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Elma Mitchell
Posted by: marian2 (192.168.128.---)
Date: December 30, 2005 06:56AM

I've been trying, without much success, to find out a bit about this poet. I know a few of her pieces, and was reading Propitiation the other day and trying, for the umpteenth time to decide whether it happened or not. Opinions as to this (see below) and a link to a bio or a few facts, would be appreciated, as I can find nothing. I wondered if she was related or even married to Adrian Mitchell,as I see similarities in their work, but as I have no dates, they may not even be contemporaries.

Propitiation - Elma Mitchell

He always apologized to statues
And sometimes to furniture, when he bumped into it.
He felt no superiority to insects
But removed them carefully from kitchen surfaces.

He sat at the wheel of a car,
Thinking of a world without predators
Or generals.
A moment's absentmindedness
A child on a bicycle died.

No, no, it didn't. It never happened.
But he lived all his life with this catastrophe
In imagination, as he ferried his insects
To places of safety, and apologized to statues.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 12/30/2005 06:56AM by marian2.

Re: Elma Mitchell
Posted by: Hugh Clary (192.168.128.---)
Date: December 30, 2005 12:37PM

decide whether it happened or not

What happened - hitting the kid on a bike? I don't follow, sorry. The author says it didn't happen, but the 'he' was constantly seeking atonement for the anticipated future catastrophe.

I do that with the occasional spider or cricket myself. I put a glass over the intruder, then slide a piece of paper under the overturned vessel to ferry such monsters outside and release them into the wild. Never seen one come back yet, I am happy to say. Well, at least I don't think they return. I don't band them or put little paint spots on their backs to make sure. Sadly, they never appear grateful for the kindness though.

To be totally honest, spiders on the ceiling about to fall on my face get zapped with the spray or the fly swatter, right.

Re: Elma Mitchell
Posted by: JohnnySansCulo (192.168.128.---)
Date: December 30, 2005 12:48PM

As stated previously, I give them all names.....the spiders that is

Re: Elma Mitchell
Posted by: lg (Moderator)
Date: December 30, 2005 01:19PM

Hmmm. I don't think I've ever felt the need to apologize to a statue.

She's real though: [] />


Re: Elma Mitchell
Posted by: lg (Moderator)
Date: December 30, 2005 01:26PM

Looks like Adrian is not married to Elma. Read his biography here: [] />


Re: Elma Mitchell
Posted by: marian2 (192.168.128.---)
Date: January 01, 2006 05:29AM

Thanks very much - at least I have her date of birth and it seems, there is no obvious connection with Adrian Mitchell or his bio would probably have mentioned it.

As to whether he did knock the boy off the bike - I'm still ambivalent. That line "No, no it didn't. It never happened." to me sometimes sounds like the subject of the poem speaking about something so awful that he couldn't face the fact it had happened, so blocked the train of thought the second it arose - a not uncommon reaction to many circumstances. At other times it seems to be the narrator, saying the reason the subject was so sensitive to inadvertant consequences of his own actions was that in his imagination he lived several steps ahead of himself, or simply knew he was a daydreamer and feared the results. That argument takes me back to the idea that he fears the consequences of his daydreaming because they have already happened, that's what makes him so careful to avoid any minor consequence while not facing what happened before. Otherwise, he seems to be a very timid wimp I'd normally have no interest in - not the sort of character I'd normally associate with the poet. The title of the poem 'Propitiation' adds to the dilemma, as it means to atone (which implies doing the deed first) and appease/conciliate, which you can do in advance of the deed you want to get away with.

It's like one of those pictures where the perspective isn't quite right and a boulder becomes a cave and then a boulder again as you watch. The only other poem which does this to me is Browning's The Last Duchess 'Then all smiles stopped together.' I'm never entirely sure whether he killed her or just her enthusiasm for life, which resulted in her pining away or killing herself.

Am I really the only person who sees it this way?

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 01/01/2006 05:33AM by marian2.

Re: Elma Mitchell
Posted by: Marty (192.168.128.---)
Date: January 01, 2006 10:59AM


This is probably way off the wall, but the thoughts relayed in the poem are strikingly familiar. I have a relative who suffers from mental illness. She is tormented by her own thoughts and each day is filled with fears, doubts, and questions.

She often worries that her thoughts and problems are projected onto others, making their lives difficult...or worse sometimes. She can't stop thinking, yet she worries that what she thinks... has either happened or will happen (to her or someone else). She too, apologizes to objects and handles insects with great care. I've seen her pet a fly with one finger, attempt to revive insects, and recently refused to use mouse traps or poison when mouse droppings were noted on her kitchen cupboard. It's as though she feels responsible for all the ills of people, and that caring for the smallest and most helpless creatures, is the least she can do to make up for it.

