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Palinody: poetic art of retraction

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I love weird words. One I came across recently is “palinode” (or “palinody”), which describes a poem in which the author retracts a view or sentiment expressed in a previous poem. It originates from the Greek palin (again) and oide (song).

The first recorded use of a palinode is by the Greek lyric poet Stesichorus in the 7th century BC. He had written a poem in which he stated that Helen of Troy had sparked off the Trojan War by deserting her Spartan husband Menelaus and following Paris to Troy.

Tradition holds that Stesichorus was struck blind for making this assertion but had his sight restored when he wrote a palinode in which he retracted his claim.

Two of the best known palinodes of more recent times are by the American poet Ogden Nash, known for his droll verse and unconventional rhymes. More than 30 years after writing the concise “The Bronx? / No thonx”, Nash apologised with:

“I wrote those lines, ‘The Bronx?
No thonx’;
I shudder to confess them.

Now I’m an older, wiser man
I cry, ‘The Bronx?
God bless them!’ ”

And after writing his famous couplet “Candy is dandy / But liquor is quicker”, Nash repented and wrote:

“Nothing makes me sicker
Than liquor
And candy
Is too expandy.”

Another well-known palinode was penned by the American artist, poet and humorist Gelett Burgess, who in 1895 famously wrote the quatrain:

“I never saw a purple cow;
I never hope to see one;
But I can tell you anyhow;
I’d rather see than be one!”

Two years later he wrote a retraction:

“Ah, yes! I wrote the Purple Cow,
I’m sorry now I wrote it!
But I can tell you anyhow,
I’ll kill you if you quote it!”

There have been many subsequent parodies of Burgess’s poems and I have found one with a slight pharmaceutical flavour, which may be just enough to dissuade the editor from sacking me for writing this inconsequential rubbish. It goes like this:

“I never saw a vitamin,
I never hope to see one,
But I can tell you, anyhow,
I’d rather C than B1.”

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From: Beyond pharmacy blog

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