Foreword, by Amy Shearn:
It will come as no surprise to the more acute among our readers that President George W. Bush, at times given over to unfortunate inarticulateness, in fact follows in a formidable tradition of stuttering bards, from Cervantes to Lewis Carroll. In short, he is quite the poet. How lucky we are, then, to have the attention of one of our most respected literary scholars, Dr. C. K. Dexter Haven, Ph.D., of the respected Wordsmith University, to help us “common readers” uncover the meanings, references, and nuances in one of Bush’s most known works, reproduced in Kitty Kelley’s opus The Family. I present you with Dr. Haven’s notes to the inimitable, the effervescent, “Dear Laura.”
The Poem, by George W. Bush, President.
1 Dear Laura:
Roses are red
Violets are blue
Oh, my lump-in-the-bed
5 How I’ve missed you.
Roses are redder,
Bluer am I
Seeing you kissed by that charming French guy.
The dogs and the cat, they missed you too
10 Barney’s still mad you dropped him, he ate your shoe.
The distance, my dear, has been such a barrier
Next time you want an adventure, just land on a carrier.
Commentary, By Dr. C. K. Dexter Haven, Ph.D.
Line 1: “Dear Laura”
Clearly a reference to Petrarch’s Laura. For her he pined; for her he perfected the sonnet. While the 14th-century poet love for Laura was unrequited, we can be sure that our modern-day Petrarch, our besotted troubadour, intends to conquer his “Laura.” Bush’s allusion to this famous affair of muted passions creates an atmosphere of longing that permeates the piece. And indeed, don’t we all have a “Laura?”
Line 2: “Roses are red…”
Comparing one’s loved one to a flower speaks to a long tradition of horticultural homology. See Robert Burns’s “My Love Is Like a Red, Red Rose”; see Shakespeare’s Sonnet # 18. The rose, which connoted virginity and purity to the ancient Greeks, has since become a symbol of romantic love. Interestingly, next comes the violet, a bloom of notorious delicacy. Here Bush addresses his lover, and here he warns her: This love, like a violet, is beautiful but fragile; it must (if the reader will indulge a metaphor) be watered from the bottom.
Line 4: “lump-in-the-bed”
Here Bush nimbly shifts gears. After invoking the great tradition of romantic (and indeed Romantic) poetry, as explicated above, he wields his goetic, nay, alchemical mastery of the “common folk vernacular” so beloved by his citizens. And yet, do we sense a hint of darkness, a whisper of a threat? Dear wife, the poet intones, do not forsake this love, do not become inert and lifeless as a knot of blanket; dear wife, beware.
Line 6: “Roses are redder…”
This is obviously a different “rose” than that which opens the poem. The botanical metaphor has been introduced, exploited, has “blossomed,” and now must needs be subverted. We remember Derrida; we consider the violence language inflicts upon ideas, as the poet now deconstructs his own reliance on language, obviates the futility of such a task, directs the reader to Gertrude Stein: “A rose is a rose is a rose.”
Line 8: “that charming French guy”
Certainly Bush refers to Baudelaire, that 19th-century master of lust and decay. His use of the word “kiss” here is of especial interest. I believe our poet uses here the obsolete Chaucerian “kis,” meaning “to cause to fraternize, or associate.” Thus he pleads with his beloved not to fraternize, as it were, with a romantic French poet of the past, be he Baudelaire, Rimbaud, or whomever—no!, but hear the loving words of your very own versifier, right here, the humble W.
Line 10: “your shoe”
Why, indeed, as readers have asked, this focus on the shoe? I quote the literature of a leading educational institution of podiatry: “According to Brame, Brame & Jocobs (1996), the definition of foot fetishism is a pronounced sexual interest in the lower limb or anything that covers portions of them. The allure normally attributed to erogenous zones is literally translocated downward and the fetishist response to the foot is the same as a conventional person’s arousal at seeing genitals. Freud considered foot binding as a form of fetishism. Moderate to high level fetishism would be classified as a type of paraphilia.” Now I must, if my readers will allow me a gelastic moment, move along to my next FOOTnote.
Line 11: “The distance, etc…”
Here the lines lengthen, as if the poet’s energy slackened from exertion. No more the bouncy cadence of the Andover cheerleader, no more the cheerful trot of iambs. Instead, the solemn cæsura of the “my dear,” resting in the midst of the line like a so-called “lump-in-the-bed” (forgive me!); instead, the anxious dactyl of “barrier,” serving as a barrier indeed, as all language must, between the love the poet feels and the pathos aroused in the reader.
Line 12: “Next time…”
Here again, we have echoes of the mysterious and shadowy “lump-in-the-bed”; the sense of warning, the hints of foreboding. What has the beloved creature done in this absence? What sort of “adventure” has rent our lovers? One necessarily thinks of Romeo and Juliet, of course, of Abelard and Heloise. One returns to the doomed, passionate lovers of Dante, unlucky Paolo and Francesca. Separated thus from his lover, Bush too is relegated to a proverbial fiery circle of hell. And lucky, oh lucky, for his readers—for we who too are longing for our absent lovers, for we who too must love.