Monday, June 24, 2013

Victorian Fantasy: Robert Browning and the Pied Piper of Hamelin

After two months in which I confess the reading material was beyond my ready comprehension, the discussion group met to consider a work that, on the surface, at least, was more straightforward: Robert Browning's poem "The Pied Piper of Hamelin." Though we were small in number, the discussion was as lively as ever.

(I apologize in advance to poor Sir JJ Drinkwater, the only gentleman present and yet the only one not pictured below. For some reason, Sir JJ was invisible to my camera, his librarian uniform and spectacles the only things appearing on film. The effect was quite disconcerting.)

Sir JJ and Dame Kghia Gherardi were once again our gentle and genial host and hostess. Setting the stage for the discussion, Mr. Drinkwater said, "Tonight we have what *could* be interpreted as a not-very-serious poem by a Very Serious poet. Whether we end up agreeing with that understanding of it....we shall see." Miss Gherardi added, "As JJ mentioned, it seems like a light poem. But as we look at it tonight, I think we will discover some of the darker elements we associate with Browning."

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Dame Kghia

After some discussion of the setting and the greedy Mayor and the Corporation, we turned to the Piper himself. (As regular readers of this Journal know, I have been watching a great deal of Doctor Who these days, and the Piper, a tall man with his multi-colored jacket, had me picturing Colin Baker's Sixth Doctor. Such is the price of obsessions.) Miss Gherardi observed that Browning provides an early clue that the Piper has a hard streak in him, quoting, "And I chiefly use my charm On creatures that do people harm," noting that the word "chiefly" is artfully inserted. She added, "The poem is very heavily rhymed. Very playful." Mr. Drinkwater asked, "And do you think, Dame Kghia, that Browning uses the form as a kind of misdirection?" Her answer: "Without a doubt!"

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Your humble scribe

Other topics included the question of why the children of the town were the object of the Piper's revenge, rather than the Mayor and/or the Corporation who, after all, were the ones who cheated him; and whether the poem symbolized the uneasy relationship between Art and Society - the latter appreciating but not wanting to support the former.

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Miss Iyoba Batoni

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Miss Kristianna Fotherington

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Miss Eppie Black Wheatcliffe

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Miss Ellie Mink

On a personal note, it seems that the third Wednesday of the month coincides with a busy and often frustrating day at work for the typist, and this past Wednesday was no exception. I briefly considered skipping this month's discussion, figuring that a moody participant was worse than no participant at all. What I discovered once again, however, was that the retreat to a cozy room in stately Victoria City was enough to make me forget the rest of the day. I think that part of the magic is that the discussion requires such a different part of the mind than gets used during the rest of the day that even thinking hard about the meaning of a piece of literature becomes something less than work.

Next month's reading will be three poems from William Butler Yeats: "The Hosting of the Sidhe," "The Stolen Child," and "The Song of Wandering Aengus." I know "The Stolen Child" chiefly through the Waterboys' song of the same name.

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