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Hyperion October 10, 2003
the Hyperion Chronicles
“It’s the cobblestones”

#164 Potpourri, Volume XXII

The Ballad of the King’s Jest
For those of you who get Hyperion X, you know I have been experimenting with poetry lately, with varying degrees of success. For me, the words aren’t hard to write; they fall off my tongue like lies from a woman in a bar with two kids (or to be equally fair, like promises of love from a man rounding third and trying to steal home). In prose (which these columns more or less are), the words’ meanings are everything. In poetry, however, the words really are everything.

Almost as important as the meaning, sometimes, often, usually, more important, are the words themselves. How they feel as your throat contracts. The shape your mouth as it moves to say them. They way they hang languidly in the air like a puff of cigar smoke, or beat staccato like rain on a tin roof.

It is this aspect of language that has interested me of late, for though I am no poet, I would wish to write with more fluidity and grace. As such, I’m drawn to poetry that has figured out how sexy the spoken word can be. Which brings me to The Ballad of the King’s Jest, by Rudyard Kipling. Go here to read it now. If you’re one of those Readers who never clicks on my links (Grandma, I’m talking to you), this is the time to do it. Just put your mouse arrow on the colored text that reads “here” and click.

When you get there, read the poem OUT LOUD. You must read poems out loud or you rob them of their potency. You’ll see in this case that Kipling is really a Kool Kat Beatnik at heart. King’s Jest reads like it’s being performed on Haight/Ashbury in the ‘50s (I can just see him with a kicky beret and a guy playing the samba behind him). Excellent stuff. In honor of Rudling (as I call him), I will be using rhyming couplets from the poem to introduce each item rather than my traditional one-liners. And to get you going, here is a small part of The Ballad of the King’s Jest:

We cleansed our beards of the mutton-grease,
We lay on the mats and were filled with peace,
And the talk slid north, and the talk slid south,
With the sliding puffs from the hookah-mouth.Four things greater than all things are,
--Women and Horses and Power and War.

And he said to the boy: `They shall praise thy zeal So long as the red spurt follows the steel.
Today is the day Kill Bill: Volume 1 comes out in theatres. For those of you whom this would mean something to, it’s Quentin Tarantino’s fourth film. Later today I’ll see the film (I’ll have the review in Hyperion X as soon as I can), and even if it’s one of the best films ever, it probably won’t fulfill my expectations (these things rarely do). That’s what makes right now the best time of all: the moment of anticipation.

And the Persian pussy-cats, brought for sale,Spat at the dogs from the camel-bale;
I’ve had this item for a while and couldn’t figure out how to get it in. The 2004 edition of the Guinness Book of World Records will list the dog with the world’s longest ears, a hound named Knightsfollie Ladiesman, who’s ears measure 11.5 inches. I don’t have anything witty, but I really want you to see the dog, so just click here and go, “Awwwwwwwwwwwwww.”

But those who would laugh restrained their breath,When the face of the King showed dark as death.
Several Readers sent me this (although Afkat was first). You might have seen it too. The idea is to find the guy’s head. See how long it takes you. Took me 6 seconds, but I’ve heard of people taking 10 minutes. If you can find it in less than 20 seconds, you’re doing well.

By the power of God, who alone is great, Till the seventh day he fought with his fate.
Okay, let’s bear in mind I did not make this up. Apparently (this was news to me, and I’m edumacated), scientists have long noticed a trend in herd animals, that when times are good, genetic selection favors males, but when times are bad, fewer males are born. Well, now they’ve found this in humans too.

Births were studied in East and West Germany from 1946 to 1999. In 1991, male birth rates dropped to their lowest levels since WWII. This corresponded to one of Germany’s worst years in history. Production dropped a whopping 50%, and 20% of the work force was out of work while another 20% worked only a few hours a week. (Read the story here.)

I’m at a loss over this one. I do know that it is the males’ sperm that determines if the fertilized egg goes male (XY) or stays female (XX), the default position. Maybe when an entire nation is stressed it’s harder for that little sperm to cross an extra hurdle. Or, maybe it’s more likely to happen. Of course, this doesn’t explain why males are more likely in good times.

