Friday, December 31, 2010

The Soothsayer

Poggio Bracciolini, Facetiae CLXIV (In Which Gonella, the Jester, Wins a Wager; tr. Anonymous):
It is told of Gonella, the clever jester, that he wagered with a man from Ferrara that he would make a soothsayer of him.

He took his companion to bed with him and, breaking wind softly, instructed him to stick his head under the covers. The other obeyed, but immediately withdrew, offended by the foul odor.

“It appears to me that you have farted,” he said. Upon which Gonella cried: “Correct! I win the bet, for you are already a soothsayer!”

Monday, December 27, 2010

Thoughts While Emptying the Cistern of Nature

Cotton Mather, Diary (July 1700):
I was once emptying the Cistern of Nature, and making Water at the Wall. At the same Time, there came a Dog, who did so too, before me. Thought I; "What mean, and vile Things are the Children of Men, in this mortal State! How much do our natural Necessities abase us, and place us in some regard, on the same Level with the very Dogs!"

My Thought proceeded. "Yett I will be a more noble Creature; and at the very Time, when my natural Necessities debase me into the Condition of the Beast, my Spirit shall (I say, at that very Time!) rise and soar, and fly up, towards the Employment of the Angel."

Accordingly, I resolved, that it should be my ordinary Practice, whenever I step to answer the one or other Necessity of Nature, to make it an Opportunity of shaping in my Mind, some holy, noble, divine Thought; usually, by way of occasional Reflection on some sensible Object which I either then have before me, or have lately had so: a Thought that may leave upon my Spirit, some further Tincture of Piety!

And I have done according to this Resolution!

Friday, December 24, 2010

I Honor Shit

Maxine Kumin, The Excrement Poem:
It is done by us all, as God disposes, from
the least cast of worm to what must have been
in the case of the brontosaur, say, spoor
of considerable heft, something awesome.

We eat, we evacuate, survivors that we are.
I think these things each morning with shovel
and rake, drawing the risen brown buns
toward me, fresh from the horse oven, as it were,

or culling the alfalfa-green ones, expelled
in a state of ooze, through the sawdust bed
to take a serviceable form, as putty does,
so as to lift out entire from the stall.

And wheeling to it, storming up the slope,
I think of the angle of repose the manure
pile assumes, how sparrows come to pick
the redelivered grain, how inky-cap

coprinous mushrooms spring up in a downpour.
I think of what drops from us and must then
be moved to make way for the next and next.
However much we stain the world, spatter

it with our leavings, make stenches, defile
the great formal oceans with what leaks down,
trundling off today's last barrowful,
I honor shit for saying: We go on.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Home Is Where the Fart Is

Ernest Hemingway, The Soul of Spain with McAlmon and Bird the Publishers:
In the rain in the rain in the rain in the rain in Spain.
Does it rain in Spain?
Oh yes my dear on the contrary and there are no bull fights.
The dancers dance in long white pants
It isn't right to yence your aunts
Come Uncle, let's go home.
Home is where the heart is, home is where the fart is.
Come let us fart in the home.
There is no art in a fart.
Still a fart may not be artless.
Let us fart an artless fart in the home.
Bill says democracy must go.
Go democracy.
Bill's father would never knowingly sit down at table with a Democrat.
Now Bill says democracy must go.
Go on democracy.
Democracy is the shit.
Relativity is the shit.
Dictators are the shit.
Menken is the shit.
Waldo Frank is the shit.
The Broom is the shit.
Dada is the shit.
Dempsey is the shit.
This is not a complete list.
They say Ezra is the shit.
But Ezra is nice.
Come let us build a monument to Ezra.
Good a very nice monument.
You did that nicely
Can you do another?
Let me try and do one.
Let us all try and do one.
Let the little girl over there on the corner try and do one.
Come on little girl.
Do one for Ezra.
You have all been successful children.
Now let us clean the mess up.
The Dial does a monument to Proust.
We have done a monument to Ezra.
A monument is a monument.
After all it is the spirit of the thing that counts.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Behaving Like a Beast

Lord Chesterfield, Letters to His Son, CC (London, November 3, O.S. 1749):
Suppose you and me alone together; I believe you will allow that I have as good a right to unlimited freedom in your company, as either you or I can possibly have in any other; and I am apt to believe too, that you would indulge me in that freedom, as far as anybody would. But notwithstanding this, do you imagine that I should think there were no bounds to that freedom? I assure you, I should not think so; and I take myself to be as much tied down by a certain degree of good manners to you, as by other degrees of them to other people. Were I to show you, by a manifest inattention to what you said to me, that I was thinking of something else the whole time; were I to yawn extremely, snore, or break wind in your company, I should think that I behaved myself to you like a beast, and should not expect that you would care to frequent me.
We may safely conclude, then, that Lord Chesterfield never said to his son, "Pull my finger, dear boy."

Saturday, December 11, 2010

An Old French Proverb

"Tart main a cul, quant pet est hors." I take this to mean "Too late is a hand over the arse hole, once the fart is out." A German version — "Zu spät bedeckt man den Arsch nach dem Furz."

These seem to me more earthy and vigorous than the English "It is too late to shutte the stable doore when the steed is stolne."

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Let Us Exchange Our Buttocks

Franz Boas, Kathlamet Texts (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1901), pp. 84-87:
Now they were hungry. Coyote mended his arrows. They went to shoot birds. Early in the morning they went. At night they came home. Badger had killed many, Coyote had killed one duck. Next morning they went again to shoot birds. At night they came home. Coyote had killed two, Badger had killed many. On the following day they went again and came back at night. Coyote had nothing. Badger had shot many. Thus it was every day. One night Coyote thought: "Let us exchange our buttocks," and he said: "What do you think? Let us exchange our buttocks." Badger replied: "I like my own buttocks. I know them: you do not know them."

The next day they went again and came back in the evening. Badger had caught many, and Coyote had two. Badger had no arrows. He just broke wind at those birds. Coyote had arrows, and behold, he got nothing. On the following morning it was just the same. Badger got many. He merely broke wind, and they were dead. Coyote sometimes got one, sometimes none. At night he said again: "Let us exchange our buttocks." Badger said: "No." Every evening Coyote said the same thing and made his brother tired.

Then Badger said: "You make me tired. Let us exchange them." Then they exchanged their buttocks. Now Coyote was glad. He was awake, and thought: "Now I have fooled you. Badger. Now I shall get many." He rose early and quickly. Then he broke wind. He arose and went out. He went with long strides and broke wind: pō, pō, pō, pō. He made slow steps and broke wind: pu, pu, pu, pu. When he stepped with long strides, he broke wind loudly; when he went slowly, he broke wind slowly. Now they went to hunt birds. They came home in the evening. Coyote had nothing, hut Badger had caught many. Coyote tried to go up to the birds with long steps, but every time he stepped he broke wind: pō, pō, pō. On the following day they went again and came back in the evening. Coyote had nothing, and Badger had killed many.

