in verse #78 : Pound, and Moore

I was reading The Alfred Smurthwaite family, a family history self-written and self-published, and came across this gem of youthful enthusiasm:

Rooty toot toot, Rooty toot toot
We are the boys from the Institute!
We don’t smoke and we don’t chew
And we don’t go with the girls that do
(Whispered in a quasi-pious voice)[i]

That last line appears to be a characterization of the style of the singer, rather than a fifth line of the song.  I’m not sure what a “quasi-pious voice” is, whether it means a jocular self-mocking voice, or a voice halfway between the pious and the profane.  But my interest in this song is the rhythm of the first line, and its contrast with another poem.  The rhythm is militant, not suppliant (and there was no indication of what kind of institute was meant, whether military or religious).  It matches the rhythm of the third and fourth lines of the following ditty:

Rented a tent, a tent, a tent;
Rented a tent, a tent, a tent.
Rented a tent!
Rented a tent!
Rented a, rented a tent.
*****—  Snare Drum on Mars[ii]

The attribution is part of the savage jocularity of the source, Kurt Vonnegut’s The sirens of Titan.  This is an anti-military satire first published or copyrighted in 1959.  And “Rooty toot toot” and “Rented a tent!” share that same snare-drum rhythm.  Now contrast that with a song my mother, Bessie, used to sing, as a memory from her youth:

A-rooty toot, a-rooty toot***************Rooty toot toot, Rooty toot toot
We are the girls of the Institute******.***We are the boys from the Institute!
We don’t drink or smoke or swear*******We don’t smoke and we don’t chew
And we don’t wear peroxide hair.********And we don’t go with the girls that do
Our class won the Bible!************.***(Whispered in a quasi-pious voice)

The rhythm of “A-rooty toot, a-rooty toot” is our old friend the iamb, in this case iambic tetrameter.  You can’t help but recall that this is a common rhythm of speech in English, rather than an unusual one, which is one reason iambic meters sound more like speech  — particularly iambic pentameter, Shakespeare’s line of verse.  But this song features a four-stress line, and only the first line is iambic[iii].  The rest seem more Welsh than English.  Notice the tone of the two songs:  That of the boys is militant, self-righteous, condemnatory of “the girls that do,” and without a hint of irony.  That of the girls is a little more conversational, is self-reflexive, does not condemn others, and has some irony, especially in “Our class won the Bible!”, which Bessie never explained, nor could when I finally asked — but which again is aimed at the singers, not at the non-existent “boys who do”.

I would suggest that the same gender dynamic shows up in Ezra Pound’s relationship with Marianne Moore.  Notice the dedication of this poem:

“Avec Ardeur”
Dear Ezra, who knows what cadence is.


I’ve been thinking—mean, cogitating:

Make a fuss
and be tedious.

I’m annoyed?
Yes; am.  I avoid

and “bore”;

am, I
say, by

the word
(bore) bored.

I refuse
to use

to mean


“terrific color”
for some horror.

Though flat
myself, I’d say that

(pressed glass)

looks best

I refuse
to use


even “fright-
ful plight”
(however justified)

or “frivol-
ous fool”
(however suitable).

I’ve escaped?
am still trapped

by these
word diseases.

Without pauses,
the phrases

lack lyric
force, unlike


or freak

This is not verse
of course.

I’m sure of this;

Nothing mundane is divine;
Nothing divine is mundane.[iv]

I have no idea when this was written. It was published, with others, as “Hitherto Uncollected” in the Complete Poems.  Moore does not explain anything about it in her notes.  But, as we saw last time, she was perfectly capable of writing in cadence, in regular rhythms, in stanzaic forms, and could keep time with her rhyme.

In his biography Ezra Pound : the solitary volcano, John Tytell gives several instances of Moore and Pound and collaboration between them, but not so as to tell what their relationship was.  The evidence of “Avec Ardeur” is that it may have been strained, but without knowing the circumstance of its composition that is only my supposition.  In 1919 he wrote to Moore “One buys leisure time to work by selling one’s stuff for what one can”— the “stuff” being his journalism and critical writings, the “work” his verse.  He was replying to a letter from her, enclosing poems, and stating that she

was attracted to the “saucy parts” of Pound’s poems.  Pound replied in a verse letter, expansive and revealing, in which he points to “the debacle of his temper,” his failure to have received credit for what he had done.  He added that he liked her poems but imagined how difficult it would have been for him to respond to them had she not described herself as red-headed, but had instead been a “dark, wooled Ethiopian.”  Pound recommended to Harriet Shaw Weaver that she print Moore’s poems instead of collecting his own pieces on the early translators of Homer and Aeschylus.  So yet another American poet got in print because of Ezra Pound, still determined to effect his American Risorgimento.[v]

