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Monday, June 10, 2013

A Song Catcher In Erewhon

             [Elevation of Erehwon adapted from some sort of psychology site]

In 1872, a book was published anonymously in England by Anonymous (Samuel Butler) called Erewhon. Some say Erewhon was a myth. Others contend it never existed. Still others swear there is no such place. It is not my job as essayist and song-catcher to decide which of these contentious troublemakers is right. So I won't (because I don't want to and besides, it was probably New Zealand --which, reckoning from photographs of astonishing vistas and wildlife might be imaginary too ). I will proceed directly into the history of the very real country upon which the book was based, the country of Erehwon --which, as the astute reader can see, differs from the fictitious country only by transposition of two letters.

The real country of Erehwon originally occupied an Antarctic ice shelf which, heated below by an undersea caldera and above by the sun, was calved off and set adrift. It had no fixed navigational coordinates, no reliable longitude or latitude, no particular location at all. My assignment as gatherer of Erehwonian folk songs was hindered by that country's lack of a written language. This was because they had no paper. They had ice. The people were literate, and had billboards, signs and books, but all printed on ice sheets that melted right away. Their libraries and public swimming pools were indistinguishable. I was able to complete synopses of only three songs:

      "Garçom, eu não consigo engolir essa!" (Waiter, I cannot swallow this!)

Little Poppita has gone into the village to feed the poor and throw rocks. The kindly priest pats her on the head. So does the mayor and the nice tall lady who pats everyone on the head. She says to them: "We believe a lot of things we are told by people who just behave as though we ought to believe them." Then she throws rocks at them. Naughty Poppita! 

     "O irmão do meu pai é coberto em avuncles!" (My father's brother is covered in avuncles!)

Jorge, the singing tax collector, sets out to gather revenue but realizes all humans are pulverulent and end in dust. "We sleep in dust, wake with plants and move with animals, then ...!" he sings empty-handed to his supervisors at the IRS. They pulverize him and dock him a day's pay.

     "Eu sou um poeta, eu espero que as coisas!" (I'm a poet, I expect things!)

The town lawyer goes to the hospital for a tonsil and appendix transplant but his wife gives birth instead. "What is this?" He cries, "A baby is supposed to look like his parents but this one is much shorter!" The lawyer and his wife sue the entire universe in a fit of pique. They win. The wise judge says:"Fantasy, even wild delusions are sometimes as necessary to happiness as reality." Poppita throws a rock at him.

These songs are all sung to the tune of "Postcard From Jamaica" by Sopwith Camel: 

Then the country of Erehwon was invited by the United nations to be admitted into that august body as a sovereign member. So Erehwonians fitted a rudder to their iceberg and were underway. As they entered New York Harbor, the awful heat spell that summer caused their entire nation to melt and leave only a cup of slush. The U.N., with regrets, was unable to recognize it. The Erehwonians responded, "That's ok, we hardly do either." How Samuel Butler learned of it over a century earlier is a true enigma.


  1. Erehwon sounds like it would have almost been a wonderful place to live. I'm sure it had many frozen assets. The fact that all the folk songs were sung to the same tune
    undoubtedly made music easy to learn, but rather boring to listen to at concerts. Encores were probably rare.

    Rumor hazzit that Liberty used her torch to melt Erehwon in the Harbor when nobody was looking.

  2. Erewhon was a clever book. Sadly you don't see many good modern satires.

  3. Okay, I just noticed that I spelled it wrong! Sorry!!

  4. Arleen-- Thanks! Absolute thanks.

    Jon-- I love the torch theory. Both spellings are anagrammatic, though mine is strictly and simply backward like me.

    Laoch-- The satire is out there. Just have to look for it. I recommend Dave Barry's "History Of The Millennium.

  5. I love this, and the music fits soooo well.

    Just the same, perhaps because I had an emergency dentist visit today, Erewhon looks rather like a tooth to me. Which makes it a bit scary.

  6. 'I'm a poet, I expect things'
    Hilarious!!!! I might write this on my wall, or tattoo it on my arm. If I can stop laughing long enough to have a steady hand :-) xx

  7. This is really only the tip of the iceberg. It is all still out there, but highly diluted.

  8. I don't reckon any hotheads lived there. Everyone had to be cool, calm, collected. Except for King Ydobon, of course.

    Another winner, dude.

  9. E.C.--Thank you! The music is an old favorite on this coast. Hope your dental trauma is easing!

    Lisa-- I believe that Erehwonian song was dedicated to poets; I thought of you immediately.

    Keith-- Yes, it's either a sledding or sculling crew. They haven't decided yet.

    John--Hah! Thank you --the perfect comment!

    Susan--King Ydobon, I love it! He deserves his own history, don't you think?

  10. Do I get points for knowing what avuncular means, even out of context?

  11. "My father's brother is covered in avuncles!" Oh, I did love this. As always, I feel I have no better response to your posts than, "Keep doing this."

  12. I bet some Erehwonian songs were favoured by the Beatles......!!

  13. Suze-- Of course you get points! Few, besides cardiologists, even know of the avuncular chamber of the heart.

    Stephanie-- Thanks! Keep doing this? as Hamlet said to his Aunt Mom, "I shall in all my best obey you, madam."

    Helena-- There's some talk the Beatles immigrated to Liverpool from Erehwon as it went by.


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