Saturday, July 24, 2010

Waifs and Strays

It’s the dream of every author to be remembered.

Check that.

It’s the dream of every author to be paid, then to be remembered.

Thus, likely, the provenance of one of Louis Untermeyer’s “Waifs and Strays,” little snippets of humorous verse for which the origins have been lost “They all seem to be the work of that industrious and often-quoted author ‘Anonymous.’ They are the waifs and strays of poetry.”

Here it is:

The saddest words of tongue or pen
Perhaps may be “It might have been.”
The sweetest words we know, by heck,
Are simply these: “Enclosed find check.”

We’ve all heard variations on them. Such as this:

‘Twixt optimist and pessimist,
The difference is droll:
The optimist sees the doughnut,
The pessimist sees the hole.

And yet I wonder. In today’s Google Society, are such little scraps of verse still anonymous, or has the ubiquitousness of the search engine and the hungry maw that is content and research finally found the authors of these waifs and strays? Let’s find out.

An, the “Optimist and Pessimist” seems to have been authored by one McLandburgh Wilson. What may we discover of him? Well, we may discover that this amusing little bit of verse may be the only thing for which McLandburgh is remembered, if not for the serendipity between his last name and a popular maker of outdoors and sports equipment, for which advertisements appear on many pages containing this bit of pastry-based amuse-cerveaux.

And how about our first example, the author pining for the check? Mr. Google tells us this one was written by John Greenleaf Whittier, Quaker Poet prominent enough to be featured on a U.S. postage stamp. And a happy man he appears to be.

So, they’re waifs and strays no longer, at least these two examples. Pity that the verses are so memorable, so quotable, without the author being remembered for them, except by a few fanatics at Wikipedia and the combiners of searched items with advertisement tags.

Let’s try one more. Surely this one is no longer anonymous:

Girls, to this advice give heed –
In your affairs with men
If at first you don’t succeed,
Cry, cry again.

Plug that into Mr. Google, and . . . ugh.

It’s been taken over by neocons. Tammy Wynette. Bad, bad joke-tellers.

Sorry, bub. It’s obvious whoever wrote this one is going to remain anonymous.

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