A little further on in his book, Tytell comments that Moore “had been helped by Pound with her first book of poems,” but does not specify whether it was with editing, publication, or both. In 1927, Moore, then an editor for The Dial in New York, “had been working behind the scenes at The Dial, trying to convince her coeditors that Pound was the logical choice for the Dial award.”[vi]  In this she was returning his favor, but had she known about his preferences in setting up his new periodical, Exile, she might have hesitated.  Pound had asked his American backer, John Price,

to find manuscripts in America but discouraged him from finding work by women, saying, “the whole of American publicationdom is submerged with females.”  Until a “female invents something,” he added, “let us conduct this magazine by male effort.”  In his antifeminist mood, he received and inquiry from Marianne Moore, then working as an editor at The Dial, asking whether he had something to contribute.  Still smarting from Scofield Thayer’s hiring Paul Morand to replace him with the “Paris Letter,” Pound archly replied that he did not “propose to do odd bits of journalism for the convenience of a review that throws out my best work.”[vii]

I don’t know if Moore could sense more in that arch reply than the egotism I sense, or whether that ever got back to her, but it might explain both her admiration for Pound and her apparent exasperation with him.  When she finally met him, in 1939, it was on his visit to America to meet with FDR and convince him “that war was not in America’s best interests.”[viii]  He didn’t manage to meet with FDR, but he met with a number of Washington bigwigs and with two longtime correspondents, H. L. Mencken and Marianne Moore,[ix] who were more his type — but not by much.

But hold on, I hear you say:  that sounds more like a tap than a pounding.

Your turn.


[i] From page 190, said to be one of Henry Cornelius Smurthwaite (Harry)’s favorite songs.

[ii] from The sirens of Titan : an original novel / by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. — New York : Dell, 1970, from Chapter 4, “Tent Rentals”, p. 97 et seq.

[iii] You could argue that “And we don’t wear peroxide hair” is iambic, but Bess, my mother, always sang it with two syllables in “wear”, to keep with the rhythm of the tune.  Right, Harlow?

[iv] From Complete poems / Marianne Moore (New York : Macmillan ; Penguin, 1994) (Penguin twentieth-century classics), from the section “Hitherto Uncollected”, pp. 327-329.

[v] Ezra Pound : the solitary volcano / John Tytell. — New York : Anchor ; Doubleday, 1987, p. 144.

[vi] Ibid., p. 213.

[vii] Ibid., p. 207.

[viii] Ibid., p. 251.

[ix] Ibid., p. 252.

8 Thoughts on “in verse #78 : Pound, and Moore

  1. Andrew Hall on June 23, 2017 at 10:35 pm said:

    It appears that the Rooty toot toot cheer was used in a variety of early and mid 20th century US colleges that had “Institute” in their name, including MIT, Rice, and the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon).

    • Dennis Clark on June 25, 2017 at 11:15 pm said:

      That wouldn’t surprise me, and I’d be willing to bet that Virginia Military Institute cheered that way also. My real interest in the cheer is how it got picked up in the Utah of 1938 or so by my mother and her friends. I would guess that it got spread in the Twenties as part of their roar. I also suspect that the word “chew” is a substitute for some word like “screw” in the more scrofulous versions abroad in the land at that time.

      • Harlow Clark on June 26, 2017 at 12:17 pm said:

        I think Bessie told me once that “Our class won the Bible” referred to a prize for uprightness, but that may just be what I assumed about the line. Interesting that Andrew’s link also refers to that phrase as well as well as the rooty toot toot part.

        I would guess that it got spread in the Twenties as part of their roar.

        That sounds like a reasonable guess. Bernard DeVoto’s roar “Utah” appeared in American Mercury in March 1926.
         I also recall a review back in December of Thomas Simpson’s American Universities and the Birth of Modern Mormonism, 1867–1940 which talks about the Church (as body of believers, but with some institutional involvement) sending people back east to university training so they could bring the intellectual fruits of that training back to Yew-tah, and they probably brought the cheers and fight songs back.
        About 15 years ago Lindon bought a quarter acre to expand the city park, and the seller was slow in removing the billboard on the piece, so they hauled in the owner or founder of the billboard company–may have been Yesco–to talk about it. I think he was 97, though he may have been 100, so he would have been at the UofU around the same time (which Bessie’s brother Alvin called Satan’s Cesspool, “but he sent his children there”). He sang the Utah Man fight song, which included a reference to drinking a stein of beer, though that line doesn’t appear in the online lyrics I found . (There is a story on KSL about changing the lyrics, but it looks like it’s more for gender inclusiveness, “I am a Utah fan.”)