Then Coyote thought: "I made a mistake: I will return his buttocks to him." He said: "What do you think? I will return your buttocks to you." Badger did not say anything. Coyote tried to keep his buttocks closed, but he could not do it. He almost reached the ducks; then they smelled him and flew away. Again they came home, and he said: "I will return your buttocks to you." But Badger was angry. "You make me tired." he said. "I gave them to you. Now you are making me tired again. Take out yours first." Coyote took out the buttocks of Badger. Then Badger took out those of Coyote and threw them into the water, while he put his own buttocks into himself. Now Coyote's buttocks drifted down the rapid creek. Coyote pursued them. Badger went away.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Pepys Poops

Samuel Pepys, Diary (Saturday, October 10, 1663):
Up; and not in any good ease yet, but had pain in making water, and some course I see I must take, besides keeping myself warm, to make myself break wind and go freely to stool before I can be well—neither of which I can do yet, though I have drank the other bottle of Mr. Hollyards against my stomach this morning.

I did however make shift to go to the office, where we sat; and there Sir J. Mennes and Sir W. Batten did advise me to take some Juniper water, and Sir W. Batten sent to his Lady for some for me, strong water made of Juniper. Whether that, or anything else of my draught this morning did it, I cannot tell, but I had a couple of stools forced after it and did break a fart or two; but whether I shall grow better upon it I cannot tell.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Rather Girlish Noise

James Joyce, letter to Nora Barnacle (December 8, 1909):
I think I would know Nora's fart anywhere. I think I could pick hers out in a roomful of farting women. It is a rather girlish noise not like the wet windy fart which I imagine fat wives have. It is sudden and dry and dirty like what a bold girl would let off in fun in a school dormitory at night.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Scatological Anagram

Sir Thomas Browne, Works, ed. Geoffrey Keynes, vol. 3 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1964), p. 274:
There were in my time two proctors of the same yeare in Oxford John Smith a man not well beloved and William Oldis a purblind dimme sighted, on whome these Anagrams were made:
William Oldis
silly dimme owl
John Smith
shyt on him

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Slave of Vulgar Needs

Joris-Karl Huysmans, "Ecstacy," from The Box of Spices (1874), my translation:
Night had come, the moon was emerging from the horizon, spreading on the blue background of the sky her sulfur-colored gown. I was seated next to my beloved, oh! very close! I clasped her hands, I inhaled the warm scent of her neck, the intoxicating breath of her mouth, I pressed against her shoulder, I wanted to weep; ecstasy kept me throbbing, desperate, my soul took wing on the sea of infinity. Suddenly she rose, freed her hand, disappeared into the hornbeam grove, and I heard a pitter-patter of rain on the leaves. The delicious dream vanished ...; I fell back to earth, to vile earth. O my God! So it was true, she, the divine beloved, she was, like the others, the slave of vulgar needs!

La nuit était venue, la lune émergeait de l'horizon, étalant sur le pavé bleu du ciel sa robe couleur soufre. J'étais assis près de ma bien-aimée, oh! bien près! Je serrais ses mains, j'aspirais la tiède senteur de son cou, le souffle enivrant de sa bouche, je me serrais contre son épaule, j'avais envie de pleurer; l'extase me tenait palpitant, éperdu, mon âme volait à tire d'aile sur la mer de l'infini. Tout à coup elle se leva, dégagea sa main, disparut dans la charmoie, et j'entendis comme un crépitement de pluie dans la feuillée. Le rêve délicieux s'évanouit...; je retombais sur la terre, sur l'ignoble terre. O mon Dieu! c'était donc vrai, elle, la divine aimée, elle était, comme les autres, l'esclave de vulgaires besoins!
A friend (to whom I am indebted for pointing out this passage) commented, "Poor girl. The hornbeam grove was obviously a pis-aller."

Friday, November 26, 2010

Farts: A Fragment

Unfortunately this is all that I can reconstruct from Google Books' snippet view of the beginning of a poem by George Macbeth entitled "Farts," which appeared in Poetry Review 77 (1987) 35:
Farts! The last outrage of the bum
Whose lumpish contours, ordered to succumb
To forceful briefs or britches, feel their triumph come.

Farts! In their vengeful odour, still
They range as outlaws, pungent as pig-swill
And deafening the nose-drums like a noisome drill.

Lingering dregs! A dog's loosed knell
Which nothing but a good hosing can dispel
Or cat's thin, whiskery chink no disinfectant quell.

Worst is the human. Outcast air
That no disruptive perfume can repair
Or aerosoled excuses nullify or snare.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


John Barth, The Sot-Weed Factor (Garden City: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1960), p. 322:
While thus he lay debating, his valet, though asleep, was by no means at rest His innards commenced to growl and snarl like beagles at a grounded fox; the hominy and cider in him foamed and effervesced; anon there came salutes to the rising moon, and the bedchamber filled with the perfume of ferment. The author of these delights snored roundly, but his master was not so fortunate; indeed, he had at length to flee the room, ears ringing, head a-spin, and the smart of bumbolts in his eyes.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Sacred Place

Alan Weisman, The World Without Us (New York: St. Martin's Press, 2007), pp. 57-58:
Soon after he arrived in Tucson, his new boss at the Desert Lab had handed him an earthen gray lump the approximate size and shape of a softball. It was at least 10,000 years old, but unmistakably a turd.


Inside Rampart Cave was a mound of dung deposited, he and his colleagues concluded, by untold generations of female sloths who took shelter there to give birth. The manure pile was five feet high, 10 feet across, and more than 100 feet long. Martin felt like he'd entered a sacred place.

Friday, November 12, 2010

An Insult

Beaumont and Fletcher, The Knight of the Burning Pestle, Act III, Scene V:
Now a churl's fart in your teeth, sir!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


Jonathan Swift, Mad Mullinix and Timothy, lines 151-152:
I fart with twenty ladies by;
They call me beast, and what care I?

Monday, November 8, 2010

A Rouzer

Jonathan Swift, Strephon and Chloe (1734), lines 191-192:
And as he fill'd the reeking Vase,
Let fly a Rouzer in her Face.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines rouser, sense 3, as "A loud noise; a noisy person, song, etc." and cites Swift. But, in plain English, a rouzer here is a fart.

Kenneth Haynes, English Literature and Ancient Languages (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), p. 58 (with note on p. 182), comments:
The force of those lines depends not only on the scatology but also on the surprising word 'Rouzer'; Geoffrey Hill has observed, 'It would be difficult to find a word that blends the outrageous and the festive more effectively than this.'45

45Geoffrey Hill, The Lords of Limit (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984), 78.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Cacatio Matutina Est Tamquam Medicina

Confessions of a Barbarian: Selections from the Journals of Edward Abbey, 1951-1989 (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1996), p. 292:
Nothing like the deep satisfaction of a good defecation in the morning; why carry two or three pounds of shit around all day?

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Stages of a Relationship

From the movie Love and Other Disasters (2006):
Therapist: Relationships are best measured by farting.

Peter Simon: Excuse me?

