Shakespeare on Moving

July 7, 2009

Just for fun, I like to imagine how Shakespeare would add to the commentary of pop culture on unpleasant phenomena…like tax day. And moving.

If the Bard had decided to give a treatise on moving to one of his characters, my bet is on the Duke in Measure for Measure (Act 3, Scene 1) and I think it would probably run something like this:

Be absolute for loss.
Ev’ry box thus found shall thereby be the sweeter.
Reason thus with things: if I do lose thee,
I do lose a thing that none but fools would keep.
When moved, thou art servile to all the molding influences
that dost this habitation, where thou keep’st, hourly afflict.
Merely, thou art loss’s fool. For him, thou labour’st
by thy move to shun, yet runn’st toward him still.
Thou art not noble, for all th’literary books that thou bear’st
are nursed from yard sales. Thou art by no means valiant,
for thou dost fear the sharp and biting edge of broken glass.
Thy best of rest is cleaning, and that thou oft provok’st,
yet grossly fear’st thy move, which is no more.
Thou art not thyself, for thou exist’st
on many a thousand bags that issue
out of dust. Happy, thou art not,
for what thou hast not, still thou strive’st to get,
and what thou hast, forget’st. Thou art not well-packed,
for thy possessions shift to strange effects on the highway.
When thou art rich, thou art poor,
for like a truck whose bed with boxes bows,
thou bear’st thy heavy burdens but a journey,
and wind unloads thee. Friend, hast thou none,
for thine own fellows, who do call for help,
at mere repayment of thy proper aid
do curse the stairs, back-breaking, and the heat
for ending thee no sooner. Thou hast nor space, nor bed,
but as it were, an after-dinner’s sleep, dreaming on both.
For all thy dancing floor is covered up
and doth beg the work of clearing space.
And when thou art old and rich,
thou hast neither grace, energy, friend, nor timing
to make thy spaces pleasant.
What’s yet in this that brings out fear of loss?
Yet in that loss lie hid more free square feet.
Yet moves, we fear, that makes these losses happen.

At least, that’s how I think it would go. The irony is that I wrote this piece before moving, packed the little slips of paper with it written down, and since moving, have entirely failed to relocate them. I’m sure the first draft was much more brilliant, but this is the best I can do for a re-write. Weep, literati, for what has been lost to mankind.

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We No Longer Go Gentle

January 13, 2009

Sunset North Island, NZDeath is an uncomfortable, disorienting subject for many. The words are insufficient when talking to someone who has lost a loved one. Perhaps that is why the topic is chosen so often by poets, who use words to approach emotion. Perhaps that is also why Americans turn to poetry when they confront death.

For this reason I have chosen The Dying of the Light, an article by Craig Bowron recently published in the Washington Post, for the next ProfoundNet.  In it, the author discusses the “calamity of so long life” (to quote Hamlet) that Americans face, alleviated, but also sometimes prolonged by modern science. The article professes to give no answers, but it challenges readers to think about the American obsession with immortality. 

The title is taken from a well-known and oft-quoted poem by Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, called “Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night,” written just after World War II. Here’s the first stanza of the poem:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

In the poem, good men, wise men, wild men, and grave men all must face the reality of death. In a bleak postwar era, the poet urges men to resist sinking easily toward death. Today, the opposite trend exists, and it is no longer called “that good night.” 

Bowron’s article poetically describes the dilemma facing Americans:

“Everyone wants to grow old and die in his or her sleep, but the truth is that most of us will die in pieces. Most will be nibbled to death by piranhas, and the piranhas of senescence are wearing some very dull dentures. […] This isn’t about euthanasia. It’s not about spiraling health care costs. It’s about the gift of life — and death. It is about living life and death with dignity, and letting go.”

Citing illness, discontent, and the frail quality of life, a character in Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure makes a poignant observation: “What’s yet in this that bears the name of life? Yet in that life lie hid more thousand deaths. Yet death, we fear.” Shakespeare’s Hamlet wrestles with the same incongruency. 

I am left with a lingering question. If, as poets and authors for centuries have recognized, we fear death, why is it so much easier to throw energy into fighting the inevitable than to consider the underlying reasons for our fear? 

Thanks, Craig, for your thought-provoking article.