire;

Some coal I found that was lying around, and I heaped the fuel higher;

The flames just soared, and the furnace roared—such a blaze you seldom see;

And I burrowed a hole in the glowing coal, and I stuffed in Sam McGee.

 

Then I made a hike, for I didn’t like to hear him sizzle so;

And the huskies howled, and the heavens scowled, and the wind began to blow.

It was icy cold, but the hot sweat rolled down my cheeks, and I don’t know why;

And the greasy smoke in an inky cloak went streaking down the sky.

 

I do not know how long in the snow I wrestled with grisly fear;

But the stars came out and they danced about ere again I ventured near;

I was sick with dread, but I bravely said: “I’ll just take a peep inside.

I guess he’s cooked, it’s time I looked”; … and the door I opened wide.

 

And there sat Sam, looking cool and calm, in the heart of the furnace roar;

And he wore a smile you could see a mile, and he said: “Please close the door.

It’s warm in here, but I greatly fear you’ll let in the cold and storm—

Since I left Plumtree, down in Tennessee, it’s the first time I’ve been warm.”

 

There are strange things done in the midnight sun

By the men who moil for gold;

The Arctic trails have their secret tales

That would make your blood run cold;

The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,

But the queerest they ever did see

Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge

I cremated Sam McGee.”

Background Info: B. Taylor is a long-time resident of San Clemente, CA where he raised his two sons and now resides with his wife. He holds undergraduate and pharmacy degrees from the University of Southern California.

Context: This video was taken of my grandfather reciting the poem on the banks of an Alaskan river. He frequently recites it at family gatherings and around the campfire on trips to Mexico, so I have personally heard a live telling of the poem multiple times. He learned the poem from his father who learned it from his father, and my father’s elder brother is the last person to have learned the poem purely through hearing it recited. Before my father’s family had tv or radio, their primary activity in the evenings was sharing narratives and poems. This is my grandfather’s favorite.

Analysis: The integration of the poem into our family’s traditions shows the interaction between the ways a piece of copyright material can be adopted and then modified. While members of the family subconsciously recognize the poem is from a book, it is thought of as now belonging to our family’s history. Furthermore, the slight changes in language and the omissions that have occurred over the years, make it distinct to our family’s oral traditions. In this way, the poem carries the weight, intellect, and history of those who came before me. In our family’s history, the Service poems were learned by the males in my family while women learned the biblical and romantic poetries. In this way, the memorization of the correct genre of verse is a rite of passage (since, once you learn the poem and can bear it, you now have authority in these family gatherings) and an assertion of one’s role within the family structure.

Furthermore, sharing the poem around a campfire is one of the key ways that the family bond is establish and then reinforced. One of the ironies of the poem is the setting in which my family shares it, compared to the content of the poem: a quest to find warmth, ending in a cremation. The poem beautifully captures the struggle of survival and human agency against uncontrollable natural elements (with the added element of the macabre). My family’s retention of the poem is contrary to the rapid spread of technology that has occurred since the book was published, it is a reminder of a time without television or cell phones where people connected to each other and the world around them. Especially today, our performance of the poem acts as resistance to the dominant cultural forces that threaten to eliminate the ways of life that the older members of my family hold dear.

Every telling is different, this wiggle room in the structure of the verse allows for the narrator to alter the poem to suit their dramatic vision. Depending on the teller, different characters have different voices, and certain moments become more poignant. It is through these retellings that the poem comes to life, and my family reconnects through actively displaying our ties to one another.

For Further Reading: The complete text of Robert W. Service’s poem can be found online at https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/45081/the-cremation-of-sam-mcgee. My grandfather owns an original copy of Service’s book The Spell of the Yukon published in 1907 from which the family first learned the poem.

Here I Sit, Broken Hearted

Over the past few years, I’ve heard snippets of this friend’s crazy grandpa. Many nights, we’d eat together and share stories of our nutty families, as we both share lineage with what many would call ‘eccentrics’. Self purportedly from a family comprised of 50% white trash and 50% religious explorers, he grew up around a variety of funny saying and stories.

The following was recorded during a group interview with 4 other of our friends in the common area of a 6-person USC Village apartment.

“He had a lot of songs and stuff too. Like his, okay. His grandpa built the railroads in California, and they would like sing songs while the worked and stuff. And so he just knew all these like limericks and little poems and stuff that were always like, pretty dirty. The only one I remember – I learned it for my third grade poetry class. And got in trouble, but it was, uh, ‘Here I sit, broken hearted. Tried to shit, but only farted. So then I stood to take a chance, tried to fart, but shit my pants.’ I said ‘poop’, but yeah. Third grade.”