Therapist: The stages of a relationship can be defined by farting. Stage one is the conspiracy of silence. This is a fantasy period where both parties pretend that they have no bodily waste. This illusion is very quickly shattered by that first shy, "Ooh, did you fart," followed by the sheepish admission of truth. This heralds a period of deeper intimacy. A period I like to call the "Fart Honeymoon", where both parties find each other's gas just the cutest thing in the world. But, of course, no honeymoon can last forever. And so we reach the critical fork in the fart. Either the fart loses its power to amuse and embarrass thereby signifying true love, or else it begins to annoy and disgust, thereby symbolizing all that is blocked and rancid in the formerly beloved. Do you see what I'm getting at?
Hat tip: My brother's wife, who took it down in shorthand while watching the movie.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Dog Did It

Carol Drinkwater, The Olive Farm: A Memoir of Life, Love and Olive Oil in the South of France (Woodstock: Overlook Press, 2001), p. 39:
"What about Pamela?" asks Clarisse.

I turn my head in surprise. Who is Pamela?

Clarisse points to the gate, and there, panting and waddling toward us, is a startlingly obese German shepherd. The addition of Pamela unbalances the carefully considered equilibrium of my already dangerously overloaded Golf, and worse, elle fait les petits pets all the way from Paris to Cannes. And they are lethal! Embracing a new family is one thing, but by the time we reach Aix-en-Provence, I am seriously asking myself, can I love this smelly dog?

Monday, October 25, 2010

An Admirable Faculty in Farting

Sir Roger L'Estrange, Fables Of Aesop And other Eminent Mythologists, 7th ed. (London: D. Brown, 1724), p. 321 (no. 306, entitled An Ass puts in for an Office):
There was a Bantering Droll got himself into a very good Equipage and Employment, by an admirable Faculty he had in Farting. The Success of this Buffon encourag'd an Ass to put in for a Place too; for, says he, I'll Fart with that Puppy for his Commission, and leave it to the Judgment of those that preferred him, which has the Clearer, and Better scented Pipe of the Two.

The Moral.

Where Publique Ministers encourage Buffonery, 'tis no wonder if Buffons set up for Publique Ministers.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

I Sing the Praises of a Fart

A Member of the Athenian Society, Athenian Sport: or, Two Thousand Paradoxes Merrily Argued, to Amuse and Divert the Age (London: B. Bragg, 1707), pp. 114-115 = Paradox XXVI (The Best Perfume, or a Paradox in Praise of Farting):
I sing the Praises of a Fart;
That I may do't by Rules of Art,
I will invoke no Deity,
But butter'd Pease and Furmity,
And think their Help sufficient
To fit and furnish my Intent.
For sure I must not use high Strains,
For fear it bluster out in Grains:
When Virgil's Gnat, and Ovid's Flea,
And Homer's Frogs strive for the day,
There is no reason in my mind,
That a brave Fart should come behind;
Since that you may it parallel
With any thing that doth excel:
Musick is but a Fart, that's sent
From the Guts of an Instrument:
The Scholar but farts, when he gains
Learning with cracking of his Brains,
And when he 'as spent much pain and toil,
Thomas and Dun to reconcile;
And to learn the abstracting Art,
What does he get by't? Not a Fart.
The Soldier makes his Foes to run,
With but the Farting of a Gun;
That's if he make the Bullet whistle,
Else 'tis no better than a Fizle:
And if withal the Wind do stir up
Rain, 'tis but a Fart in Syrrup.
They are but Farts, the Words we say,
Words are but Wind, and so are they.
Applause is but a Fart, the crude
Blast of the fickle Multitude.
Fine Boats that lie the Thames about,
Be but Farts several Docks let out.
Some of our Projects were, I think,
But Politick Farts; foh, how they stink!
As soon as born, they by and by,
Fart-like, but only breathe and die,
Farts are as good as Land, for both
We hold in Tail, and let them both:
Only the difference here is, that
Farts are let at a lower rate.
I'll say no more, for this is right,
That for my Guts I cannot write,
Tho I should study all my days,
Rhimes that are worth the thing I praise.
What I have said, take in good part,
If not, I do not care a FART.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Strange Remedy

Robert Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy, Part. 2, Sec. 5, Mem. 3, Subs. 2:
Amatus Lusitanus, cent. 4. curat. 54, for a hypochondriacal person, that was extremely tormented with wind, prescribes a strange remedy. Put a pair of bellows' end into a clyster pipe, and applying it into the fundament, open the bowels, so draw forth the wind, natura non admittit vacuum. He vaunts he was the first invented this remedy, and by means of it speedily eased a melancholy man. Of the cure of this flatuous melancholy, read more in Fienus de Flatibus, cap. 26. et passim alias.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Prayer in the Privy

John Harrington A Dish of Daynties for the Devill:
A godlie father sitting on a draught
to do as need and nature hath us taught,
        Mumbled as was his manner certayn prayers,
        And unto him the Devill straight repayres,
And boldly to revile him he begins,
Alledging that such prayres were deadly sins
        And that yt proov'd he was devoyde of grace
        to speake to God from so unfitt a place.

        The reverent man, though at the first dismayd,
Yet stronge in faith, thus to the Devill he sayd.
Thou damned Spirite, wicked false and lying,
dispayring thine own good, and ours envying
each take his dew, and me thou canst not hurt
to god my prayr I meant, to thee the durt.

        Pure prayer ascends to him that high doth sitt,
        Down falls the filth for fields of hell more fitt.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Boys' Night Out