Now mind you, she has, in fact, done some grievous things in her past for which she can not forgive herself. Sometimes I think it is her guilt that causes her such misery. In any event, I don't think it can be determined, with any amount of certainity, whether or not the boy in the poem was hit by a car, died, or that he ever even existed. Although, certainly, we can say that many have.

Sorry for the ramble. Couldn't resist.


Re: Elma Mitchell
Posted by: Hugh Clary (192.168.128.---)
Date: January 01, 2006 11:59AM

I'm never entirely sure whether he killed her or ...

Oh, he did the dirty deed all right:

Oh, sir, she smiled, no doubt,
Whene'er I passed her; but who passed without
Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands
As if alive.

Or, more accurately, he gave the command that had her killed.

Re: Elma Mitchell
Posted by: JohnnySansCulo (192.168.128.---)
Date: January 01, 2006 01:33PM

"I don't know nothing and if I did I wouldn't say nothing"

alleged reputed Johnny No-Ass

Re: Elma Mitchell
Posted by: marian2 (192.168.128.---)
Date: January 01, 2006 06:33PM

Not so, Hugh - he could simply have commanded her to behave in a more seemly fashion - she was after all his chattel. Bullied enough she'd stop smiling and maybe pine away. No time scale given.

As a matter of fact, I studied this poem at school, assumed, on first reading, that he had had her killed and was categorically told that was nonsense - in the intervening 35 years it has become the accepted theory.

Re: Elma Mitchell
Posted by: Hugh Clary (192.168.128.---)
Date: January 02, 2006 01:20PM

Right, and Porphyria's lover was merely admiring her lovely locks, and the lady in the apothecary shop didn't really deliver the deadly dose to pretty Pauline.

Just kidding, sorry. But, surely the story is much more delicious (read macabre) when the duchess gets her just deserts-demise, no? That, it seems to me, was the whole point of the tale, so I remain convinced Duke Alfonso did the dastardly deed and lovely Lucrezia swims with the fishes in the river Po.

Re: Elma Mitchell
Posted by: JohnnySansCulo (192.168.128.---)
Date: January 02, 2006 02:07PM

Duke Alfonso? He was standing next to me on the balcony the whole time.
Duke who?

Re: Elma Mitchell
Posted by: marian2 (192.168.128.---)
Date: January 02, 2006 04:31PM

I agree in a way, Hugh, but would he really be arrogant enough to expect the envoy from his future father-in-law's court to approve - surely it'd predjudice his next match. That's why I'm ambivalent about it - just like the Elma Mitchell.

Thanks for your post, Marty. I believe many mental illnesses manifest themselves as extensions of 'normal' behaviour, and the brink is hard to define. That's one of the problems, you never know which side of the 'line' you are on, and it moves depending on the society/culture you live in .Lots of people block off things they are ashamed of or that they think mean they have problems in the same way as individuals and society as a whole ignore physical illnesses, expecting/hoping they are minor. Shell shock was defined as cowardice less than 100 years ago, for example.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 01/02/2006 04:32PM by marian2.

Re: Elma Mitchell
Posted by: Desi (Moderator)
Date: January 02, 2006 04:32PM

I agree with Hugh on this point.

Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands
As if alive.

with other words, after the commands, she is dead. Sshe stands as if alive, so she is not, is too neatly placed right after this sentence to mean anything else to me. And it is sure she is dead, as he is now negotiating for another wife.

"he could simply have commanded her to behave in a more seemly fashion"
then I'm sure Browning would have said so, no? Or can you back this theory up by means of the poem itself?

Re: Elma Mitchell
Posted by: Desi (Moderator)
Date: January 02, 2006 04:35PM

"surely it'd predjudice his next match"
thought so too, and when I pointed that out, someone replied that it only reinforces the statue of women as possession at the time. The negotiator doesn't seem to care, as long as he could get enough out of the match. At least, there is no hint in the poem that he is outraged in any way.

Re: Elma Mitchell
Posted by: marian2 (192.168.128.---)
Date: January 03, 2006 04:16AM

Desi - I'm NOT arguing in favour of the theory she wasn't murdered over the one that she was - I'm just saying that to me it is ambiguous, like the Elma Mitchell - and that I veer from one theory to the other in both cases. I can even speculate on reasons why the poets might have deliberately left them ambiguous. Probably my natural perversity. For instance, if Browning were outraged at the way women could be treated as possessions (and I don't know enough about him to know if he was), he might have seen examples where their whole personalities were destroyed in the interests of submitting to a favourable marriage and wanted to illustrate that - or he might be referring to a contemporary case where it was generally thought someone was killed for relatively trivial reasons, but it would be dangerous to come right out and say it - like some of Shakespeare's critiscisms of politics in plays like Merchant of Venice and some of the historical ones. One day when I have time, I'd like to look into it, by studying some of his other work and also looking at what was happening around him in history books. I've always hoped someone might turn up here who knew more about that period.

