Monday, February 14, 2011

The Vinegar Man by Ruth Comfort Mitchell


The Vinegar Man


The crazy old Vinegar Man is dead! He never had missed a day before!
Somebody went to his tumble-down shed by the Haunted House and forced the door.

There in the litter of his pungent pans,
the murky mess of his mixing place
Deep, sticky spiders and empty cans
with the same old frown on his sour old face.


Vinegar - Vinegar - Vinegar Man!
Face - us - and - chase - us - and - catch - if -you - can!
Pepper for a tongue! Pickle for a nose!

Stick a pin in him and vinegar flows!
Glare -at-us- swear -at-us- catch - if - you-can!
Ketchup - and - chow - chow - and -Vinegar -Man!


Nothing but recipes and worthless junk;
greasy old records of paid and due
But down in the depths of a battered trunk,
a queer, quaint Valentine torn in two?

Red hearts and arrows and silver lace,
and a prim, dim, ladylike script that said
"With dearest love, from Ellen to Ned!"


Steal - us - and - peel - us - and - drown - us -in - brine!
He pickles his heart in a valentine!
Vinegar for blood! Pepper for his tongue!
Stick a pin in him and
...once he was young!

Glare -at-us- swear -at-us- catch - if - you - can!
"With dearest love" to the Vinegar Man!


Dingy little books of profit and loss
(died about Saturday, so they say),
And a queer, quaint valentine torn across . . .

torn, but it never was thrown away!
"With dearest love from Ellen to Ned"

"Old Pepper Tongue! Pickles his heart in brine!"
The Vinegar Man is a long time dead:

he died when he tore his valentine.


by Ruth Comfort Mitchell


I found this poem in a 100 year old book of poems for children. The author had included an gentle admonishment to be kind to the many "queer" people who live among us. I think every childhood has some ghosts of Vinegar Men. Mine included a low functioning man who mowed lawns for his living and who was terrorized by teen boys who called him "Cherokee Chuck" and made mock war dances around him in order to evoke his peculiar rage.
I like the way this strange little poem captures the idea of the "other" we think we have pegged as having a mysterious backstory, which is, of course, truth.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

I read the last stanza in a murder mystery involving a poet. I googled it and found the whole poem here. It is so touching and hear wrenching. We all remember some 'weird' old person that was teased and no one thought they were once young or loved.

Sandy said...

I had that book too! It was called Silver Pennies. Not quite 100 years old; it had "In Flanders Fields" and that was post-Great War. Actually I should say that I still have the book. It inspired me to find more by some of the same poets, like Yeats. Not bad for something my mom found at a yard sale.

cindy said...

This oddly enough was my favorite poem as a child... thank you for posting it so that I could share it with my own daughter who now also enjoys eerie poems:) Cindy

Christina said...

You are very welcome, Cindy. I loved it as a kid too and this poem can be found in an old book of poems for children called "Silver Pennies". Thanks for reading!

Anonymous said...

I recited this poem in our District School competition for poetry reading.. I won first place. I always loved it.. this was 1964.

Yvonne Mikulencak said...

I recited this poem in our District School competition for poetry reading.. I won first place. I always loved it.. this was 1964.

Jim Carbine said...

In the 60's a group called the"3D's" put this poem to music. I enjoyed it back then and finally found a place I could get a copy of it, and enjoy it even more now than I did back then.

Jim

Gene said...

If you love the poem, as I do, you might also like a CD "The Poetry Album" by a 1960s vocal trio named The 3 Ds. One of the cuts is "The Vinegar Man" that they set to music. You can sample it and buy it at http://www.phoenixrecords.org/albums/poetry/vinegar_man.php

Gene said...

5665If you love the poem, as I do, you might also like a CD "The Poetry Album" by a 1960s vocal trio named The 3 Ds. One of the cuts is "The Vinegar Man" that they set to music. You can sample it and buy it at http://www.phoenixrecords.org/albums/poetry/vinegar_man.php

Gene said...

The album to which Jim refers is "The Poetry Album by the 3Ds. You can sample and buy it at

http://www.phoenixrecords.org/albums/poetry/vinegar_man.php

Shakefellow said...

I read this as a young child and I'm 71 years now but every Valentine's Day I recall it and the lesson I learned from it. "Treat other's like you would like to be treated."
Other's I read and loved were "Little Boy Blue" and " Three little children were lost in the wood."

Hazel McGuire Marston said...

My father read poetry to us as children...and this is the one I most clearly remember. Can you tell me the name of the book of poetry you found it in? Thanks so much!

Christina said...

You are very welcome!
\
It is in Silver Pennies
by Blanche Jennings Thompson