[Edward Ward], A Compleat and Humorous Account of all the Remarkable Clubs and Societies in the Cities of London and Westminster..., 7th ed. (London: J. Wren, 1756), pp. 31-36 = Of the FARTING Club:
[31] Of all the fantastical Clubs that ever took Pains to make themselves stink in the Nostrils of the Public, sure no ridiculous Community ever came up to this windy Society, which was certainly establish'd by a Parcel of empty Sparks, about Thirty Years since, at a Public House in Cripplegate Parish, where they used to meet once a Week to poison the neighbouring Air with their unsavory Crepitations, and were so vain in their Ambition to out Fart one another, that they used to diet themselves against their Club Nights with Cabbage, Onions, and Pease-Porridge, that every one's Bumfiddle might be the better qualify'd to sound forth its Emulation. The Stewards, who were chosen once a Quarter, [32] being the Auricular Judges of all Fundamental Disputes that should arise between the Buttocks of the odoriferous Assembly. The Liquors that they drank, in order to tune their Arses, were new Ale and Juniper Water, till every one was swell'd like a blown Bag Pipe, and then they began to Thunder out whole Vollies, like a Regiment of Trainbands in a vigorous Attack upon Bunhill-Fields Dunghill, till the Room they sat in stunk ten Times stronger than a Tom-Turd's Lay-stall: Yet, in their windy Eruptions, they had so nice a Regard to Lapet-Cleanliness, that an old Alms-Woman had a better Pension from the Club, than she had from the Parish, to give her constant Attendance in the next Room, and if any Member was suspected of a Brewers Miscarriage, he was presently sent in to be examined by the Matron, who, after searching his Breeches, and narrowly inspecting the hind Lappet of his Shirt, thro' her crack'd Spectacles, made her Report accordingly; if unsoil'd, then a Spank on the Bum was given to the Looby, as a Token of his Cleanliness; but if the nasty Bird had befoul'd his Nest, then, Beshit upon Honour, was her return to the Board, and the laxative Offender was amerc'd for his Default. When ever any Health was begun in the Society, it was always honour'd with the windy Compliment of a Gun from the Stern, and drank with as much Formality, as Commmanders push about the Royal Health, on board their wooden Citadels, every Member's Affection to the Person nam'd, being measured by the Strength and Loudness of the stinking Report with which he crown'd his Bumper, Thus whoever wanted a Fart for a Great Man's Health, was enjoyn'd the Pennance of a Brimmer extraordinary; also look'd upon by the whole Company as an unmannerly Fellow. They were all profitable Customers to the Grey-Pea-Woman, who used to double her Quantity upon the Club Night, for the Benefit of the Society, and attend them as constantly as the Dame with her Firmity does the Hospital Gate every Smithfield Market, each charging his Guts with the Fartative Pills, by [33] shoveling down whole Handfuls, that what went in like Bullets, might come out like Gunpowder. Tho' their Weekly Meeting was held in Honour to the Rump, yet every Club Night they drank the King's Health, and then there was such Trumping about to signalize their Loyalty, that the Victualler was forced to burn Rosemary in his Kitchen, for fear the Expansion of the nauseous Fumes should poison his other Customers: So that though the Society was begun and carried on for some Time with abundance of Secrecy, yet they were soon smelt out, insomuch that the Sound of their Bumfiddles reach'd the Ears of the Neighbourhood, where, in an Alley adjacent, there happened to dwell an arch Fellow, who by long Study and Experience, had acquir'd an admirable Perfection in the new Art of Farting, by clapping his right Hand under his left Arm-pit, where he would gather Wind, and discharge it so surprizingly, that he would give you a Lady's Fart, a Brewer's Fart, a Bumkin's Fart, an old Woman's Slur, or a Maiden Fizzle, &c. so very tunably and natural, that they should entertain the Ears without offending the Nostrils, and provoke Laughter by the Sound, without the Punishment of a Stink: And this windy Operator having heard of the Fame of this expert Concert of Wind Music, made Interest to be admitted into the Trumpeting Society, that he might manifest his Excellence among the cracking Performers, still concealing to himself the Mystery he was Master of, that what he did by Art, might pass for the Works of Nature; and though it was his daily Practice to offer his Farts at Taverns, as Fiddlers at a Fair do their Scrapes and Sonnets, yet he did not care they should know his Calling, for fear they should except against so mercenary a Factor as should make Farts a Commodity. No sooner had they received him into their foisting Assembly, and, according to Custom, welcom'd their new Brother with a thundering Peal of Buttock Ordinance, but, in Respect to the Company, he faces them with his Arse, and returns their Compliment with such a succession of [34] Trumps, that he gave them more Diversity of Sounds in one cleanly Volley, than their whole Concert of Fundaments were able to imitate; upon which he was as kindly embrac'd, with all the Marks of Favour, as if they took him to be a God of the Winds, and his Arse to be a Miracle, allowing him at once to be an absolute Master of the Science of Ventosity, and respected him as much as a School of young Fencers do the Gladiator that teaches them: Every crepitant Member straining his Backside to come up to the Excellency of their worthy Example, till the old Woman was forc'd to run home for fresh Dishclouts, to wipe away the Dregs of their over-fruitful Endeavours, till at last some of the Members, through their penetrating Judgment, discovering the Fallacy, and finding the croaking Harmony they so much admir'd to be perform'd by Art instead of Nature, in a mighty Passion, they stunk him out of the Society, for an Emperic and a Counterfeit, though, upon humble Submission, they afterwards admitted him into a servile Post, and allow'd him Sixpence a Night to be Musician in Ordinary to their Farting Club.
Since he who by deceitful Arts,
With Arms instead of Arse lets Farts,
Shall be despis'd, because his Fun,
Can't fairly call the Sound its own.
Then what must he deserves who steals
His Wit, and treads on others Heels?
Whose busy Tongue makes public Use
Of what his Brains could ne'er produce.
Thus the stinking Society continued their Farting Concert for some Years with abundance of Decorum, till they had brought their Arses, by the Help of their Musician, into such excellent Tune, that they could command their Fundaments with as much Dexterity, as the best of the City Waits can a double Curtill; insomuch, that when any of the Members were so merrily disposed, as to entertain the rest with a Song or [35] Madrigal, the whole Choir of Bumfiddles struck into the Chorus, in such admirable Order, that a Stranger might have thought the whole Society had fed upon Scotch Bagpipes, and that the Drones had struck in their Arses, not that I can say they made a sweet Harmony, because the Breath of their Instruments came from such rotten Lungs, that every now and then would follow the Sound, In spite of all Retention, In these sort of Windy Recreations, they used to pass away their Club Evenings, till at length they grew so famous through the whole Parish, that their Neighbours and Passengers used to stop under the Window, and lend an Ear to their Arses, as if their Farts had been as musical as a Noise of Trumpets; and the very Boys and Girls in Imitation of their Harmony, went trumping with their Mouths along the Streets to School, till their Masters were forced to whip them till they stunk, to make them leave off Farting. No sooner were they thus arrived to the Zenith of their Glory, insomuch that their Repute began to reach the Ears, if not the Nostrils, of the Public, but some of the leading Members of the Crack-Fart Community, by extravagantly eating of Cabbage-Porridge, to put their Instruments in Tune, flung themselves, some into the Cholic, and others into a Diarrhaea, that several of the best Performers went Farting out of the World, and left nothing to Posterity, but an odious Stink behind them, it being positively asserted, by the Physicians that attended them, that the windy Diets they had eaten to Excess, had begot a Hurricane in their Guts, which had blown the whole Frame of Nature off the Hinges, and for want of a free Discharge through the Intestinum Rectum, had extended the Lactes into perfect Organ-Pipes, made Bellows of their Lungs, and puffed up the Vessels into such Turgent Vesicles, that had quite stagnated the Diastole Motion upon the Arteries, and consequently stopped the Pulsation of the Heart, to the Death of the Patients; and though the Wind found Vent just upon their Expiration, yet Nature was then too far spent to be relieved thereby. This Opinion of the Consult [36] of Physicians, taking Wind among the surviving Society, who attended several of their Brethren to the Grave, to honour their defunct Members with a Volley of Farts, as the military Heroes discharge a Round of Musquets, at the noble Interment of a Brother Soldier, and finding some Reafons to suspect that the same Food would bring them to the same End, they had the Wit to dissolve their Club, change their Cabbage Diet into substantial Beef, and to tie up their Fundaments by Degrees, from their accustomary Crepitation.
We read that Tubal Cain first found
In Cockle-Shells, sweet Musicks Sound;
And that the rural Nymphs and Swains,
Tun'd Reeds and Oat Straws on their Plains:
But sure no mortal Flesh aud Blood,
E'er heard before, since Noah's Flood,
Of Musick fizzl'd from a Gut,
Extended to the windy Scut.
Well may so many Birds excreet
The Dregs and Fesis of their Wit,
In beasty Songs, and bawdy Verses,
Since Men play Tunes upon their Arses.
E'n let such Heads and Tails unite,
That one may sing what th'others Write;
For swelling Rhimes are often found,
Like nauseous Farts, meer empty Sound.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Not Terribly Elegant

Lawrence Block, The Burglar Who Traded Ted Williams, chapter 2:
She laid a hand on top of mine. “Bern,” she said gently, “I think we should think about getting something to eat.”

