Friday, May 23, 2008

Death at Suppertime

This striking, timeless poem by Phyllis McGinley expresses a wise (if yet sardonic) understanding of just how powerfully media has encroached upon that crucial hour once reserved for family meals. And though what this media assault prevented (i.e. the calm, healthy and spiritually enriching experience of the family meal) ended up having its own disastrous consequences, the cultural damages were worsened by the content of the media itself, the introduction of graphic, leering, non-stop violence into childhood.

And this poem was published in The New Yorker in December of ....... 1948!

Death at Suppertime by Phyllis McGinley

Between the dark and the daylight,

When the night is beginning to lower,

Comes a pause in the day's occupation,

That is known as the Children's Hour.

That endeth the skipping and skating,

The giggles, the tantrums, and tears,

When, the innocent voices abating,
Alert grow the innocent ears.

The little boys leap from the stairways,

Girls lay down their dolls on the dot,

For promptly at five o'er the airways

Comes violence geared to the tot.

Comes murder, comes arson, come G-men

Pursuing unspeakable spies;

Come gangsters and tough-talking he-men

With six-shooters strapped to their thighs;

Comes the corpse in the dust, comes the dictum

"Ya' better start singin', ya' rat!"

While the torturer leers at his victim,

The killer unleashes his gat.

With mayhem the twilight is reeling.

Blood spatters, the tommy guns bark.

Hands reach for the sky or the ceiling

As the dagger strikes home in the dark.

And lo! with what rapturous wonder

The little ones hark to each tale

Of gambler shot down with his plunder

Or outlaw abducting the mail.

Between the news and the tireless

Commercials, while tempers turn sour,

Comes a season of horror by wireless,

That is known as the Children's Hour.