Wednesday, January 09, 2008

reading too closely?

Okay, I don’t mean to bore you, but sometimes I’m not sure if an editor slipped up or if I’m just stubbornly seeking something that’s not there. I ran across two such examples in two short days.
The first example I read today, in John Connolly’s The Book of Lost Things, which, judging from the first chapter, promises to be a wonderful book. The sentence reads:

Newspaper stories were as insubstantial as smoke, as long-lived as mayflies.

Wouldn’t it be more consistently tongue-in-cheek if the smoke were “substantial?” Or did they (author and editor) not trust the reader enough? Just wondering. I, for one, would have enjoyed my version better (surprise, surprise).

The second example is the poem “Weltende,” by Jakob van Hoddis.

Dem Bürger fliegt vom spitzen Kopf der Hut,
in allen Lüften hallt es wie Geschrei.
Dachdecker stürzen ab und gehn entzwei
und an den Küsten - liest man - steigt die Flut.

Der Sturm ist da, die wilden Meere hupfen
an Land, um dicke Dämme zu zerdrücken.
Die meisten Menschen haben einen Schnupfen.
Die Eisenbahnen fallen von den Brücken.

World’s End (my shoddy translation)

The citizen’s hat flies off his pointy head,
All airs echo like screams.
Roofers fall and break in two
An at the coasts – one reads – the flood rises.

The storm is there, the wild oceans hop
On land, to crush thick dams.
Most people have a cold.
The trains fall from the bridges.

My point is simply this: wouldn’t the rhyme-scheme, not to mention the humor that is indicated by the enjambedly hopping oceans, be better served by switching the last to lines and ending with the anti-climactic sniffles?
But maybe I read too much Ogden Nash.

1 comment:

Michelle Carroll-Christopher said...

I thought I'm the only one who has a problem reading just for the enjoyment of absorbing a story (same problem with movies, too)... Definitely agree with the smoke-mayfly assessment, but in the poem: While I think your version would be equally, but differently, satisfying, I do think this might have been a deliberate choice on the part of the author. With Ogden Nash, there's always that satisfying hook at the end, intentionally leaving you grinning, and feeling "done" with the poem/story. Maybe this poet wanted to convey the sense of imbalance or chaos, the clashing of the mundane, the ridiculous, the tragic that the end of the world would bring. Make you continue to think about the scene after you've put down the book. That might explain both the placement of the Schnupfen line, and the break in rhyme scheme. Or maybe I tend to give the benefit of the doubt too much...
(thanks for the small exercising of my atrophying "literary analysis" muscle)