“Here? At the Bum Rap?”

“No, of course not. I thought—”

“Good, because we tried that once, remember? Maxine popped a couple of burritos in the microwave for us. It took forever before they were cool enough to eat, and by then they were stale.”

“I remember.”

“For days,” I said, “all I did was fart.” I frowned. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t apologize now, Bern. That was a year and a half ago.”

“I’m not sorry I farted. I’m sorry I mentioned it. It’s not terribly elegant, is it? Talking about farting. Damn, I just did it again.”


“I don’t mean I farted again. I mentioned it again, that’s all. Isn’t it amazing that I’ll ordinarily go weeks on end without using the word ‘fart,’ and all of a sudden I can’t seem to get through a sentence without it?”
Hat tip: Mrs. Turdman.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Excerpts from The Benefit of Farting

Excerpts from The benefit of farting explain'd: or, the fundament-all cause of the distempers incident to the fair-sex, enquired into. Proving à posteriori most of the dis-ordures in-tail'd upon them, are owning to flatulencies not seasonably vented. Written in Spanish by Don Fartinando Puff-indorst, professor of bombast in the University of Crackow. And translated into English at the request, and for the use, of the Lady Damp-fart of Her-fart-shire. By Obadiah Fizzle, Groom of the Stool to the Princess of Arsimini in Sardinia. Long-Fart: (Longford in Ireland), printed by Simon Bumbubbard, at the sign of the Wind-Mill opposite Twattling-Street, 1722 (reprint 1735):
I therefore define a Fart, to be, A Nitro-Aerial Vapour, exhal'd from an adjacent Pond of Stagnant Water of a Saline Nature, and rarify'd and sublim'd into the Nose of a Microcosmical Alembic, by the gentle Heat of a STERCORARIOUS Balneum, with a strong Empyreuma, and forc'd thro' the Posteriours by the Compressive Power of the expulsive Faculty.


'Tis also a great Promoter of Mirth, for I've known one single Fart, that made an Escape, raise a Laugh of half an Hour, and the Celebrated Author of a Book called Laugh, and be Fat, proves Laughing to be a very wholesome exercise. Dr. Blow in his Treatise of the Fundiment-alls of Musick asserts, that the first Discovery of Harmony was owing to an Observation of Persons of different Sizes, sounding different Notes, in Musick, by Farting, for while one Farted in B fa bimi, another was observ'd to answer in F faut, and make that agreeable Concord call'd a Fifth, whence that Musical Part had its Name of Bum-Fiddle, and the first Invention of the Double Curtel was owing to this Observation; by this Rule it wou'd be an easy Matter to Form a Farting Consort, by ranging Persons of different Sizes in Order, as you wou'd a Ring of Bells, or a Set of Organ Pipes, which Entertainment wou'd prove much more Diverting round a Tea Table, than the usual one, Scandal; since the sweetest Harmony is allow'd by most, to proceed from GUTS. Then, that Lady wou'd be reckon'd the most agreeable in Company, who was readiest at Reportee; and to have a good Report behind her Back wou'd be allow'd a strong Argument of her Merit.


We've often heard, how the imprison'd Wind,
When in the Bowels of the Earth Confined,
And wanting vent, whate'er resists, it tears,
And overturns, what th' Earth above it bears,
Whole Towns, and People, in the wide rupture, fall,
Tho' one small vent at first, had sav'd them all.
So, in the Microcosm of Man, we find,
The like ill fate, attends a Fart confin'd,
For Cholick, Vapours, Spleen, and Melancholly,
Do wreck those, whs suppress it, for their folly.
Hence learn, what great Effects, small things produce!
The Capitol was sav'd from taking by a Goose.
Then, don't admire, that one small whiffling Fart,
Can guard from Spleen, the Citadel, your Heart.
And, tho' a Goose, let me in time persuade you,
To mind the Foes, that do Behind invade you;
That being, of such Appriz'd, you may prepare,
With speed, to plant your roaring Canons there.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Coleridge's Bowels

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, letter to his wife (June 5, 1804):
Whoever makes a sea voyage, should above all things provide themselves with aloetic pills, castor oil, & several other purgatives—as sometimes one will answer when others disagree—& everything depends on keeping the Body regularly open.
William Wordsworth, letter to Sir George Beaumont (August 31, 1804, on Coleridge):
He then gives a most melancholy account of an illness which held him during the whole of his voyage from Gibraltar to Malta except the last four or five days, a languor and oppression, and rejection of food, accompanied with a dangerous constipation, which compelled the Captain to hang out signals of distress to the Commodore for a surgeon to come on board. He was relieved from this at last after undergoing the most excruciating agonies, with the utmost danger of an inflammation in the bowels. All this appears to have been owing to his not having been furnished with proper opening medicines. The first week after his landing he was uncommonly well, but was afterwards seized with a fever which left him very low. He ends what relates to his health with saying that he is better on the whole, and that the only thing alarming in his case is a constant oppression in his breathing, the immediate cause of which is flatulence. He adds that the heat intense as it is does not oppress him, and that he is going to Sicily in a fortnight.—This account I consider on the whole as favourable as it is manifest that the obstruction in the Bowels, which would, as it seems, have cost him his life but for the timely aid of the Surgeon was entirely owing to a want of proper opening medicines, and the fever on his arrival is nothing more than what few I believe escape on their first arrival, in such a hot place at that season of the year. The difficulty in breathing I trust will soon disappear.
Excerpt from the first chapter of Richard Holmes, Coleridge: Darker Reflections, 1804-1834 (Pantheon Books, 1999):
On 4 May, a wind got up, and Coleridge composed a grateful sea-shanty for Captain Findlay, "who foretold a fair wind/ Of a constant mind", though "neither Poet, nor Sheep" could yet eat. But the wind turned into a squall, and then a storm, which carried away their foremost yard-arm on 6 May. He sank further into opium, besieged by "these Sleeps, these Horrors, these Frightful Dreams of Despair". He could no longer get up on deck, and was now seriously ill, with violent stomach pains and humiliating flatulence. A flowered curtain was rigged round his bunk, and he began to hallucinate, seeing "yellow faces" in the cloth. The ship was again becalmed, and he thought the flapping sails were fish dying on the deck. Mr Hardy, the surgeon of the Maidstone, was alerted and the rumour went round the convoy that one of the Speedwell's passengers was dying. Coleridge knew he had become the Jonas of the fleet.

