I’ve written of love recently, and of death. Is anything left? Ah, yes, Downton Abbey!
We were without it for 24 hours during the blizzard, our Cablevision wire having been downed by heavy limbs, and I’m telling you the wait was torturous. There’s only so much reading you can do.
I, as I think you know — perhaps all too well — have lately been reading Emily Dickinson, who, while clear-eyed, told the truth slant, so slant in a number of cases that absent Helen Vendler’s commentaries I would continually say “What” to her, as apparently a number of baffled men of her time did.
Reading her reminds me that the best grade I got in college English graced at the upper right of a paper I’d written comparing and contrasting Dickinson and Whitman. What did I say? I haven’t the vaguest. That one had a white beard and that the other wore white? That both sang of themselves, one in hymn meter, the other in free verse? That one thought New Englandly and the other Long Islandly? I don’t know. And I didn’t know then.
Where did I get off thinking I had the ability — I hadn’t read either of them in any depth — to say anything that was worthy of an A. The answer: I was 21!
I knew it all then, or rather didn’t know that I didn’t know, which tends to render one insufferable. I marvel now at my four parents’ equanimity.
Further on the feckless front, I played Hamlet, pretty much uncut, in my senior year in high school. The audience of spring prom-goers (we only had two such coed weekends) was subjected to cruel and unusual punishment for three-plus hours, even with my forgetting huge chunks of the soliloquies.
Of course I thought I was wonderful. I came across my framed photo later, mercifully stored by my mother in the attic. And recoiled from the self-important snob in tights. Who was that guy, buoyed by bombast, adrift, as Emily Dickinson would say, beyond the dip of the bell?