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Spadina Literary Review  —  edition 5 page 13


In Oliver's “From Myra,” a despondent Myra writes to her ex-lover reminding him of past words:

Like the twilight of evening that dies in an hour
  I thought not so soon would thy friendship decay;
Or the love that you pledged in the rose-covered bower,
Would, like leaves in the autumn, fade so quickly away.

“Albert and Flora” — once its alleged allegories are peeled away — is likewise about a broken vow. It’s obvious that Oliver had some vow situation in his life that continually needed re-enacting.

A couple of Oliver’s other poems have guilt and condemnation as a motif. Dressed up like fun poems, but awash in bitterness, they are the weirdest things our Oliver Goldsmith ever wrote.

In “The Kiss,” a Christmas party-goer, blindfolded for a game of blind-man’s-bluff, stumbles into a young lady (a “virtuous wife”) and accidentally on purpose plops a kiss upon her cheek. For this offence he is put on trial before a panel of nine married ladies who sentence him to wear a muzzle until his behavior improves. One of the judges is named Myra, as in the “From Myra” poem mentioned above. Here’s the penalty she proposes for the kissing culprit:

“If,” Myra said, “his fate were in my hand,
I’d send him to some rocky barren land….”

Next, look at “The Death of Finnette,” where Finnette is a dog whose master pronounces a death sentence on her due to her barking and brawling. The poem takes a cartoonish turn as Finnette speaks in her own defence, saying she merely wanted to please her master by fetching sticks and balls. You lie, says her master, you've spread fleas and you rested your head on my new-made bed. I won’t tolerate one more day. Finnette, then, claims to welcome the prospect of death, for it will end her pain at having offended her master. There’s just one thing, she adds: what about my little puppies, they need a mother’s care.

The puppy problem is already solved, says her master:

Their eyes are closed, their breath is fled,
Their bodies numbered with the dead,
Beneath the waves immersed they lie.
The sea is now their canopy.

Finnette turns, as it were, to the audience. Ye dogs, she says, ye greyhounds and poodles, ye bull dogs and beagles, ye curs and whelps, under sun or snow, rich or poor, all ye dogs regard my fate and learn this lesson:

Your lord’s affection try to share,
Your master’s wishes be your care.
And when to rest you feel inclined
Take such a place as is assigned,
And never, never, lay your head,
Upon your master’s new-made bed.

The master ties a rock round Finnette’s neck and hurls her into the ocean — that is, into “the main,” the main waters. The end. Now, even back then, would anyone find this tale amusing? Hold on, here’s the final couplet about Finnette:

And now she rests beneath the main,
For ever free from guilt and pain.

So that was the point! This poem is about guilt and pain, or the pretence thereof, and the cure thereof.