The opium doses had completely blocked his bowels. The shame, guilt and horrid symbolism of this seized upon him. His body had closed upon itself, just as his mind had become fruitless and unproductive. He was a vessel full of mephitic horror. His journal becomes extraordinarily explicit, and details his sufferings with weird, unsparing exactitude. "Tuesday Night, a dreadful Labour, & fruitless throes, of costiveness — individual faeces, and constricted orifices. Went to bed & dozed & started in great distress."

Wednesday, 9 May was "a day of Horror". He spent the morning sitting over a bucket of hot water, "face convulsed, & the sweat streaming from me like Rain". Captain Findlay brought the Speedwell alongside the Maidstone, and sent for Mr Hardy. "The Surgeon instantly came, went back for Pipe & Syringe & returned & with extreme difficulty & the exertion of his utmost strength injected the latter. Good God!—What a sensation when the obstruction suddenly shot up!" Coleridge lay with a hot water bottle on his belly, "with pains & sore uneasiness, & indescribable desires", instructed to retain himself as long as possible. "At length went: O what a time! — equal in pain to any before. Anguish took away all disgust, & I picked out the hardened matter & after awhile was completely relieved. The poor mate who stood by me all this while had the tears running down his face."

The humiliation of this experience never left Coleridge. He knew it was caused by opium, and he reverted to it frequently in his Notebooks, and even in his later letters. From now on he dreaded the enema, as the secret sign and punishment for his addiction. The pain of "frightful constipation when the dead filth impales the lower Gut", was unlike any other illness, because it was shameful and could not be talked about "openly to all" like rheumatism, or other chronic complaints. It crept into his dreams, and haunted him with its grotesque symbolism of false birth and unproductivity. "To weep & sweat & moan & scream for parturience of an excrement with such pangs & such convulsions as a woman with an Infant heir of Immortality: for Sleep a pandemonium of all the shames and miseries of the past Life from earliest childhood all huddled together, and bronzed with one stormy Light of Terror & Self-torture. O this is hard, hard, hard."

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Rhapsody on Farts

Edward Abbey, Confessions of a Barbarian: Selections from the Journals, ed. David Petersen (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1994), pp. 139-140:
Rhapsody on Farts: plaintive farts, resounding farts, explosive farts, reverberating farts, timid muffled farts, fluid farts, farts vigorous and robust, farts masculine, farts feminine, beastly farts, grim farts, lethal farts, poisonous farts, crushing farts, deadly farts, vicious and cruel farts.

There are the honest and manly unabashed farts of plumbers and locomotive engineers, the candid farts of farmers, the masculine and solitary farts of cowboys and sheepherders and rangers, the bold united farts of factory workers. There are the talented aerobatic farts of schoolboys, the bemused abstracted farts of college students, the soft mellow farts of old professors of philosophy. There are the farts protracted and sullen of infantry soldiers, the farts peremptory of sergeants, a la militaire of captains, pompous and brassy of colonels; the stern, powerful and prolonged artillery of generals.

There are the plaintive wistful farts of clerks, the suffocated farts of secretaries and stenographers, the nervous farts of switchboard operators, the farts pallid and timid of office receptionists and airline hostesses. There are the casual, indifferent farts of ward bosses and precinct captains, the ingratiating well-meant farts of candidates, the loud cheerful farts of governors, the forensic and embattled farts of congressmen, the magnificent thundering farts of senators, the proud stately farts of ambassadors and cabinet officers, the grave and politic farts of presidents and prime ministers.

There is the deliberate insolent fart of the pimp, the bitter fart of the whore, the aggressive fart of the car dealer and realtor, the stealthy fart of the burglar and the smug, satisfied fart of the money-lender, the insidious fart of the pornographer, the cruel fart of the model, the vulgar and brazen fart of the huckster, the vile sly fart of the mortician and swindler, the startled fart of the pickpocket. There are the farts dull and sorrowful of policemen, harsh of desk sergeants and detectives, crude and brutal of screws, wary and apprehensive of police commissioners.

There is the diffident fart of the seminarian, the gritty fart of the Bible student, the fart loud and exhortatory of the fundamentalist preacher, the incriminating and revealing fart of the evangelist, the mellifluous fart of the TV theologian, the impromptu fart of the organist and the fart sotto voce a la tempo of the choirmaster. There is the discreet and sanctimonious fart of the priest, the consecrated fart of the nun, the inadvertent fart of the altar boy, the irritable fart of the bishop, the painful and self-conscious fart of the cardinal, the solemn apostolic liturgical and infallible fart of the Pope himself. There will be finally the final divine omnipotent pretentious imperial fart of God. After that, nothing fartable will remain to be farted; for the mystery beyond God—the All-Source, the Brahman—does not fart.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Such a Concert of Music Within

William Cowper, letter to Lady Hesketh (November 17, 1785):
You must know that some years since, not many, when we began to feel ourselves a little pinched in our finances, I made an heroic resolution that I would drink no more. Accordingly I substituted half a pint of a certain Malt liquor called Ale instead of it, much against Mrs. Unwin's will, who opposed the innovation with all her might. But I was obstinate and had my own way as I generally have. The consequences were such a concert of Music within, such squeaking, croaking and scolding of stomach and bowels denied their wonted comfort, and such perpetual indigestions withal, that I was constrained to return again to the bottle.

I Lose No Time

William Cowper, letter to William Unwin (November 10, 1784):
The Critics will never know that four lines of it were composed while I had a dose of Ippecchecuana on my stomach, and a wooden vessel called a pail between my knees, and that in the very Article of—in short that I was delivered of the Emetic and the verses in the same moment. Knew they This, they would at least allow me to be a poet of singular industry, and confess that I lose no time.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

I'm Farting Like a Little Pig

Charles Bukowski, "gas," from The Flash of Lightning Behind the Mountain: New Poems (New York: HarperCollins, 2004), pp. 13-14:
my grandmother had a serious gas
we only saw her on Sunday.
she'd sit down to dinner
and she'd have gas.
she was very heavy,
80 years old.
wore this large glass brooch,
that's what you noticed most
in addition to the gas.
she'd let it go just as food was being served.
she'd let it go loud in bursts
spaced about a minute apart.
she'd let it go
4 or 5 times
as we reached for the potatoes
poured the gravy
cut into the meat.

nobody ever said anything;
especially me.
I was 6 years old.
only my grandmother spoke.
after 4 or 5 blasts
she would say in an offhand way,
"I will bury you all!"

