Proverbs, for all their cliché, no – because of their cliché, can be very illuminating when considering our relation to language. In the poetry of Leontia Flynn, I find that they play right into her wry tone. Take for example this, the final few lines of one of her ‘Without Me’ poems from These Days:
Suddenly it’s beyond me:
how I’m turning my thoughts to the bird or two in the bush
and to all the fish in the intervening sea.
If Flynn’s tone wasn’t as such, no one could possibly forgive her for using proverbs in a poem. If I need evidence of this I’ll just fire off a few mixed up proverbs in an ABA rhyme to some poetry magazines and watch the rejections roll in. Tone matters more than content, perhaps?
Flynn concentrates on the absurdity of proverbs in a humorous prose piece, ‘Bears Shit In The Woods‘ which was published in a very irreverent Belfast publication, The Vacuum.
what about ‘The worm has turned’? Even if a worm should turn, is there any reason to find this threatening? Unless you happen to be afraid of worms already, in which case its actual direction is probably irrelevant. Although it could be ‘wyrm’ in the Old English or nerdy Tolkein sense of ‘serpent’ or ‘dragon’, but that only confirms the suspicion that these expressions need updated.
All this is not strictly of any use for my thesis. Which just goes to show that you can lead a horse [me] to water [the library], but you can’t make him [me] drink [study].