Fondled by the Bony Claw of Death

What treasures the Web can offer the casual procrastinator.  While looking for some texts, I found a short essay about Mahler’s "Songs on the death of Children" (Kindertotenlieder). 

Many things have been written about Mahler’s mournful masterpieces, but none as full of howlers as this one.  In the tradition of Language Log’s poleaxing of the regrettably prolific Dan Brown, I hereby take on this poor fellow (note: he gets the treatment because English appears clearly to be his native language, and thus he should certainly know better.  Those who speak English as a second language need never fear me!). The beginning is promising indeed:

When a classmate passed away from a road accident in the second year of school in college, it came as a slap, a vision of mortality. A split second of pain, then nothingness. It seemed that grief had engulfed us, that death had for a fleeting moment fondled us with its bony claw and left us forever unclean. It was a realisation that the young are fallible too, that the young, too, die.

The tears of laugher were followed by questions.  Do people really ‘pass away’ from road accidents?  I would wager they’re usually, uh, crushed or torn apart.  Are there non-bony claws?  Second, since when can claws fondle?  Finally, is it really so fallible to die?  Don’t forget, the only person on earth who had an "infallible" mode just, er, passed away.

No, my boy, it’s not "nearly a truism that Mahler was a neurotic obsessed with the insistent theme of death;" it’s not a truism at all.  Your observation that "Mahler was an exceptionally widely-read individual and also a most omnivorous one" calls up images of the horn-rimmed Austrian symphonist munching away on glass and bicycle tires.

Now on to: "Whatever the case, it seems that in these Kindertotenlieder, Mahler found a germinal bud which struck a cord with his sensitive character."  This, sentence, as the professors say, is problematic on several levels. 

First, the "no-shit" level: I would imagine that Mahler probably did find the poems pretty touching, because he set them to music for a whole gigantic symphony orchestra.  You could just as well observe that the idea of invading Iraq failed to leave George W. Bush entirely cold.  I’ll overlook the misspelling of ‘chord,’ since English can be bloody that way.  A much bigger problem is the time-sequencing of "germinal bud."  I’m no biologist, but isn’t budding just about the only thing plants do that doesn’t produce seeds?  Finally, why try to strike a chord with a soft, sticky ‘germinal bud’?  What’s wrong with a good old pick?

I leave the rest to you, including several questionable faux-poetic uses of ‘but’ and ‘ever,’ to you, gentle reader(s). 

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