November 26, 2011

Eugene Field: A Fool

Certainly, Eugene Field did write a few serious poems but, for the most part, he was a humorist. Though it's easy to label his work as "children's literature," his type of silly humor can be appreciated by people of all ages (some of his work can even be frustrating). Though a Missouri-born writer, Field later admitted his home town of St. Louis was an "ineffably uninteresting city" and claimed he was "a Yankee by pedigree and education."

True, Field's father was from Vermont and, after the death of his mother when he was about 6 years old, young Eugene was taken to Amherst, Massachusetts. He grew up there and in Newfane, Vermont, raised by family members. Later, he had a short stint at a college in Massachusetts, though he eventually transferred to a school in Missouri (or "Poor Old Mizzoorah," as he called it).

Field was lucky to have his humor, despite his odd, semi-orphaned displacement. Though he claimed he was himself a Yankee, he was a born Southerner, and often remarked on the strange influence of Puritanism in New England. His recollections of religious life in that area brought with it memories of cold and drafty meeting-houses, and uncomfortable, straight-backed chairs ("o, so hard," he recalled).

Eventually, Field moved to Chicago, and it was here that he wrote a short humorous verse titled "The Fool," dated November 26, 1886:

A Fool, when plagued by fleas by night,
   Quoth: "Since these neighbors so despite me
I think I will put out the light
   And then they cannot see to bite me!"

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