Friday, October 19, 2007

I Do Not Like Thee, Doctor Fell by Thomas Brown

I Do Not Like Thee, Doctor Fell

I do not like thee, Doctor Fell,
The reason why, I cannot tell;
But this I know, and know full well,
I do not like thee, Doctor Fell.
--Thomas Brown

Whenever I have an anonymous poem -- especially nursery rhymes, I try to look them up online to see if they're really anonymous, or whether the source I got them from was just too lazy to site an author. I'm glad I did on this one because it has such a fun history.

Evidently, Thomas Brown was a student at Christ Church college at Oxford in the 1600's. When he got into some kind of trouble, he was sent to the Dean, Dr. John Fell, who threatened to expel him unless he could complete some scholarly work including translation of an epigram by a Roman by the name of Martial. Brown successfully translated the lines, "Non amo te, Sabidi, nec possum dicere quare;
Hoc tantum posso dicere, non amo te" literally as "I don't like you, Sabidius, and I can't say why; all I can say is I don't like you." He then penned the verse above. Whether he showed that part to Dr. Fell, I don't know, but he did manage to stay at Oxford and finish his education.

I chose this poem today because of a conversation I had with Miriam this morning. She said that she was enjoying the poetry I was posting, and found that the poems I posted were often some of her favorites as well. She wondered whether this was coincidence, evidence that we both had literary good taste, or if it said something about the way we both think--if we like the same poems, we must think similarly about things in general.

I've been considering that today, and I have some further thoughts on the issue. I think that the major reason is that I have been selecting my poems mostly from anthologies and collections made by other people in the past. There's no way I could read through all the poetry there is out there--nor would I want to, since most of it is lousy forgettable stuff. The point is that I've been picking what I think are the best poems from a short list of what are generally accepted as the best poems by the best poets in the history of the world (Of course this "short list" still has tens of thousands of poems on it, but still, it does narrow the field considerably).

I think that there is probably a lot of overlap, not only in the way we think, but also in the experiences we've had in life. A lot of what we consider literary good taste comes from seeing what is popular in books, movies, and our culture in general. We were both brought up reading nursery rhymes and A Child's Garden of Verses. We've both been exposed to Shakespeare as "the bard," and to the great Romantic poets through Jane Austen and Anne of Green Gables. We've both heard many of the same conference talks which often include poetry. I doubt that either of us has had extensive experience with someone we admire gushing over the virtues of other styles of poetry -- like some of the more abstract and modern stuff that I have a hard time getting into.

What do you think of our shared taste in poetry? Those of you who had different role models growing up, do you find that I've been leaving out your favorite poems? For my siblings who had a lot of the same influences as I did (though certainly not identical ones), do you think that idea is valid? Have any of you had someone in your life who extolled the virtues of a different style and taught you how to understand it? If so, drop me a line, or post a comment!

PS--if you still don't get the connection to the poem today: We know we both like the poetry I've been posting, but we're not entirely sure why.

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