Musing #6: More Magic of Lists–Michael Longley’s “The Ice-cream Man”

Musing #6: More Magic of Lists

When I posted Musing #4 and Blog # 6, I thought I was done with the magic of lists. Obviously, I was wrong. Reading Michael Longley last night, I came across a list poem which rivals Ophelia’s mad scene for the way in which it fuses sweetness and sorrow. First, to set the stage, here is Ophelia’s list:

There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance; pray,
love, remember: and there is pansies. that’s for thoughts.

A document in madness, thoughts and remembrance fitted.
There’s fennel for you, and columbines: there’s rue
for you; and here’s some for me: we may call it
herb-grace o’ Sundays: O you must wear your rue with
a difference. There’s a daisy: I would give you
some violets, but they withered all when my father
died: they say he made a good end,–

For bonny sweet Robin is all my joy.

And now, here is Michael Longley’s “The Ice-cream Man.” Note how the first brief list in the poem evokes the innocence of childhood while the length and richness of the second list hints at consolation for the loss of that innocence.
A further thought, not directly list related, though it may be the start of a different kind of list: “The Ice-Cream Man” is a close relative of Wallace Stevens’ “The Emperor of Ice-Cream” and of E. E. Cummings balloon man from “in Just-”

The Ice-Cream Man

Rum and raisin, vanilla, butterscotch, walnut, peach:
You would rhyme off the flavours. That was before
They murdered the ice-cream man on the Lisburn Road
And you bought carnations to lay outside his shop.
I named for you all the wild flowers of the Burren
I had seen in one day: thyme, valerian, loosestrife,
Meadowsweet, tway blade, crowfoot, ling, angelica,
Herb robert, marjoram, cow parsley, sundew, vetch,
Mountain avens, wood sage, ragged robin, stitchwort,
Yarrow, lady’s bedstraw, bindweed, bog pimpernel.

Amazing what lists can do. In honour of the Christmas season, here is one further list, one of the many to be found in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Merry Christmas, and remember “He’s making a list and checking it twice.”

A Christmas Carol Excerpt

The poulterers’ shops were still half open, and the fruiterers’ were radiant in their glory. There were great, round, pot-bellied baskets of chestnuts, shaped like the waistcoats of jolly old gentlemen, lolling at the doors, and tumbling out into the street in their apoplectic opulence. There were ruddy, brown-faced, broad-girthed Spanish Onions, shining in the fatness of their growth like Spanish Friars, and winking from their shelves in wanton slyness at the girls as they went by, and glanced demurely at the hung-up mistletoe. There were pears and apples, clustered high in blooming pyramids; there were bunches of grapes, made, in the shopkeepers’ benevolence to dangle from conspicuous hooks, that people’s mouths might water gratis as they passed; there were piles of filberts, mossy and brown, recalling, in their fragrance, ancient walks among the woods, and pleasant shufflings ankle deep through withered leaves; there were Norfolk Biffins, squab and swarthy, setting off the yellow of the oranges and lemons, and, in the great compactness of their juicy persons, urgently entreating and beseeching to be carried home in paper bags and eaten after dinner. The very gold and silver fish, set forth among these choice fruits in a bowl, though members of a dull and stagnant-blooded race, appeared to know that there was something going on; and, to a fish, went gasping round and round their little world in slow and passionless excitement.

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