The Scent of Musk

James Russell Lowell
James Russell Lowell

I am still laboring happily through Edmund Wilson’s book Patriotic Gore, and, though difficult, it’s very rewarding.

For example, James Russell Lowell wrote a lot of poems which you or I would not get much enjoyment out of, no matter how we worked at it. But Lowell wrote some funny sketches known as the Biglow Papers in a New England dialect that you or I might definitely get a kick out of.

“The dialect liberates Lowell for a play of imagination that one hardly find elsewhere in his writing, ” Wilson says. And he gives a lovely example that I’m going to send to the Keno twins from Antiques Roadshow, because it’s about a beautiful old mahogany chest of drawers:

“Once get a smell o’ musk into a draw
An’ it clings hold like precedent in law.

Your gra’ma’am put it there – when goodness knows –
To jes’ this-worldify her Sunday clo’es.

But the old chist won’t serve her gran’son’s wife.
(For,  ‘thout new funnitoor, wut good in life?)

An’ so old clawfoot , from the precinks dread
O’ the spare chamber, slinks into the shed,

Where, dim with dust, it fust or last subsides
To holdin’ seeds an’ fifty things besides.

But better days stick fast in heart and husk
An’ all you keep in ‘t gits a scent o’ musk.