Wednesday, December 31, 2008

"Now comical then tragical matters"

{Photos by rocketlass.}

From Best Thought, Worst Thought (2008), by Don Paterson:
There is no day. The sun interrupts a continuous night. Our ancestors were correct: the sun abandons us.
The new year has issued its summons, requiring our attendance, and whether we leap enthusiastically into its unknown reaches or grudglingly edge up to the starting line trembling with suspicion, it seems worth commemorating the moment with a passage from Robert Burton's evergreen The Anatomy of Melancholy. This passage, which Anthony Powell invokes near the end of A Dance to the Music of Time as almost a precis of what has come before, never fails to remind me simultaneously of the transitory nature of most human endeavor and the abiding fascination with which we follow it regardless:
I hear new news every day, and those ordinary rumours of war, plagues, firs, inundations, thefts, murders, massacres, meteors, comets, spectrums, prodigies, apparitions, of towns taken, cities besieged, in France, Germany, Turkey, Persia, Poland, &c., daily musters and preparations, and suchlike, which these tempestuous times afford, battles fought, so many men slain, monomachies, shipwrecks, piracies, and sea-fights, peace, leagues, stratagems, and fresh alarms. A vast confusion of vows, wishes, actions, edicts, petitions, lawsuits, pleas, laws, proclamations, complaints, grievances, are daily brought to our ears. New books every day, pamphlets, currantoes, stories, whole catalogues of volumes of all sorts, new paradoxes, opinions, schisms, heresies, controversies in philosophy, religion, &c. Now come tidings of weddings, maskings, mummeries, entertainments, jubilees, embassies, tilts and tournaments, trophies, triumphs, revels, sports, plays: then again, as in a new shifted scene, treasons, cheating tricks, robberies, enormous villainies in all kinds, funerals, burials, deaths of Princes, new discoveries, expeditions; now comical then tragical matters. Today we hear of new Lords and officers created, to-morrow of some great men deposed. And then again of fresh honors conferred; one is let loose, another imprisoned, one purchaseth, another breaketh; he thrives, his neighbor turns bankrupt; now plenty, then again dearth and famine; one runs, another rides, wrangles, laughs, weeps, &c.
Burton's effusion puts me in the mind a couple of lines from poet, translator, and scholar D. J. Enright, who died on a New Year's Eve early in this decade. Taken from his Interplay: A Kind of Commonplace Book (1995), they seem worth carrying with us to our various dinners and parties tonight:
One mistake: to suppose you are so different from other people; another: to suppose other people are just like you. Common v. uncommon: lifeblood of many a commonplace.
Here's to another year, different as it's sure to be, same as it's sure to be.

1 comment:

  1. DJ Enright's 'Injury Time', a sort of grab-bag of stuff he was writing about leading up to his death, was very interesting.Not very focused, but lots of great meanderings around various topics.