Monday, August 22, 2011

A.E. in the Hous(e, )man

(Image ganked from the WeatherUnderground index of one dcswa.)

I haven't seen any fireflies lately. The skunk cabbage leaves have melted and shrunk back down into the mud, and the ferns begin to brown and curl. Today's relatively cool weather kept the cicadas quiet, and nearly a month has elapsed since the katydids commenced noising up the night.

I've noticed my friend Dave keeping an intent ear turned toward the latter.

A few nights ago, Dave and I shared a smoke on a back porch during the sunset and listened as the crickets and katydids roused themselves with a noticeable languor. Dave shook his head.

"Won't be long now," he said.

Understanding his meaning, I gave a nod.

Dave sighed. "Soon...soon everything is going to suck."

One downside to tuning in closely to the natural seasons and their permutations is that your sensitivity to their variations heightens -- and consequently, so does the susceptibility of your mental state and mood to seasonal affective swings.

I've only recently become more attuned to the particulars of the seasonal cycles, and as the result of a deliberate effort. Dave, on the other hand, can blame his own reptilian physiology. He requires steaming hot sunshine to thrive. His anxiety about the end of summer first began to mount when the days stopped getting longer in late June. Winter comes just a little closer to killing him every year.

I have a certain fondness and reverence for winter, but I absolutely do not prefer it. Heavens, no. Winter in the northeast is a bitch. Urging your out of bed in the morning is already plenty difficult when the simple act of availing yourself of the blanket doesn't bring pronounced physical discomfort. (My sleeping quarters are very poorly insulated.) Watching the sun set around 5:00 p.m. tends to make the day seem as through it's ended before even getting the opportunity to properly begin; and two solid months of such days and such thoughts tends to mire you in moods of futility and weariness. Immediately after you get sick of looking at the gray grass and bare trees, you're sick of looking at the snow instead. Also, I hate Christmas -- but that's another topic in itself.

But ultimately, having a lot to complain about is nothing to complain about. It's a fine and useful thing! With inexorable external forces imposing periods of desolation, deprivation, and dysthymia, you become accustomed to these things and develop a tolerance for them. When loss and sorrow find you in a sunnier clime, you're better equipped to cope with them. You're from the joy-forsaken northeast, dammit. You know sorrow and loss. They haunt your brief days and long nights five months for every year. Where you see an interruption, the perennial sunbathers see a catastrophe.

I proposed this thought to Dave, who laughed it off and informed me of his plan to escape to a friend's house in Florida for two weeks out of February. At that moment I experienced a remote sense of déjà vu -- and thought back, to all times and places, to the poetry course Dave and I took together in our university days. To a particular poem we both had to read for an early semester assignment...

That poem was "Terence, This Is Stupid Stuff" by renowned British lyricist A.E. Housman. The topics of Housman's poem and our conversation that evening share fewer points of contact than I fancied, but the reason it suddenly sprung to mind will be obvious momentarily. (Actually, the piece's message has more direct congruences with some musings posted on this "web-log" back in February.)

I really wish I didn't have to say this, but the incoming poem is a quick and easy read and well worth the two minutes it will take to read. It needs to be read out loud -- and I should also mention, should it need mentioning, that when reading a poem like this you do not pause at the ends of lines, but only where the punctuation dictates.

And without further ado...!

Terence, This Is Stupid Stuff
By A.E. Housman (1859 - 1936)

'Terence, this is stupid stuff:
You eat your victuals fast enough;
There can't be much amiss, 'tis clear,
To see the rate you drink your beer.
But oh, good Lord, the verse you make,
It gives a chap the belly-ache.
The cow, the old cow, she is dead;
It sleeps well, the horned head:
We poor lads, 'tis our turn now
To hear such tunes as killed the cow.
Pretty friendship 'tis to rhyme
Your friends to death before their time
Moping melancholy mad:
Come, pipe a tune to dance to, lad.'

 Why, if 'tis dancing you would be,
There's brisker pipes than poetry.
Say, for what were hop-yards meant,
Or why was Burton built on Trent?
Oh many a peer of England brews
Livelier liquor than the Muse,
And malt does more than Milton can
To justify God's ways to man.
Ale, man, ale's the stuff to drink
For fellows whom it hurts to think:
Look into the pewter pot
To see the world as the world's not.
And faith, 'tis pleasant till 'tis past:
The mischief is that 'twill not last.
Oh I have been to Ludlow fair
And left my necktie God knows where,
And carried half way home, or near,
Pints and quarts of Ludlow beer:
Then the world seemed none so bad,
And I myself a sterling lad;
And down in lovely muck I've lain,
Happy till I woke again.
Then I saw the morning sky:
Heigho, the tale was all a lie;
The world, it was the old world yet,
I was I, my things were wet,
And nothing now remained to do
But begin the game anew.

 Therefore, since the world has still
Much good, but much less good than ill,
And while the sun and moon endure
Luck's a chance, but trouble's sure,
I'd face it as a wise man would,
And train for ill and not for good.
'Tis true, the stuff I bring for sale
Is not so brisk a brew as ale:
Out of a stem that scored the hand
I wrung it in a weary land.
But take it: if the smack is sour,
The better for the embittered hour;
It should do good to heart and head
When your soul is in my soul's stead;
And I will friend you, if I may,
In the dark and cloudy day.

 There was a king reigned in the East:
There, when kings will sit to feast,
They get their fill before they think
With poisoned meat and poisoned drink.
He gathered all the springs to birth
From the many-venomed earth;
First a little, thence to more,
He sampled all her killing store;
And easy, smiling, seasoned sound,
Sate the king when healths went round.
They put arsenic in his meat
And stared aghast to watch him eat;
They poured strychnine in his cup
And shook to see him drink it up:
They shook, they stared as white's their shirt:
Them it was their poison hurt.
—I tell the tale that I heard told.
Mithridates, he died old.

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