Dan Schneider’s Unpublished Poem: The Bumbala

Poetry comes in the approach of the subject, rather than the subject itself. All of Dan’s poetry & works (and all of Art, for that matter) showcase this, but here’s a poem (from Dan’s Le Bestiare 2 series) that’s a particularly striking model of that fact:

Disclaimer: Do not read my analysis until you’ve pondered the poem for yourself. After all, most of the fun and power comes from how you, as a person, orient yourself to the poem before conferring with other views. In the end, much of poetry’s strength comes from intuition – although explanation & analysis can help ground intuition for later readings.


Now, from the first two lines you can pretty much glean the whole narrative of the poem – a baby girl is playing in some snowscape while a carnivorous beast is nearby. The beast is hinted at from an interesting perspective – through a focus on elk antlers implying remains. Yet, how this scenario plays out is what makes the poem shine. Other than those two lines, the rest of the poem is mostly abstract, allowing it to reach to a more general statement on the human condition while still hinting at the concrete things.

Lines 3 & 4 give us an interesting image of innocence with “her irises aflourish with daylight”. Enjambment at ‘aflourish’ leaves the verb to linger, while allowing the next line to set up a light/dark dichotomy. It alludes to the beast’s approach while also providing an abstract description of youth.

Line 5 invokes a cliché of youth being radiant/warm, yet this is utterly subverted by the inclusion of ‘fatal’ – foreshadowing how the poem will play out while being steeped in irony. Line 6 describes ‘external things which grow and incur’ – and this is a subtle way of describing the approaching beast while also commenting on the experience of growth: breaking away from childhood solipsism. Enjambment at ‘incur’ leaves greater penetration due to the harder ending of the sound (just compare “external things which incur and grow”).

Line 7 concretizes with an image ‘shrift of her fingers’. For the definition of shrift by itself, you can look here, although, as the site shows, nowadays its only used in sense of short shrift. This is probably not a typo of shift because shrift combines well with the previous hard sound & adds an interesting connotation to the action. When combined with line 8, it furthers the idea of growth while still describing the scenario – “future she leaves behind” is an amazing subversion of leaving the past behind & describes what exactly happens when the child gets mauled by the beast.

Line 9 complicates the idea even more. Just read the whole line:

“…incur the shrift of her fingers in assured search for her part in a future she leaves behind for this one or that one – whatever becomes…”

In the context of the scenario, “this one or that one” & “whatever becomes” could refer to the beast that consumes the girl, thus being nourished for its own survival – but the statement itself is an apt descriptor of the searching that comes once one grows up, cutting off some futures for other futures. This is the sublime poetic layering that is prevalent in most of Dan’s poems – something that has never really been taken to such extremes by previous poets, applied so consistently across a variety of subjects, until he came into the picture.

Line 10 comes to maturity. It concretizes a feeling through the “sufferance only hardens” – which of course links to whatever the child is feeling in the scenario, but also, when linked with “whatever becomes” maps to the hardships that comes with the process of growth. Enjambment at ‘finds’ reflects the above enjambed ‘search’.

Lines 11 & 12 builds on the state of mind that comes with the previously mentioned ‘sufferance’ – it is used in “gleamed infusions of query”, which is a powerful way of describing the questioning state of mind that comes with external challenge – though in this case also very nasty since its describing the still-living state of mind of a girl being devoured – “never rooted from her slim experience” pointing to how little her questioning in pain amounts to since she’s now dead, though also very applicable to the angst any youth must face when coming against the tribulations of reality.

Lines 13 & 14 completes the idea. A “light recurs”, and there’s a shift to past tense “became” following up the previous “whatever becomes”. Something is disposed which might be ‘fully formed, or not’ – and the poem ends with a question as to what it was. The girl’s remains? Youthful dreams? What does the light shine on in the aftermath?

Despite the gruesome subtext, the music of the poem remains elegant and smooth – how many poems before this have you read with the same wicked elusiveness and allusiveness, or wit and wisdom – yet remaining so precise as to condense the thought into a mere 14 lines?

As for the title: honestly, I have no idea where the word comes from – there seems to be a Czech word bumbat meaning drink, and the word is close enough to bumble that it might be a neologism coined from that + impala (an antelope). The title, though, gives me the impression of a monster from a children’s storybook – just like the children’s book from the horror movie The Babadook.

Overall, a poem that takes an interesting idea and explores it all the way with maximum precision. It does not achieve the same seismic shifts as something like The Passings, but cores into an aspect of reality beautifully.

EDIT: Dan posted an email clarifying the provenance and his view of the poem over here, providing an interpretation vastly different from mine:

Interesting analysis, but it seems based upon a misreading of the title.

I was raised in a German household, and German and Yiddish were spoken. Bumbala means baby, esp a gregarious one. I Googled it and the Urban Dictionary even gives a wrong definition as an unfunny person.

So, there is no monster nor even a predator. The darkness could be night or time and age and experience. The warmth that is fatal is her innocence as a babe. The shrift of the fingers is the accumulation of knowledge as the child holds and explores her universe. Hence her infusions of query and her slim experience.

The poem ends with the child growing in knowledge, and what parts of her will be discarded as useless in the face of a greater knowledge. What becomes is her wiser self disposing of the seemingly fully formed and innocent Bumbala she was.

The title is the girl, not some predator.

But, don’t redo your post, just maybe add this FULL email on the bottom, because it is a good lesson to learn as one encounters a word that there is no handy definition for, and goes off on a different course.

Otherwise, your reasoning is sound, just based on the faulty premise of what the title implies, and hence the perspective of the poem. It’s a poem going inside out not outside in.

Also, all my Le Bestiare poems are poems on HUMAN protagonists, as if they were a form of Beast in a bestiary.