Monday, March 24, 2008

Oh the moon shone bright on Mrs Porter

O the moon shone bright on Mrs. Porter

And on her daughter

They wash their feet in soda water

- from The Fire Sermon

I was looking today at Lawrence Rainey's annotated edition of T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land, and was surprised to see a reference to a popular American ballad called 'Red Wing', the chorus of which starts:

Now the moon shines bright on pretty Red Wing

The breezes singing, the night birds crying.

and no mention of the WWI music hall 'ding dong' sung to the same tune ...

For the moon shines tonight on Charlie Chaplin

His boots are cracking, for the want of blackn'ning

And his little baggy trousers they want mending

Before they send him to the Dardanelles.

Isn't it likely that it was this version that Eliot - a keen fan of the Music Hall - would have heard?

On Eliot's recording he chants the words to the following rhythm which, at least as far as 'daughter', is a rough match to the song. (No attempt has been made to annotate the near monotonous but slightly rising pitch of his rendition).

An interesting line of connections which supports the music hall version as being the source, is that Jean Verdenal, Eliot's close friend and dedicatee of Prufrock and Other Observations (1917) was killed in action in the Dardanelles in the doomed Gallipoli campaign. The Prufrock dedication reads :

To Jean Verdenal

1889 - 1915

This was revised in 1925 collection to include an explicit reference to the Dardanelles, and a Dante epigraph:

For Jean Verdenal, 1889-1915

mort aux Dardanelles

Or puoi la quantitate

Comprender dell' amor ch'a te mi scalda,

Quando dismento nostra vanitate,

Trattando l'ombre come cosa salda.

(Roughly, awkwardly, word-wise: 'And now the quantity, you can understand, of the love which scalds me, when I don't think of our emptiness, treating the shadows like a thing solid')

Eliot's only comment about the Ms Porter lines is that they were reported to him from Sydney, Australia - and given the strong Australia / Gallipoli connection this raises further speculations on the Dardanelles/Mrs Porter link.

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