Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Ban

On my way, one day, to looking up something else, I came across a description - by his niece - of James Whitcomb Riley.

Riley is best remembered today for rural-dialect children's poems - like "Little Orphant Annie".

But then I read these words by his niece:
His inescapable disillusionment in love bred in him no contempt for women, however. He disliked any expression of harshness toward them. He pleaded in “The Ban,” for even the lowliest to be found in the ranks of that oldest of professions.
Oldest of professions?

So I looked up "The Ban." You can read the whole poem and not get, at first, what he's getting at. 

But it's a poem about a woman who is walking the street in torn clothing and worn shoes, who is leered at, who is despised by some and pitied by others, but who nonetheless dreams of romance and "what I used to be."

It's interesting. "The hooker with a heart of gold" is a kind of recurring theme in literature. You could call it a cliche. But recurring themes always raise the question of why a topic fascinates many writers.

I'm not really sure
why this motif endures.

Perhaps it's a way to bring before our eyes
the many ways that people compromise
while trying to retain 
something unstained
and pure.

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