Sunday, April 20, 2014

Edgar A Guest

I have previously said that I am not an aficionado of schmaltz or glurge, hence I am also not a fan of Edgar A Guest. 

Edgar Albert Guest (1881-1959) was a prolific English-born American poet who was popular in the first half of the 20th century and who became known as The People's Poet. During his lifetime he wrote 11,000 poems, syndicated in 300 newspapers and collected into 20 books. His works are characterised by being sentimental, optimistic and inspirational, his works being to literature what Norman Rockwell's Saturday Evening Post covers are to art.

Guest’s poems remind me of Joseph Heller’s description of the Texan in Catch-22:

The Texan turned out to be good-natured, generous and likeable. In three days no one could stand him.

Wit Dorothy Parker was even more unkind, writing:

“I would rather fail my Wasserman test
Then read the poetry of Edgar A Guest.”

The Wasserman test was an antibody test for syphilis.

(Once asked to put the word “horticulture” into a sentence and make it humorous, she said “You can lead a whore to culture but you can’t make her think.”)

Detroit Free Press columnist Edgar A. Guest celebrates his 74th birthday (he died at 78) with colleagues and friend at the Veteran's Memorial Building.

Guest’s poem “It Couldn’t Be Done” typifies the best and worst of his work, personality and views on life, depending on your attitude towards him:

It Couldn't Be Done

By Edgar A Guest

Somebody said that it couldn't be done,
But he with a chuckle replied
That "maybe it couldn't," but he would be one
Who wouldn't say so till he'd tried.
So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin
On his face. If he worried he hid it.
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn't be done, and he did it. 

Somebody scoffed: "Oh, you'll never do that;
At least no one ever has done it";
But he took off his coat and he took off his hat,
And the first thing we knew he'd begun it.
With a lift of his chin and a bit of a grin,
Without any doubting or quiddit*,
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn't be done, and he did it. 

There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done,
There are thousands to prophesy failure;
There are thousands to point out to you, one by one,
The dangers that wait to assail you.
But just buckle in with a bit of a grin,
Just take off your coat and go to it;
Just start to sing as you tackle the thing
That "cannot be done," and you'll do it.”

* quibbling, equivocation

The poem has been the inspiration for an Audi ad, touting 100 years of Audi innovation. See it by clicking on: 

An Audi digression:

The founder of Audi was August Horch, who had earlier founded another car company, the name of which incorporated his name. After difficulties he left that company and founded a new car company but was restrained by the courts from using his own name in that new company’s name. 

From Wikipedia:

Since August Horch was banned from using "Horch" as a trade name in his new car business, he called a meeting with close business friends, Paul and Franz Fikentscher from Zwickau, Germany. At the apartment of Franz Fikentscher, they discussed how to come up with a new name for the company. During this meeting, Franz's son was quietly studying Latin in a corner of the room. Several times he looked like he was on the verge of saying something but would just swallow his words and continue working, until he finally blurted out, "Father – audiatur et altera pars... wouldn't it be a good idea to call it audi instead of horch?" 
"Horch!" in German means "Hark!" or "hear", which is "Audi" in the singular imperative form of "audire" – "to listen" – in Latin. The idea was enthusiastically accepted by everyone attending the meeting.

Benny Hill had his own take on Guest’s poem:

Benny Hill

They said that it could not be done, 
He said, "Just let me try."
They said, "Other men have tried and failed," 
He answered, "But not I."
They said, "It is impossible," 
He said, "There's no such word."
He closed his mind, he closed his heart... 
To everything he heard.

He said, "Within the heart of man,
There is a tiny seed.
It grows until it blossoms, 
It's called the will to succeed.
Its roots are strength, its stem is hope,
Its petals inspiration,
Its thorns protect its strong green leaves,
With grim determination.

"Its stamens are its skills
Which help to shape each plan,
For there's nothing in the universe 
Beyond the scope of man."
They thought that it could not be done, 
Some even said they knew it,
But he faced up to what could not be done... 
And he couldn't bloody do it!

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