  2. Harlow Clark on June 26, 2017 at 4:15 pm said:

    Love that snare-drum rhythm. Speaking of anti-military poetry, I’ve been reading Siegfried Sassoon’s  Counter-Attack and Other Poems at Lots of sonnets, most of them curtailed at line 10 or 12, suggesting, I suppose, that war curtails and derails life and art. “Song-Books of the War” is interesting for its look at future nostalgia for the war by people who didn’t fight it. The poem is two curtailed sonnets of 12 lines each, with chiastic rhyme schemes, the second stanza repeating the scheme of the first in reverse. The first two lines of the second stanza complete the sestet of the first sonnet and the last two lines of the first stanza complete the sestet of the second sonnet, so you have octet, sestet, sestet, octet AA,BB,CC,DD,EF,EF,GH,GH,II,JJ,KL,KL.

  3. Colin Douglas on June 29, 2017 at 12:46 am said:

    I may be be the only one here old enough to remember that the A rooty toot toot cheer came at the end of “The Battle of Kookamunga,” a 1959 parody by Homer and Jethro of Johnny Horton’s 1959 “The Battle of New Orleans,” and it went “We are the boys from the Boy Scout troop.”

    • Dennis Clark on July 4, 2017 at 4:58 pm said:

      And here I thought I was the only one here old enough to remember Homer and Jethro at all, let alone remember “The Battle of Kookamunga” — which I must have forgotten.

      • Dennis Clark on July 4, 2017 at 6:55 pm said:

        For those of you who have lost that precious memory, like me, and those of you who were never so burdened, here is one transcription stolen from the web-site Don’t bother to sing it, even if you know “The Battle of New Orleans.” Just skip to the relevant stanza, which appears at the end. In its entirety, it supports my contention that there were probably salacious variations — and what could be more salacious than a troop of Boy Scouts gazing upon a group of Girl Scouts swimming in the nude?

        The Battle Of Kookamonga / [as sung by] Homer & Jethro

        In nineteen and fifty-nine we took a little hike
        With our scout master down to Lake Oneeganite
        We took a little pizza and we took some saurkrauts
        And we marched along together till we heard the girl scouts

        We’re the boys from Camp Kookamonga
        Our mothers sent us here for to study nature’s ways
        We learned to make sparks by rubbing sticks together
        But if we catch the girls then we’ll set the woods ablaze

        [Falsetto]: And I was mad because me mother sent me up here ha-ha-ha

        Well we crept up to the water and we see the girls a-swimmin
        There musta been a hundred of them pretty young women
        They looked so fine even birds forgot to sing
        We lay down in the poison oak and didn’t say a thing


        F: Hey will one of you fellas scratch my back?

        Well our counselor said we could take them by surprise
        If we didn’t say a word till we looked them in the eyes
        We kept real still and we had our eyes aglued
        We saw how they were dressed they were swimming in the
        Welll now…


        Well they ran through the briars and they ran through the brambles
        They ran through the bushes where a rabbit couldn’t go
        They ran so fast even we couldn’t catch them
        And we can even hike all the way to Buffalo

        F: Hey fellas wait for me

        Well we ran right after them till everyone was pooped
        So we rested for a moment and our forces we regrouped
        Then we saw the girls behind some evergreens
        Captured by a company of United States Marines


        F: Aww those big guys get everything

        Well they ran through the briars an they ran through the brambles
        They ran through the bushes where a rabbit couldn’t go
        They ran so fast even we couldn’t catch them
        And we can even hike all the way to Buffalo

        A-rootie-toot-toot a-rootie-toot-toot
        Ah we are the boys from the boy scout troop
        We don’t smoke and we don’t chew
        And we don’t go with the girls that do

        (fade out of calling and whooping)

        Writer(s): Jimmy Driftwood, John J. J.”Reynolds”

        And if you’re still reading, you have a mild case of curiosity. You might want to look at the performances on Youtube. The ones I’ve found so far do not include the falsetto lines, nor the “rootie-toot-toot” ending, so I’m still in the dark about that.

  4. Dennis Clark on July 4, 2017 at 7:17 pm said:

    Another case of insufficient research (or maybe just plain indifference): Here is the URL for the original recording, which includes the chorus. Homer and Jethro are accompanied by a chorus in the chorus, and not just singing along blindly. Makes me think the TV performances I found were, well, cleaned up a bit — one was a clear case of lip-syncing.

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