Sunday, December 08, 2013

Thurber, Ben Bolt and Alice

James Thurber was born this day, December 8, in 1894. I've always loved his little drawings and his writing. His drawings could be something of an acquired taste. He said of them, "My drawings have been described as pre-intentionalist, meaning they were finished before the ideas for them had occurred to me. I shall not argue the point."

I had the thrill of actually touching the keys of his typewriter when we visited his house in Columbus, Ohio, back in 2007. There's an old and ragged post from 2006 (needs re-doing) about Thurber and his astrology, that post is linked in this 2007 post describing the Columbus visit.

Anyway, in a book of Thurber's I have, Fables for Our Time and Famous Poems Illustrated, he illustrates with his quirky line drawings a few pieces of poetry written by others. One of them, Ben Bolt, by American poet and politician Thomas Dunn English (1819-1902). The poem was later set to music by Nelson Kneass (1823-1868) a composer from Philadelphia...a sweet rendition from YouTube is below. The song is often mistakenly titled "Alice Benbolt" - but the poem makes clear that the words are addressed to Ben Bolt, about "sweet Alice" - there's a comma after Alice.

Husband has scanned just three of Thurber's drawings from the book for me, I shall add them here and hope not to be hauled off by the copyright police.

In the poem two elderly guys are reminiscing about people and things long gone:

Ben Bolt

Don't you remember sweet Alice, Ben Bolt,-
Sweet Alice whose hair was so brown,
Who wept with delight when you gave her a smile,
And trembled with fear at your frown?

In the old church-yard in the valley, Ben Bolt,
In a corner obscure and alone,
They have fitted a slab of the granite so gray,
And Alice lies under the stone.

Under the hickory tree, Ben Bolt,
Which stood at the foot of the hill,
Together we've lain in the noonday shade,
And listened to Appleton's mill.
The mill-wheel has fallen to pieces, Ben Bolt,
The rafters have tumbled in,
And a quiet which crawls round the walls as you gaze
Has followed the olden din.

Do you mind of the cabin of logs, Ben Bolt,
At the edge of the pathless wood,
And the button-ball tree with its motley limbs,
Which nigh by the doorstep stood?
The cabin to ruin has gone, Ben Bolt,
The tree you would seek for in vain;
And where once the lords of the forest waved
Are grass and golden grain.

And don't you remember the school, Ben Bolt,
With the master so cruel and grim,
And the shaded nook in the running brook
Where the children went to swim?

Grass grows on the master's grave, Ben Bolt,
The spring of the brook is dry,
And of all the boys who were schoolmates then
There are only you and I.

There is a change in the things I loved, Ben Bolt,
They have changed from the old to the new;
But I feel in the deeps of my spirit the truth,
There never was change in you.

Twelve months twenty have past, Ben Bolt,
Since first we were friends-yet I hail
Your presence as a blessing, your friendship a truth,
Ben Bolt of the salt-sea gale.

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mike said...

I hope none of my comment today will be taken as offensive, Twilight.

Ben Bolt is a Texas town not far from me. Texas has many peculiarly named towns, many bearing proper names of people, which I've been ignorant of their importance. As noted below, the town is in Jim Wells County...another proper name...Jim Wells was a politician.

It never occurred to me that Ben Bolt, TX, was named after this poem! Here's a Wiki:

Ben Bolt is on FM 2508 off U.S. Route 281, seven miles (11 km) south of Alice in central Jim Wells County. Mexican herders were residents of the ranching area before the building of the railroad. The town was laid out in 1904 by L. B. Collins. When he named the town, which is right down the road from Alice, he did so under the influence of a popular song, "Ben Bolt," the first line of which is "Don't you remember sweet Alice, Ben Bolt?" A post office was established at Ben Bolt in 1906.,_Texas

You must have survived the 4.5 earthquake and the two after-shocks just outside of Oklahoma City...I saw the map and your area was in the zone of reported shaking. Did you feel it?

Twilight said...

mike ~ Offensive? Not likely, mike. LOL! I wasn't offended - maybe experienced a raised hackle or two, which soon smoothed down again. :-)

That's interesting - I hadn't come across the Texas place name Ben Bolt before - and Alice too!

I'd heard the song before somewhere, sung by an Irish vocalist. I'd assumed it was an old Irish has that kind of feel and sound.

I hadn't heard about the earthquake - I don't watch TV news anymore. We didn't feel it here, maybe we're just a bit too far south. The subject came up (obliquely)yesterday, however,
in a post at Sparrow Chat (link in sidebar) where RJ Adams who sometimes comments here, had written about a local oil billionaire, Harold Hamm. He passed on a link to me:

The fracking no doubt contributes to Oklahoma earthquakes which have increased in strength in recent years.

LB said...

Twilight ~ Maybe you already knew this, but a line from the song you referenced was sung by Scarlett O'Hara in the movie, "Gone With the Wind". She sings, "Oh she wept with delight when he gave her a smile and trembled with fear at his frown." the morning after a night spent with Rhett.

Twilight said...

LB ~ I didn't know that - hmmm!
It's a long time since I saw "Gone with the Wind" time I'll make sure to listen for that. :-)
Must be about time for them to re-make that film eh? Much to the chagrin of its fans, I'd guess, though.

LB said...

Twilight ~ The movie was playing all day on Thanksgiving - which is why when I read your post, something about the poem(?) seemed familiar. Here's a link to a longer article along with a movie clip:

A remake of "Gone With the Wind" would be interesting. And probably just as controversial as the recent remake of "The Sound of Music".

Twilight said...

LB ~ Ah - that's a coincidence!
Thanks will investigate the movie clip in the morning.

"Sound of Music" re-make ~ we saw the middle hour only. Seemed a bit wooden, but the singing wasn't bad.
It was a risky business putting on a stage version live, especially as most viewers (incl. me) would have only the movie with which to compare it.

mike - and LB ~
We've just watched an episode of "Doc Martin" on PBS and the opening credits listed the producer as......wait for it...
Ben Bolt.

Isn't this what Mike calls a "quinky dink"? LOL!

DC said...

I learned about Thurber from Keith Olberman....every week he would read a passage of Thurber's (on Fridays I think) at the end of his show on MSNBC in tribute to his dad. Apparently when Keith's dad was dying in the hospital, Keith would recite Thurber at his bedside because Mr. Olberman senior was a huge Thurber fan.

Twilight said...

DC ~ Oh yes! I did catch a couple of Keith Olbermann's readings - in those days I watched MSNBC now and again. :-) I didn't realise there was the connection with his dad.

I can't remember how I came to find Thurber originally. I think it must have been back in the late 1950s at our town's library, digging around among some obscure (in Yorkshire) American literature. :-)

JD said...

It would be nice to see repeats of this show-


Twilight said...

JD ~ Oh yes, it would! Husband has mentioned it to me in the past, and has tried to find DVD or VHS tapes of episodes, but it seems they don't exist.

mike (again) said...

Indeed a quinkydink! LOL