As for Mitchell, more modern poets delight in ambuguity and it certainly makes their readers think - I've spent more time pondering those two poems than a lot of others that I prefer, because the ambiguity intrigues me. It just surprises me that other people don't see them as ambiguous.

Re: Elma Mitchell
Posted by: JohnnySansCulo (192.168.128.---)
Date: January 03, 2006 09:59AM

It was other kids

Re: Elma Mitchell
Posted by: Hugh Clary (192.168.128.---)
Date: January 03, 2006 12:06PM

A little more research turns up the fact that Browning was asked way back when what he meant by the commands given, and the results for the duchess. He replied that she was dead ... but then paused for a moment and said, as an afterthought, that she might also have been shut up in a convent somewhere.

Doesn't resolve the question, but I found it interesting, so make of it what you will. A damned shame no one thought to ask him what the message from Ghent to Aix was, grr!

Re: Elma Mitchell
Posted by: marian2 (192.168.128.---)
Date: January 04, 2006 04:07AM

Very interesting, indeed - thanks, Hugh

Re: Elma Mitchell
Posted by: Desi (Moderator)
Date: January 04, 2006 03:11PM

Thanks marian. Indeed interesting how people can interpret things so differently. It keeps discussions worthwhile!

Re: Elma Mitchell
Posted by: marian2 (192.168.128.---)
Date: January 05, 2006 04:32AM

Looking at Hugh's post again, I think that incident gives enough insight into Browning's character (assuming at the time he was not so old/far removed from the time he wrote it to have forgotten) to resolve my question about the Last Duchess poem - he meant it to be ambiguous, he either hadn't decided himself or he didn't want anyone else to know ( I think the former more likely) And if that was the case, it solves the Ghent to Aix riddle, too - there was no message. He postulated a message so urgent that men would do thier utmost to deliver it, but didn't go so far, and possibly wasn't interested, as to define what that message might be. After all, not knowing what the message was has intrigued people ever since it was written, and has given the poem immortality - if the nature of the message was known, some of his readers, then or later, might not think it worth the ride, and its nature would probably date the poem quite precisely- and the poem would be constrained by this and suffer accordingly. Think about Paul Revere's ride or Dick Turpin's or even The Highwayman - they are all firmly fixed in history, and moral judgments come into play - (Turpin was a higwayman, should one approve, for example) but anyone reading Ghent to Aix, and not being aware of Brownings dates, could place it any time in a period of two or three centuries before the invention of the motor car! As it stands, we accept that the message was crucial and give it, in our minds, sufficient importance to accept the necessity of such a desperate ride and simply enjoy going along and urging the riders forward.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 01/05/2006 04:36AM by marian2.

Re: Elma Mitchell
Posted by: Hugh Clary (192.168.128.---)
Date: January 05, 2006 11:58AM

I'll buy that - and a good lesson for all aspiring writers to master. What is NOT said is often more important than what IS said, that is.

Re: Elma Mitchell
Posted by: JohnnySansCulo (192.168.128.---)
Date: January 05, 2006 12:05PM

You can say that again !

Re: Elma Mitchell
Posted by: PamAdams (192.168.128.---)
Date: January 06, 2006 01:14PM

The message was 42.


Re: Elma Mitchell
Posted by: JohnnySansCulo (192.168.128.---)
Date: January 06, 2006 07:55PM

back to Elma Mitchell
Posted by: ilza (192.168.128.---)
Date: January 09, 2006 02:23AM

I am looking for The passenger opposite , and At first, my daughter
- anyone ? please ?

here are some poems by Elma Mitchell

Mother, Dear Mother

She is invigilator; her name is knife.
She changes nappies and sleeps in my father's bed.

If I cry or trickle, she'll come to my whistle
And give me her breast. Or let me lie and cry.

Half of her's mine, and half is my hot fat father's.
To each, one arm, one eye - and then what?

What is the good of possessing half a woman?
I'll put her down to me by her swinging hair

And eat her all up, moon-face, belly and toes,
And throw the skin to my father, to keep him warm.


This Poem

This poem is dangerous: it should not be left
Within the reach of children, or even of adults
Who might swallow it whole, with possibly
Undesirable side-effects. If you come across
An unattended, unidentified poem
In a public place, do not attempt to tackle it
Yourself. Send it (preferably, in a sealed container)
To the nearest centre of learning, where it will be rendered
Harmless, by experts. Even the simplest poem
May destroy your immunity to human emotions.
All poems must carry a Government warning. Words
Can seriously affect your heart.

