Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Check out the rose and don't get all rhyme-time on me

I have been listening to Ingrid Michaelson lately. Or rather, I bought her album, listened to it a few times, and then kind of wanted to kick her in the shins.

Which I realize is an unreasonable reaction.

Because sweet Ingrid, she has a delightful voice. It feels like sitting under a tree, looking down in your lap and enjoying the pattern made by sunshine trickling through lush green leaves. Or the cool hand of your mother on your forehead when you are hot and grumpy. It's light and happy and comfortable and soothing.

But then you start listening to her lyrics, and she's all rhyme-time-y. And it bugs.

I mean, yes, I get that things like poems and songs tend to rhyme. That's part of the deal. I know it.

But hers are just too simple and straightforward for me.

And me, I am not someone who is looking for a great deal of depth in my music. Or in my art or literature, for that matter. I have been accused (wrongly, I think, but who knows) of liking media rather than art. Because I like things pretty and I like them accessible.

With one exception, I don't want my guts wrenched out when watching a film. I like happy endings, no matter how implausible. I like the Impressionists. Their colors always make you feel good. Life is often heavy. I want my distractions light.

I think I realized this in high school French. We were studying the poetry of Pierre de Ronsard, a 16th century French poet, who has some beautiful poetry.

One of the things I liked best about him, though, was that he was fairly transparent. He wrote a variety of sonnets for Hélène de Surgères. She rejected him, and thus you have a sonnet that begins, "Quand vous serez bien vieille..."

He goes on to describe her, old and alone, at her spinning wheel in front of the fire. She'll be thinking back on how crazy he was about her when she was young and beautiful. And there she'll sit, full of regrets, in her old and alone and did he mention old? and alone?- ness. When she could've had him.

There he was, petty and and angry. And playing on her fears. How can you not find this kind of thing compelling? Here he is, all 16th century important poet and petty, petty man.

As will happen, one of his poems has stayed with me. You'd think it would be more useful for me to be able to recite every president of the US, or other historical facts that I've learned and are long gone.

But no. I let so many facts trickle from my brain, and hold on to the random things that grab me in some particular way and lodge themselves for good. I've realized they have to elicit some emotion, even if it's a giggle of amusement. The dry ones, no matter how important? Like dates, I should just say goodbye as soon as I say hello.

This poem, it's got all this lovely nature imagery. It feels good, both swirling around in your head and aloud. If you took French, you probably learned it yourself somewhere along the way. It begins, "Comme on voit sur la branche au mois de Mai la rose..."

In short, the poem is about this beautiful woman who died young. Jealous nature nipped her in the bud, as it were.

But the reason I remember this poem, I suspect, has less to do with the beauty of the imagery or the fact that for a while I was rather head over heels for French poetry.

No. I think it's because, when asked to talk about this poem, my friend Kris - the one who currently lives in Paris - said something like, "Well, in the beginning he's like, 'Hey babe! Check out the rose!'"


  1. it is scary how similar you and i are! My friends always rag on me for wanting movies that end happily ever after. My whole point is that life is filled with unhappy endings, and if I'm going to pay for a movie, it sure as hell better make me feel warm and fuzzy coming out of it.

  2. Firstable, I have that Ingrid Michaelson CD. I bought it when she played at Border's books, and she signed it.

    She is very cute and sweet, like a young Lisa Loeb. And she's from NY, how could anyone hate someone from NY?

    And I realllllly like her music. Any one who can make lyrics rhyme when starting from a line like "I'll buy you rogaine, when you start losing all your hair" has got my vote.

    Did I mention she's cute and I pretty sure she was digging me?

  3. How I laughed at this one. I, too, studied French poetry. Frankly, the poems and poets that I got most were those who just said it. And I love your portrayal of Ronsard as a petty, petty man.

    So human, the poet!

    Thanks for the giggles. This is one of many of your posts I'll remember!


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