When Georgie wrote on her twin sister’s wedding poster last weekend that “a life without love is a life half-lived,” I asked who had said that, figuring the reply would be Ovid, or Dante, or Calvin Coolidge, but her smiling answer was that the quote had come from the movie “Strictly Ballroom.”
That put me on the spot, for when it came to us Mary had demurred, assuming that I, being “a writer,” would know just the right words that ought to be inscribed to the young couple on our behalf — wise, pithy, unforgettable.
Panicking, I, who have lately been likening myself in lighthearted conversations with my wife to Keats’s “immortal bird,” lurched like a beheaded chicken in the general direction of a computer in the well-padded office with a pen and some crumbled paper in hand to summon up on Google “Ode to a Nightingale.”
Now, you know, this ode is not entirely about untrammeled ecstasy — the poet at one point, in the bower, finds himself “half in love with easeful Death,” and at another observes that merely to be conscious is “to be full of sorrow.” But I was on a mission — a wedding is not a time for such temporizing — and Keats’s nightingale is indeed joyous, singing of summer “in full-throated ease.”
Full-throated ease. I would use that.
“. . . It is with full-throated ease that Mary and I. . . .” But what could follow the immortal bird? Ah, the Immortal Bard!
Before you could say the Earl of Southampton, I had brought up on the screen Sonnet 18, which begins with the poet asking whether he should compare the Young Man “to a summer’s day.”
I read on. . . . “But thy eternal summer shall not fade. . . .” That, of course, is what we wished for Johnna and Wally on that happy day in Palm Springs; that their eternal summer should not fade, although it was spring and although our lease was only for a week.
And so I wrote: “It is with full-throated ease, Johnna and Wally, that on this blessed spring day we wish you an eternal summer that shall not fade.”
“How’s that?” I said to Mary a few moments later.
“Would you write it then? Your handwriting’s much better than mine.”
It was only after she’d done so that I confessed I’d largely lifted from Keats and Shakespeare, adding that I trusted she agreed that my lifting had been uplifting.