Sunday, 24 January 2010

Foggy Dew

This week we had fog on several days which started out very dense, just hovering above freezing point, and then lasted throughout the day as a luminous veil over everything.

For some reason this always reminds me of a hangover, something to which I have become increasingly prone as I get older. These days, I drink alcohol infrequently and in small measures, but always seem to pay a disproportionate penalty the next day. When I was a young man I drank frequently and in large measures, and paid no penalty at all. This makes me reflect that young people are, in effect, a separate species.

For example, yesterday the Guardian gave away a little pamphlet of the poems of John Keats. Reading them now -- forty years after I first read and fell under their spell -- I was struck by the narrowness of their world view: these are the poems of a very young man. It's almost embarrassing, to read so much constructed on so little. "The Eve of St. Agnes", for example. The beadsman is a cartoon of an old man. His fingers were numb? I'd say his fingers were more likely burning with the agony of arthritis, young 'un! He walked bare-footed through the freezing chapel? What is this -- Scooby Doo?

It's no wonder so many folk songs begin with the words, "Come all ye young men, and listen to me..." Once, the old had useful things to say about press gangs, the dangerous attractions of fairy princesses, and a mysterious substance called "foggy dew" often found at the scene of the crime. Remarkably, very few of them begin with the words, "Shut it, grandad, and listen to me" (or "Roll over Beethoven", effectively the same sentiment).

Oh well, famously, youth is wasted on the young. Some of them, anyway.

When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean'd my teeming brain,
Before high-piled books, in charact'ry,
Hold like rich garners the full ripen'd grain;
When I behold, upon the night's starr'd face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour!
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love!--then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till Love and Fame to nothingness do sink.

John Keats


David Brookes said...

Look on the bright side, Mike - it may be foggy, but at least the hares have stopped limping trembling though the frozen grass - at least for now.

Mike C. said...

I'm told there's more on the way, David (snow, that is, not Romantic poetry).


Dave Leeke said...

The strange substance known as "foggy dew" is discussed in A. L. Lloyd's "Folk Song in England". Evidently 'foggy' is Middle English for 'coarse rank meadow grass' and could, for some reason, stand for maidenhead. 'Dew' meanwhile represents chastity. However, Graves also suggests that it is a corruption of the Irish word 'orocedhu' which means 'darkness, black night' and possibly The Black Death. Also the black dress of nuns.

Lloyd therefore comments, "So there we are: the girl is not terrified of her coarse rank virginity; she's hammering on a convent door begging the nuns to save her from the plague."

I prefer the version that suggests the man tricks her into bed by wearing a sheet to pretend he's a ghost. She's so frightened she sleeps with him.

That old trick, eh!

Mike C. said...

Re. "foggy dew", without getting too icky, I'd always assumed it was a precursor of other, um, euphemisms which turn up in a rock context such as "heavy jelly", "pearl jam", etc. But I'm happy to go with good old symbolism any day.