Sunday, 27 September 2009

Sunday night is... Understatement x 2

Peggy Lee (1943) with Benny Goodman's orchestra

Peggy Lee, some twenty-five years later in the late 60s. Max Bennett (bass), Jack Sperling (drums).

Understatement, universally considered to be the hallmark of the English. Understatement is, of course, implication. It isn't blowsy, in-your-face, mega-diva 'giving': it is holding back for more. It disciplines itself. Its tie (if it is wearing one) is straight. It allows you your say but it could cut you dead. It is, potentially, cruel. ("We don't want any mishaps, do we, Mr Bond?") but it is not committed to cruelty. It could just as easily be an offering. ("Go on, you finish the sentence.")

Implication is ambiguity, so implication is at the heart of poetry too. Some would reduce this to the flat, cool gesture of irony, but irony is know-all. Implication and understatement can go with a warm heart (there's a non-ironic expression if ever there was one) as well as with a cool mind. I can't quite see irony doing that. Generosity with intelligence and more than a smidgeon of courage, The good balance at the right time. I say good, rather than right. That's understatement. Casting a cold eye but feeling every part of the emotion.

And Peggy Lee is considerably cooler than Jessica Rabbit.

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