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The Workaday Trio

Posted by sambr 
The Workaday Trio
January 29, 2018 10:56PM
The Bulletin Board has been somewhat moribund recently so I'll attempt to enliven it with the occasional post on things Lee that are somewhat different. They won't always be about La Lee personally but will have some connection.

Peggy Lee talked frequently about her interest in poetry and philosophy. Her favourite quotations appeared regularly in interviews. Her Sea Shells album for Decca featured a few short Chinese love poems and she often read a poem during her radio broadcasts in the 1940s and 50s.

During the Chesterfield Supper Club broadcast of October 7, 1948, Peggy Lee introduced what was to become a semi-regular feature on the program for a while, her Smoke Dream of the night. She described Smoke Dreams in a later broadcast as 'the little thoughts or philosophies that folks get when they relax and smoke a Chesterfield.'

The Smoke Dream of the night for October 14, 1948 was a philosophical musing on 'all work and no play':

If your nose is close to the grindstone rough,
And you hold it down there long enough,
In time you'll say there's no such thing
As brooks that babble and birds that sing.
These three will all your world compose:
Just YOU, the STONE and your silly old NOSE.


(from the broadcast script with a couple of spelling errors corrected.)

Though she often acknowledged the author of her reading, on this occasion she did not do so, presumably because she did not know his identity. The Smoke Dream is the first stanza of a poem by Berton Braley (1882 – 1966), a prolific and frequently-published American poet, essayist, novelist and reporter.

The complete poem, as first published in the June, 1912 issue of Woman's Home Journal is:

The Workaday Trio
If your nose is close to the grindstone rough,
And you hold it down there long enough,
In time you'll say there is no such thing
As brooks that babble or birds that sing;
These three will all of your world compose -
Just you and the stone and your poor old nose!

Yet buds do blossom, and lanes are green,
And woods do lure with an ardor keen,
And leaves are rustling, and skies are there,
No matter whether you see or care;
And how can they come, do you suppose,
To you and the stone and your poor old nose?

If to go and seek them you still refuse,
It doesn't hurt them - it's you that lose,
For the zephyrs whisper and lovers sigh,
Whatever you doubt, disclaim, deny!
And the world's a rhyme, while you're but prose, -
Yes, you and the stone and your poor old nose!


For several years the poem was picked up and republished in its entirety by newspapers and magazines. From the 1920s onwards, it appeared frequently, but usually stripped of its title, the last two stanzas and its author. The title has appeared variously as The Nose, The Grindstone, Your Darned Old Nose, Just Three, Noses Down, It's A Small World and others. The wording of the remaining stanza was changed slightly, altering the cadence of the text. Peggy Lee found her Smoke Dream in one of the truncated versions.

Publications from the latter half of the 20th centruy usually list the poet as Unknown or attribute authorship to Halford Luccock, a writer on religious subjects, but this probably stems from his unattributed use of the poem in the Christian Century magazine in the 1950s.

H Elaine Lindgren, a professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at North Dakota State University, published her research on women homesteaders in the early days of North Dakota (Land in Her Own Name: Women as Homesteaders in North Dakota. University of Oklahoma Press, 1996). Lindgren included the abbreviated version of the poem as an example of how homesteading women reminded themselves not to take life too seriously and attributed it to one of the homesteaders, Janie Brew Scott. In a Bismarck Tribune article, Lindgren described Janie Scott as 'an avid reader and a poet [who] wrote this poem in the 1930s after her husband died leaving her with four children to raise.' It would have been a lovely coincidence if the author of the poem had indeed been another North Dakota native.
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