Wednesday, August 04, 2010

The Pirate Don Durk of Dowdee

A Pirate
Perhaps it is because today is the first day of the Maine Lobster Festival, but for some reason I have been thinking about a poem I learned as a child many years ago.

Attending St. Angela Hall Academy (elementary school) was a memorable experience and a particularly memorable SAH tradition was The Assembly. An almost monthly affair, The Assembly was organized by the classroom teachers and supported by the music teacher, Sr. Mary Cecilia and the "poetry teacher" - and resident ogre - Miss Looney.

The Assembly took place in school auditorium where all of the elementary grades were marched in - to the sound of the piano playing - and made to sit in orderly fashion; eyes forward. Beginning with prayers and announcements from the principal, the core of the event followed and included a set of performances by the students from one pre-selected grade who gave their recital from the stage. The performances usually included a poem, several musical selections and perhaps a musical solo by one of the students. The whole thing probably lasted for an hour and a half, but the preparation would take months to accomplish. I must admit that I enjoyed the performances as a spectator and particularly as a performer. But I didn't enjoy the preparation.

Sr. Mary Cecilia was a particularly talented Josephite who probably could have been a professional musician had she not "put on the habit." I greatly enjoyed her music classes, but they were too brief and too infrequent; a case of one teacher spread too thin. I think Sr. Cecilia may have seen something in me in terms of musical ability and I think she actually liked me. I had a pure boy soprano voice in those days and on one occasion was selected to sing a descant role in one of the song. I still remember the part. Goodness knows what might have happened if I had had some real music training.

I will save the complete description of Miss Looney for another time, but for the purposes of this article let me provide this imagery. If you have ever had the occasion to see the movies Throw Momma From the Train or The Goonies, you are familiar with the character actress Anne Ramsey. The talented Ms. Ramsey played "Momma" in the former production and the mother of the bad guys, "Mama Fratelli,"the Goonies chief nemesis in the latter. Well, except for the blue Brillo-hairdo and the fact that Miss Looney was a real person and not an actor, they could have been twin sisters.

Looney was a witch. An authoritarian, intractable, just plain nasty - she clearly didn't like children and regularly scared the shit out of me. So it was completely natural that the poem chosen of our 4th Grade Assembly was the Mildred Plew Meigs masterpiece, The Pirate Don Durk of Dowdee. In another life, Miss Looney could have been Bluebeard himself.

The learning of the poem for the annual Assembly was the most onerous task. Each week, Miss Looney would terrorize us into learning the selection to perfection. Diction and form, attention to annunciation, execution, proper posture were all emphasized and of course, the whole work had to be memorized to perfection; something lost in today's classrooms. The curriculum of the 50's and 60's were heavy on memorization and drill. It may have been painful, but it worked.

As I sit here nearly 50 years later, I can still remember some of the lines from that poem. I was particularly fond of the line, "And struck in his belt where he buckled it through, were a dagger, a dirk, and a squizzamaroo...", although I remember it as a "squige-a-maroo."

No worry, here is the whole poem for those who just have to read it.

Suggestion, do your best pirate imitation and read it aloud. Arrrrgggggh!

The Pirate Don Durk of Dowdee
by Mildred Plew Meigs

Ho, for the Pirate Don Durk of Dowdee!
He was as wicked as wicked could be,
But oh, he was perfectly gorgeous to see!
The Pirate Don Durk of Dowdee.

His conscience, of course, was as black as a bat,
But he had a floppety plume on his hat
And when he went walking it jiggled - like that!
The plume of the Pirate Dowdee.

His coat it was handsome and cut with a slash,
And often as ever he twirled his mustache
Deep down in the ocean the mermaids went splash,
Because of Don Durk of Dowdee.

Moreover, Dowdee had a purple tattoo,
And struck in his belt where he buckled it through
Were a dagger, a dirk, and a squizzamaroo,
For fierce was the Pirate Dowdee.

So fearful he was he would shoot at a puff,
And always at sea when the weather grew rough
He drank from a bottle and wrote on his cuff,
Did Pirate Don Durk of Dowdee.

Oh, he had a cutlass that swung at his thigh
And he had a parrot called Pepperkin Pye,
And a zigzaggy scar at the end of his eye
Had Pirate Don Durk of Dowdee.

He kept in a cavern, this buccaneer bold,
A curious chest that was covered with mould,
And all of his pockets were jingly with gold!
Oh jing! went the gold of Dowdee.

His conscience, of course it was crook'd like a squash,
But both of his boots made a slickery slosh,
And he went through the world with a wonderful swash,
Did Pirate Don Durk of Dowdee.

It's true he was wicked as wicked could be,
His sins they outnumbered a hundred and three,
But oh, he was perfectly gorgeous to see,
The Pirate Don Durk of Dowdee.

Poem located at All Poetry
Photo licensed by Creative Commons- Tom Raftery

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