I didn't much like that:
first farting
then saying that.

it happened every Sunday.
she was my father's mother.
every Sunday it was death and gas
and mashed potatoes and gravy
and that big glass brooch.

those Sunday dinners would
always end with apple pie and
ice cream
and a big argument
about something or other,
my grandmother finally running out the door
and taking the red train back to
the place stinking for an hour
and my father walking about
fanning a newspaper in the air and
saying, "it's all that damned sauerkraut
she eats!"
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Confessions (tr. J.M. Cohen), Book II (on Madame de Vercellis):
She only kept her bed for the last two days, and continued to converse quietly with everyone to the last. Finally when she could no longer talk and was already in her death agony, she broke wind loudly. "Good," she said, turning over, "a woman who can fart is not dead." Those were the last words she spoke.
Albert Camus, Lyrical and Critical Essays (tr. Ellen Conroy Kennedy), essay Irony:
But people who play at being ill can succeed: the grandmother carried simulation to the point of death. On her last day, her children around her, she began freeing herself of the fermentations in her intestines. She turned and spoke with simplicity to her grandson: "You see," she said, "I'm farting like a little pig." She died an hour later.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Manneia and His Dog

Martial, Epigrams 1.83 (tr. D.R. Shackleton Bailey):
Manneia, your little dog licks your face and lips. Small wonder that a dog likes eating dung.

Monday, September 13, 2010

By Whatever Vent It Escaped Him

William Cowper, letter to John Newton (August 27, 1785):
I remember a good man at Huntingdon, who, I doubt not, is now with God, and he also kept a Diary. After his death, through the neglect or foolish wantonness of his executors, it came abroad for the amusement of his neighbours. All the town saw it, and all the town found it highly diverting. It contained much more valuable matter than the poor Doctor's Journal seems to do; but it contained also a faithful record of all his deliverances from wind (for he was much troubled with flatulence), by whatever vent it escaped him; together with pious acknowledgments of the mercy.
The "good man at Huntingdon" is a Mr. Jedderel; the "poor Doctor" is Samuel Johnson.

Sunday, September 12, 2010


Robert Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy, Part. I, Sec. 2, Mem. 3, Subs. 6:
A grave and learned minister, and an ordinary preacher at Alcmar in Holland, was (one day as he walked in the fields for his recreation) suddenly taken with a lax or looseness, and thereupon compelled to retire to the next ditch; but being surprised at unawares, by some gentlewomen of his parish wandering that way, was so abashed, that he did never after show his head in public, or come into the pulpit, but pined away with melancholy: (Pet. Forestus med. observat. lib. 10, observat. 12.)
John Aubrey, Brief Lives (Life of Edward De Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, 1550-1604):
This Earle of Oxford, making of his low obeisance to Queen Elizabeth, happened to let a Fart, at which he was so abashed and ashamed that he went to Travell, 7 yeares. On his return the Queen welcomed him home, and sayd, My Lord, I had forgott the Fart.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Noble Bowels

Yuki Sawa and Edith Marcombe Shiffert, Haiku Master Buson. Translations from the Writings of Yosa Buson — Poet and Artist — With Related Materials (Union City: Heian, 1978), p. 141:
The high priest
relieves his noble bowels
in a desolate field.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Pandora's Box

Jonathan Swift, The Lady's Dressing Room, lines 69-118:
Why Strephon will you tell the rest?
And must you needs describe the Chest? 70
That careless Wench! no Creature warn her
To move it out from yonder Corner;
But leave it standing full in Sight
For you to exercise your Spight.
In vain, the Workman shew'd his Wit 75
With Rings and Hinges counterfeit
To make it seem in this Disguise,
A Cabinet to vulgar Eyes;
For Strephon ventur'd to look in,
Resolv'd to go thro' thick and thin; 80
He lifts the Lid, there needs no more,
He smelt it all the Time before.
As from within Pandora's Box,
When Epimetheus op'd the Locks,
A sudden universal Crew 85
Of humane Evils upwards flew;
He still was comforted to find
That Hope at last remain'd behind;
So Strephon lifting up the Lid,
To view what in the Chest was hid. 90
The Vapours flew from out the Vent,
But Strephon cautious never meant
The Bottom of the Pan to grope,
And fowl his Hands in Search of Hope.
O never may such vile Machine 95
Be once in Celia's Chamber seen!
O may she better learn to keep
"Those Secrets of the hoary deep!"

As Mutton Cutlets, Prime of Meat,
Which tho' with Art you salt and beat, 100
As Laws of Cookery require,
And toast them at the clearest Fire;
If from adown the hopful Chops
The Fat upon a Cinder drops,
To stinking Smoak it turns the Flame 105
Pois'ning the Flesh from whence it came;
And up exhales a greasy Stench,
For which you curse the careless Wench;
So Things, which must not be exprest,
When plumpt into the reeking Chest; 110
Send up an excremental Smell
To taint the Parts from whence they fell.
The Pettycoats and Gown perfume,
Which waft a Stink round every Room.

Thus finishing his grand Survey, 115
Disgusted Strephon stole away
Repeating in his amorous Fits,
Oh! Celia, Celia, Celia shits!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

It Sounded Like Fireworks

Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Journey to the End of the Night, tr. Ralph Manheim (New York: New Directions, 1986; rpt. 2006), p. 331 (ellipses in original):
One declined most graciously, explaining at length and in confidence to the other ladies present, who took a keen interest, that her doctor had forbidden her all sweets, that her doctor was a genius, that he had done wonders in combating constipation in Toulouse and elsewhere, that he was well on his way to curing her of a retention of "number two," from which she had been suffering for more than ten years, thanks to a very special diet and a miraculous medicine known to him alone. The other ladies were not going to let themselves be outdone so easily in matters of constipation. Their own constipation defied comparison. They were up in arms. They demanded proofs. In response to their doubts, the lady observed simply that when moving her bowels she now broke wind, that it sounded like fireworks...that because of her new-style bowel movements, all well molded, solid, and substantial, she was obliged to take extra precautions...Sometimes these marvelous new feces of hers were so hard they gave her excruciating pain in her rectum...a tearing sensation!...So now she had to use vaseline before moving her bowels. Irrefutable.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Breakfast of Champions

Rabelais, Gargantua and Pantagruel, I.25 (tr. J.M. Cohen):
For note that grapes and fresh cake for breakfast is a dish for the gods, especially pineau-grapes, fig-grapes, muscatels, great black grapes, and purgative grapes for those whose bowels are constipated. For these make them squirt the length of a hunting spear; and often when a man means to fart he shits himself; from which these grapes get the name of wet-farters.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Hymn to the Goddess of Sewers

Jonathan Swift was often a guest at Market Hill, County Armagh, Ireland, the home of Sir Arthur Acheson and his wife Anne.  Swift's poem A Panegyric on the Dean: In the Person of a Lady of the North purports to be written by Lady Acheson. Among other accomplishments of Swift, she praises his skill in building a pair of privies, one for males, the other for females, on the estate (lines 197-224). This leads to an amusing hymn to Cloacina, Roman goddess of sewers, in which the author waxes nostalgic for the golden age, when men and women loosed their bowels in the open air (229-252). Now Gluttony reigns (252-268), and homage is paid to Cloacina indoors (269-290), especially by the great (291-298). Only the humble and lowly still make their offerings to Cloacina outdoors (299-308), where Lady Acheson sometimes unwittingly steps on them when she takes a stroll (309-318).

