Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Beware the Poet Laureate

Emily Wilson has written a companion piece to yesterday's article in the Guardian about the RLS top ten books for children initiative. Wilson takes on the list contributed by the Poet Laureate of the U.K., Andrew Motion. Here are some of her funnier contributions:
  • The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James (1881): A rich young woman called Isabel Archer falls under the spell of Gilbert Osmond and his "friend" Madame Merle. Isabel marries Osmond - uh oh! - and she will never be happy again. The moral: stay away from older men with houses full of fine art and mysterious, older female friends. (If only Diana had read it!)
  • Paradise Lost by John Milton (1667): Satan, disguised as a serpent, persuades Eve to eat some forbidden fruit ... sound familiar? Milton's poem of the greatest story ever told sets out Satan as the greatest villain ever. [Note to parents: no child will ever again complain about having been forced to read Ulysses.]
  • The Waste Land by TS Eliot (1922): Question: is this poem - which includes lines such as "Jug jug jug jug jug jug" - incomprehensible nonsense, or the greatest poem ever written? To find out, you will need all your ancient Greek, along with any German and French you may have picked up along the way.

I love the "moral" of The Portrait of a Lady.