Sunday, June 19, 2005

Archy And Mehitabel

Way back in December, after I saw the "Series of Unfortunate Events" movie and read all of Becca's Lemony Snicket books, I wrote: "I need to look up some of the references which went over my head -- 'Morel' Behavior in a Free Society, Archy and Mahitabel, Comyns, and Carl Van Vechten."

And yesterday I was reading a series of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan-fic (A Raising in the Sun, Necessary Evils, and A Parliament of Monsters, professional quality stuff recommended by a professional SF editor on her blog, Making Light) when I came across this:

"Buffy propped her chin on her fist and frowned. 'Did you know Spike likes poetry?'

This proved sufficient to distract Willow from the mutilation of her napkin. Her brows quirked. 'He never told me so in so many words, but he was helping me catch up with my Western Lit when I was out of school for that week, and no one knows that much about archy and mehitabel if they don’t like poetry.'"

(This is a nice touch by the author, I think. We viewers know that Spike wrote terrible poetry before he became a vampire, because we've seen the flashbacks. But that tough, evil, vampire Spike still puts on reading glasses in his crypt sometimes and scans some Shelley? That, he hides well.)

Okay, anyway, that's two pop culture references to Archy and Mehitabel. I had to Google it. (And this time, I spelled Mehitabel correctly.)

I suppose lots of my hypothetical readers already know all about them, but for those as ignorant as me, here's what I found:

Archy is a cockroach who can only hit one typewriter key at a time, and so can't do capital letters:

" expression is the need of my soul
i was once a vers libre bard
but i died and my soul went into the body of a cockroach
it has given me a new outlook upon life
i see things from the under side now
thank you for the apple peelings in the wastepaper basket
but your paste is getting so stale i cant eat it
there is a cat here called mehitabel i wish you would have
removed she nearly ate me the other night why dont she
catch rats that is what she is supposed to be fore
there is a rat here she should get without delay

most of these rats here are just rats
but this rat is like me he has a human soul in him
he used to be a poet himself
night after night i have written poetry for you
on your typewriter
and this big brute of a rat who used to be a poet
comes out of his hole when it is done
and reads it and sniffs at it
he is jealous of my poetry
he used to make fun of it when we were both human
he was a punk poet himself
and after he has read it he sneers
and then he eats it"

(read the rest here).

It turns out that a cockroach has a unique point of view. No human writer could say:

"i once heard the survivors
of a colony of ants
that had been partially
obliterated by a cow s foot
seriously debating
the intention of the gods
towards their civilization"

I am very pleased to meet Archy and Mehitabel both.


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