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 CĂ©line, 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.