A funny thing happened this morning.
I'd planned to write today about how newspaper cartoonists these days still allude to "classic" literature now and again. (I often share them on Facebook.) And I was going to make the point (which I still will!) that there's a very limited number of works and writers "safe" to mention in a cartoon. (It's risky to allude to something many/most people won't know.) Rarely have I seen allusions in the daily (and Sunday) cartoons to anything very ... arcane.
Then, these thoughts forming in my head, I read the Cleveland Plain Dealer online this morning and read the Get Fuzzy cartoon you see at the top of this page with an allusion to John Keats (1795-1821) and his wonderful 1820 "Ode on a Grecian Urn" (link to poem). It ends with the lines
'Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.'
Well, you can see for yourself the changes the cartoonist made--Keats' name, the poem's title. Anyhow, "Urn" was common in the secondary-school and undergraduate curriculum when I was going through school in the 1960s. But I wonder ... is it still? Will lots of people recognize what cartoonist Darbey Conley is doing?
(BTW: I'm not being "elitist" about this--heaven forbid!--just mentioning how the poem used to be common in school and guessing that it's probably not any longer.)
In other publications aimed at more specific audiences, of course, more subtle allusions are common. In the most recent New Yorker, for example, this cartoon appeared ...
Lots of people know the sentence "No man is an island," but it's far less common, I would guess, that readers in high school (even college) today would know that it was John Donne (1572-1631, eight years younger than Shakespeare) who wrote those words as the title of one of his best-known poems.
No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend's
Or of thine own were:
Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.
Hemingway fans, of course, recognize the final five words in the penultimate line.
And such things are common in publications aimed at all sorts of readers. The cartoons in the Phi Delta Kappan (a teachers' magazine) always refer to a teacher's life, sometimes in ways that laypersons would not necessarily relate to.
To be continued ...