Thursday, March 10, 2016

With Hide So Tough . . .

A few months ago I came across an interesting quotation:
Breathes there a man with hide so tough
Who says two sexes aren't enough?
It was attributed to one one Samuel Hoffenstein (1890-1947), whom I discovered to be remembered primarily as a screenwriter, having worked on the scripts for many movies, some credited to him like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931, directed by Rouben Mamoulian) and Phantom of the Opera (1943), others uncredited, like The Wizard of Oz (1939).

I came to this quotation in some commentary on a Clifford Simak short story, "Mirage"  (variant title "Seven Came Back"), first published in Amazing in October 1950, because Simak's story concerns a race of aliens with seven sexes. I wondered whether the poem from which these lines came might be more interesting in full context.  Alas, that is not true.

Dorothy Parker approved; over 100,000 copies sold
The couplet is a complete poem in itself, number III. in a series of "Love-Songs, at Once Tender and Informative--An Unusual Combination in Verses of This Character," which is a section comprising some twenty-three poems in Hoffenstein's collection, Poems in Praise of Practically Nothing (New York:  Boni & Liveright, 1928), which went through a number of printings and editions. I can't see why the book was successful, as the poetry is quite tedious and there is a lot of it.  The first stanza of the opening "Proem" gives a fair sample:

How exquisite my sorrows look
Neatly marshalled in a book,
Hung on the iambic line
In an orderly design! 

I was not inspired to read further, so I cannot say whether Samuel Hoffenstein deserves to be remembered alongside of John William Burgon as a poet who is remembered for only a short line or two.  Burgon (1813-1888) won the Newdigate Prize at Oxford in 1845 for his poem Petra, which described the place of the title in an immortal line as "a rose-red city half as old as time."  (There is nothing else remotely interesting in the poem Petra, which I read years ago.  Burgon even lifted part of his line "half as old as time" from an earlier poet, Samuel Rogers.) 


  1. The verse you quote is a paraphrase from Sir Walter Scott from The Lay of the Last Minstrel:

    Breathes there a man, with soul so dead,
    Who never to himself hath said,
    This is my own, my native land!