Ah, the classic bathroom graffiti poem. I remember reading this on the wall of a dirty little gas-station in Fresno on the drive up to San Francisco for a family vacation. In looking online, I was unable to track down a definitive source for the poem, although there are many guesses. It’s interesting to hear it linked to to the railroad builders of California way back when. Online, the only consensus anyone can achieve is that it originated with pay toilets, as a different version of the poem goes “Here I sit, broken hearted. Paid a dime and only farted. Yesterday I took a chance, Saved a dime and shit my pants”, making reference to back when pay toilets were a widespread thing across America and the world.  According to a few online sources, a group called CEPTIA (The Committee to End Pay Toilets In America) arose in the 70’s and rallied against pay-toilets. They enjoyed large success, and now pay-toilets exist mainly in memory and entertainment.

For a thread on a discussion of the poem, check out: https://www.reddit.com/r/pics/comments/chhju/here_i_sit_broken_hearted/

For a 1973 article on CEPTIA, check out: https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=CPceAAAAIBAJ&sjid=KY0EAAAAIBAJ&pg=7338,2470934

 

Irish Limerick

My informant, an Irish-American male, grew up immersed in Irish culture. He was excited to share his Limericks with me — especially because sharing stories and poems is an important part of Irish social culture. I collected this Limerick (which he learned from his father) from him while we sat on his couch:

 

Killian: “There once was a man Paul,

Who went to a fancy dress ball;

He thought he would risk it,

and went as a biscuit .

And was eaten by a dog in the hall.”

 

Me: “Why did you share this particular Limerick?”

 

Killian: “I like this one because it’s funny — it’s just so stupid! [He chuckles] It’s my comedy!”

 

Me: “Any other reasons or significance?”

 

Killian: “I say it a lot sometimes. Oh! My dad’s name is Paul, so whenever we shared this, it would be, like, a little funnier.”

 

I asked my informant for more context of the piece, and he told me that sharing Limericks and stories is a component of Irish parties. The parties are called ‘singsongs.’ People get together and share stories, limericks, songs, and play traditional Irish instruments. Usually, everyone knows how to play every instrument and knows every song, so they usually happen spur of the moment — “and drunk. But that goes without saying.”

Analysis:

My informant has told me on many occasions that he is good at coming up with Limericks. He often jokes that it’s ‘in his blood’ because of his Irish heritage. He especially likes to share them when he is having fun with this friends, which replicates the tradition of Irish singsongs. My favorite part of collecting this piece, though, was seeing his passion as he performed the poem.

 

AIDS poem in lipstick on mirror

I have a cousin who is an event planner in Colombia, Juliana, who arrived to the US in February of this year to start an intensive English program through UCLA extension. She was told in Colombia by her aunts to be careful because STD’s are rampant in Los Angeles, although none of them have traveled here. After making several American friends, one night at a party, the subject of STD’s came up and people started to tell stories. She said an American guy with dark hair was saying he had a former roommate when he was a freshman in college, who would sleep around without precautions. One night after “bagging a chick” he woke up to find he was alone, secretly he was grateful to avoid any awkwardness of kicking out a stranger. When he went to the bathroom, he saw lipstick on his mirror. Juliana initially did not understand what was written on the mirror and ask the guy to type it down on her phone so she could translate it later. It was a poem that read “Roses are red, Violets are blue, I have AIDS and now so do you” when she finally translated it, she said she was so shocked and it freaked her out a lot. One of her teachers seeing her so upset asked her what was wrong and she relayed the story, she said that her teacher started laughing really hard, this only made Juliana confused and embarrassed until her teacher explain that what she was told was an urban legend by the guy at the party and therefore not true.

Analysis: Juliana asked me three times to reassure her that the story was an in fact, an urban legend. She also asked why would anybody repeat such a horrible lie. I said that I am sure that Colombia had their share of urban legend as well but she denied that claim and said that any stories told were just to scare children into compliance. I think she was more susceptible to the legend because she was primed by her aunts. Her lack of confidence with English also made her likelier to believe someone who was a confident English speaker and storyteller. These kind of legends because of the believability factor seemed to get under people’s skin more and last longer, my cousin Patty said the same story was told to her with slight variation when she was in her 30’s when Aids was more of a death sentence than now and she stills remember the circumstances around the telling of the story.