I could give a comic answer (and I’ve toyed with a few), but I think I’ll leave it up to you. Write in and give me your best explanation for this, or just your funniest, and I’ll print it in the next Potpourri.

But Mahbub Ali the kindly said," Better is speech when the belly is fed."
It’s time again to increase your vocabulary. I’m going to give you five words. Think about them, and try to figure out what they mean. I’ll have the answers later.


There have I journeyed too -- but I Saw naught, said naught, and -- did not die!
Thought of the day (from an email circular): “Some people are like Slinkies...not really good for anything, but you still can't help but smile when you see one tumble down the stairs.”

We know what Heaven or Hell may bring, But no man knoweth the mind of the King.
From a news item, I learn that scientists have a new theory on how the dinosaurs died: mantle plume. The theory—based on examining fossils beneath the ocean’s floor—is that there were these huge volcanic eruptions in the earth’s mantle (which comes beneath the crust and the core, if you’re scoring at home, or even if you’re by yourself). The magma (lava) from the eruption rose up like a lava lamp (no, really; that’s in the article) and eventually spread out on the earth’s surface for a couple of million years. How they got from the earth’s surface covered by lava for millions of years to the extinction of the dinosaurs is beyond me, but there you go. The real find from this, though, has to be a cool new band name: Mantle Plume. I’m thinking heavy metal mixed with Stephen Collins Foster (and ten points if you can tell me what that would sound like).

Friend of my heart, is it meet or wise To warn a King of his enemies?
In perhaps our most bizarre news item of the week (at least until you get to the denouement), we learn that it’s not just zoology majors who want to do Britney Spears in. Kendel Ehrlich, wife of Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich, would like to rub the pop princess out. In her own words:

``It is incredibly important to get that message to young women. You know, really, if I had an opportunity to shoot Britney Spears, I think I would,'' Mrs. Ehrlich said, laughing. ``I hate to say that, but you know, like I said, I'm raising a boy ... and I think, 'Oh my goodness, what would I do if I had a daughter who is seeing these images and having peer pressure?'''

It gets better. Mrs. Ehrlich was at a conference at Hood College called “Men and Women: Partners in the Fight Against Domestic Violence.” People, you just can’t make this stuff up.

Of course, now everyone is backtracking, with the governor apologizing for his wife’s “poor choice of words,” etc. This is why people hate politicians. If the governor had any stones, he would say something like this:

“Anyone who took my wife seriously is not only a moron, but probably believes Britney is that innocent and all of her is real. Get a life. None of this would be an issue if she’d just said she wanted to shoot Christina Aguilera instead.”

The lid of the flesh-pot chattered high,The knives were whetted and -- then came I
Here are the vocab word meanings:

Aleatory: depending on luck

Gemütlich: agreeably pleasant

Mulligatawny: a rich soup

Chiaroscuro: the interplay of light and dark in artwork

Legerdemain: sleight of hand (You can hear how all of these words are pronounced by going to and clicking on the speaker when the word comes up.)

And since we know not how War may prove, Heart of my heart, let us talk of Love!
Finally, we have a story so weird that it could only come from Ohio. Researchers at Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine (say that five time fast) have found that indole-3-carbinol (a compound found in broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts) inhibit the herpes simplex virus in humans and monkeys with a 99% effectiveness.

Herpes is different from most diseases, in that once you get it, you have it for life. Scientists are ecstatic about the results, and while they caution that the research isn’t yet complete, they say there is a real possibility that eating more of these vegetables could help ward off herpes, as well as cataracts and stroke.

When told of this development, most Northeastern Ohio University students said they’d rather take the herpes.

It’s got to be better than living in Ohio.

That’s life in the Monkey Barn, or as Kipling would put it:

And last as a sloth, ere his body failed, And he hung as a bat in the forks, and wailed

October 10, 2003

Thanks to Guinevere
Thanks to Afkat
Thanks to Mandela
Thanks to Koz for Editing
Thanks to my boy Rudling

Motto Explanation
That’s the punch line for the best joke I’ve heard in 3 months. I just wish I could reprint it all here, but this is a family column


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