Thee bounteous goddess Cloacine,
To temples why do we confine? 230
Forbid in open air to breathe;
Why are thine altars fixed beneath?

When Saturn ruled the skies alone,
That golden age to gold unknown;
This earthly globe to thee assigned,
Received the gifts of all mankind.
Ten thousand altars smoking round
Were built to thee, with offerings crowned:
And here thy daily votaries placed
Their sacrifice with zeal and haste: 240
The margin of a purling stream
Sent up to thee a grateful steam.
(Though sometimes thou wert pleased to wink,
If Naiads swept them from the brink)
Or where appointing lovers rove,
The shelter of a shady grove:
Or, offered in some flowery vale,
Were wafted by a gentle gale
There many a flower abstersive grew,
Thy favourite flowers of yellow hue; 250
The crocus and the daffodil,
The cowslip soft, and sweet jonquil.

But when at last usurping Jove
Old Saturn from his empire drove;
Then Gluttony with greasy paws
Her napkin pinned up to her jaws,
With watery chaps, and wagging chin,
Braced like a drum her oily skin;
Wedged in a spacious elbow-chair,
And on her plate a treble share, 260
As if she ne'er could have enough;
Taught harmless man to cram and stuff.
She sent her priests in wooden shoes
From haughty Gaul to make ragouts.
Instead of wholesome bread and cheese,
To dress their soups and fricassees;
And, for our home-bred British cheer,
Botargo, catsup, and caveer.

This bloated harpy, sprung from hell,
Confined thee, goddess, to a cell: 270
Sprung from her womb that impious line,
Contemners of thy rites divine.
First, lolling Sloth in woollen cap,
Taking her after-dinner nap:
Pale Dropsy with a sallow face,
Her belly burst, and slow her pace:
And lordly Gout wrapped up in fur:
And wheezing Asthma, loth to stir:
Voluptuous Ease, the child of Wealth,
Infecting thus our hearts by stealth; 280
None seek thee now in open air;
To thee no verdant altars rear;
But, in their cells and vaults obscene
Present a sacrifice unclean;
From whence unsavoury vapours rose,
Offensive to thy nicer nose.
Ah! who in our degenerate days,
As nature prompts, his offering pays?
Here nature never difference made
Between the sceptre and the spade. 290

Ye great ones, why will ye disdain
To pay your tribute on the plain?
Why will you place in lazy pride
Your altars near your couch's side?
When from the homeliest earthenware
Are sent up offerings more sincere
Than where the haughty duchess locks
Her silver vase in cedar box?

Yet, some devotion still remains
Among our harmless northern swains; 300
Whose offerings placed in golden ranks,
Adorn our crystal river's banks:
Nor seldom grace the flowery downs,
With spiral tops and copple-crowns:
Or gilding in a sunny morn
The humble branches of a thorn.
(So poets sing, with golden bough
The Trojan hero paid his vow.)

Hither by luckless error led,
The crude consistence oft I tread. 310
Here, when my shoes are out of case,
Unweeting gild the tarnished lace:
Here, by the sacred bramble tinged,
My petticoat is doubly fringed.

Be witness for me, nymph divine,
I never robb'd thee with design:
Nor will the zealous Hannah pout
To wash thy injured offering out.
Geoffrey Hill, The Lords of Limit: Essays on Literature and Ideas (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984), p. 81, draws special attention to the description of feces in line 304 ("With spiral tops and copple-crowns"):
The poem's tonality suggests that Swift is writing, not out of fascinated disgust or angry contempt, but under the obligation to amuse: it is the very coolness of the verbal draughtsmanship, the detailing of the faecal coils, that is so chilling.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

I'm Sure 'Twas I That Smelt the Stink

Jonathan Swift's poem "The Problem" has the subtitle "That Sidney Earl of Romney Stinks, When He Is in Love" in manuscript, "That My Lord Berkeley Stinks When He Is in Love" in printed editions:
Did ever problem thus perplex,
Or more employ the female sex?
So sweet a passion who would think,
Jove ever formed to make a stink?
The ladies vow and swear they'll try,
Whether it be a truth or lie.

Love's fire, it seems, like inward heat,
Works in my lord by stool and sweat;
Which brings a stink from every pore,
And from behind and from before:    10
Yet what is wonderful to tell it,
None but the favourite nymph can smell it.
But now, to solve the natural cause
By sober philosophic laws:
Whether all passions, when in ferment,
Work out as anger does in vermin?
So, when a weasel you torment,
You find his passion by his scent.
We read of kings, who, in a fright,
Though on a throne, would fall to shite.    20
Beside all this, deep scholars know,
That the mainstring of Cupid's bow,
Once on a time was an ass's gut;
Now to a nobler office put,
By favour or desert preferred
From giving passage to a turd.
But still, though fixed among the stars,
Does sympathize with human arse.
Thus, when you feel a hard-bound breech,
Conclude Love's bow-string at full stretch,    30
Till the kind looseness comes, and then,
Conclude the bow relaxed again.

And now, the ladies all are bent,
To try the great experiment;
Ambitious of a regent's heart,
Spread all their charms to catch a fart!
Watching the first unsavoury wind,
Some ply before and some behind.
My lord, on fire amidst the dames,
Farts like a laurel in the flames.    40
The fair approach the speaking part,
To try the back way to his heart.
For, as when we a gun discharge,
Although the bore be ne'er so large,
Before the flame from muzzle burst,
Just at the breech it flashes first:
So from my Lord his passion broke,
He farted first and then he spoke.

The ladies vanish in the smother,
To confer notes with one another:    50
And now they all agreed to name
Whom each one thought the happy dame.
Quoth Neal, 'Whate'er the rest may think,
I'm sure 'twas I that smelt the stink.'
'You smelt the stink! By God, you lie,'
Quoth Ross, 'for I'll be sworn 'twas I.'
'Ladies,' quoth Levens, 'pray forbear,
Let's not fall out; we all had share;
And, by the most I can discover,
My lord's a universal lover.'    60
Scholars don't seem to have noticed the appropriateness of the comparison in lines 43-46—Henry Sidney, Earl of Romney, was Master-General of the Ordnance from 1693 to 1702. The poem is usually dated 1699.

Unknown, Portrait of Henry Sidney, 1st Earl of Romney (1641-1704)

Monday, August 30, 2010

Definition, II

Thomas Dyche and William Pardon, A New General English Dictionary, 11th ed. (London: Catherine and Richard Ware, 1760), under Gold Finder: "a genteel name for him whose business is to empty privies, vulgarly called a Tom-turd-man; also a cant name for a cheat, who under the pretence of finding a piece of money, and inviting a by-stander to partake of a treat, &c. out of it, endeavours to get him to play at cards, dice, &c. in order to win or cheat him of his money; they are sometimes also called guinea droppers."

Definition, I

Francis Grose, A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, 3rd ed. (London: Hooper and Wigstead, 1796), under Gold Finder: "One whose employment is to empty necessary houses; called also a tom-turd-man, and night-man; the latter, from that business being always performed in the night."