Thoughts after Ruskin

Women reminded him of lilies and roses.
Me they remind rather of blood and soap,
Armed with a warm rag, assaulting noses,
Ears, neck, mouth and all the secret places:

Armed with a sharp knife, cutting up liver,
Holding hearts to bleed under a running tap,
Gutting and stuffing, pickling and preserving,
Scalding, blanching, broiling and pulverising,
-All the terrible chemistry of their kitchens.

Their distant husbands lean across mahogany
And delicately manipulate the market,
While safe at home, the tender and the gentle
Are killing tiny mice, dead snap by the neck,
Asphyxiating flies, evicting spiders,
Scrubbing, scouring aloud, disturbing cupboards,
Committing things to dustbins, twisting, wringing,
Wrists red and knuckles white and fingers puckered,
Pulpy, tepid. Steering screaming cleaners
Around the snags of furniture, they straighten
And haul out sheets from under the incontinent
And heavy old, stoop to importunate young,
Tugging, folding, tucking, zipping, buttoning,
Spooning in food, encouraging excretion,
Mopping up vomit, stabbing cloth with needles,
Contorting wool around their knitting needles,
Creating snug and comfy on their needles...

And when all's over, off with overalls,
Quickly consulting clocks, they go upstairs,
Sit and sigh a little, brushing hair,
And somehow find, in mirrors, colours, odors,
Their essence of lilies and roses.

A stone's throw

We shouted out
"We've got her!here she is!
It's her alright"
We caught her.
There she was -

A decent-looking woman,you'd have said,
(They often are)
Beautiful,but scared dead,
Tousled-we roughed her up
A little, nothing much

And not the first time
By any means
She'd felt men's hands
gredy over her body-
But ours were virtuous
Of course.

And if our fingers bruised
Her shuddering skin,
These were love- bites,compared
To the hail of kisses of stone,
The last assult
And battery,frigid rape,
To come
of right.
For justice must be done
Specially when
It tastes so good.

And then-this guru,
Spoilt the whole thing,
Speaking to her
(Should never speak to them)
Squatting on the ground to her level,
Writing in the dust
Something we couldn't read.
At least until
He turned his eyes on us,
Her eyes on us,
Our eyes upon ourselves.

We walked away
Still holding stones
That we may throw
Another day
Given the urge.

Our Lollypop Lady

Our lollypop lady’s retiring
She’ll be missed, I’m quite certain of that.
We’ve become so accustomed to seeing her
Wi’ pole, yellow coat and cocked hat.
We’ll miss our wee chats in the morning,
Billy, Jim and mysel’
All the rest of the regulars who stop here
The school kids’ll miss her as well.

Over twelve years she’s been at this crossing
Stopping traffic to let the kids by.
Been a friend to them all through the Primary,
Waved them off on the bus to Blair High.

Aye, we’ll all miss Ruth’s dry sense of humour
And how she takes folk as they come.
Make no difference to her if you’re teacher,
Postie, bus driver, scaffie or mum.

So we say goodbyes to this lady
Who’s going while still in her prime

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 01/09/2006 02:30AM by ilza.

Re: back to Elma Mitchell
Posted by: Hugh Clary (192.168.128.---)
Date: January 09, 2006 11:59AM

Passenger Opposite sounds familiar - man reading a newspaper on a train, with an attractive and well-dressed woman sitting across from him? An opportunity lost, if memory serves. Authors unknown I am guessing?

Re: back to Elma Mitchell
Posted by: ilza (192.168.128.---)
Date: January 09, 2006 04:45PM

The passenger opposite , and At first, my daughter - both by Elma Mitchell

Re: back to Elma Mitchell
Posted by: Hugh Clary (192.168.128.---)
Date: January 09, 2006 06:08PM

Whups! Of course they are, sorry. Meanwhile, "Your post is very important to us, so please continue to hold. Do not hang up and call back, as all posts are answered in the order received ... "

That is, I will see what I can find down at the local library. Not the best library by any stretch of the imagination, but maybe there will be something to be found.

Re: Elma Mitchell
Posted by: JohnnySansCulo (192.168.128.---)
Date: January 09, 2006 08:41PM

"it's the place for you, it's the place for me, it's your local public library.
They've got things to do, they've got things to see, it's the latest it's the greatest it's the library !"

1960's library jingle

Re: Elma Mitchell
Posted by: marian2 (192.168.128.---)
Date: January 13, 2006 06:04AM

Ilza - is the last stanza of Our Lollipop Lady complete? It seems odd it only has 2 lines, and is a bit 'up in the air' at the end. I'm probably just tidying the world up again - when will I learn it doesn't apply to poetry?

Re: Elma Mitchell
Posted by: ilza (192.168.128.---)
Date: January 16, 2006 07:46PM


now that you said ... it does seem out of place

I can't recall where I got it from,
I will try to find out,
but this one quotes just the same :

[] />

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