Home > poets > The Weepies (from Paul Muldoon’s Why Brownlee Left)

The Weepies (from Paul Muldoon’s Why Brownlee Left)

Most Saturday afternoons
At the Local Hippodrome
Saw the Pathe-News rooster,
Then the recurring dream
Of a lonesome drifter
Through uninterrupted range.
Will Hunter, so gifted
He could peel an orange
In a single, fluent gesture,
Was the leader of our gang.
The curtain rose this afternoon
On a lion, not a gong.
When the crippled girl
Who wanted to be a dancer
Met the married man
Who was dying of cancer,
Our hankies unfurled
Like flags of surrender.
I believe something fell asunder
In Even Will Hunter’s hands.


(The Weepies are an indie pop-folk duo of married singer-songwriters Dab Talan and Steve Tannen. Their music has been described as “subtly intoxicating folk-pop” (according to Wikipedia)).

In a few powerful verbal brush strokes, The Weepies sketches the gloomy and rather depressingly marginal atmosphere at a hippodrome, a microcosm brimming with meaningless gestures and petty desires that desperately holds up its own magic.

In fact, many circusses and fairs (I’m not talking about the likes of ‘Cirque du Soleil’) are sort of immutable, repeating the very same show at different market places. Children are remarkably impressible by these events, feeding them with a kind of magic that stems from their fantasy world and high expectations. By contrast, adults see through their Santa-Claus-like fakeness. Adults remain susceptible though to the logic of enlivening things with even the slightest expectation. Imagine you enter the house of an old and weary aunt. Nothing changed there for years, but the act of entering the house for however shortly involves the expectation of something new (this is an aside).

The poem introduces two members of the circus crew: Will Hunter who, with his idiotic gift, became the leader of the gang, and the crippled girl, marked by the limited horizon of her deepest wishes and desires.

Also, this short poem twice announces the start of the show, once at the beginning (‘Most Saturday afternoons At the local Hippodrome saw the Pathe-News rooster’) and once in the middle (‘The curtain rose this afternoon On a lion, not a gong’). The Pathe News Rooster refers to the rooster introducing the news during (and after) the first world war, produced by the brothers Pathé (see also the links page). The lion brings up MGM movies. This repeating in the context of a small poem feels like the show desperately trying to get off the ground and fullfil its thrilling promises.

Note also how this double announcement replaces the real circus event by television events, in a sense making it less real, which relate the theme to the lines about the recurring dream of a lonesome drifter (that frankly, I do not fully understand).

The rather loose (but nevertheless, present) rhyme in this poem is telling too, fitting the sloppy nature of the context. As if the rhyme is constantly falling asunder, just like ‘I believe something fell asunder In even Will Hunter’s hands.

…the last lines of this gloomy little gem…

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