Friday, January 27, 2012

Suppose it were Friday liii: I think I would let it come to me

While many a merry tale, and many a song,
Clear'd the rough road, we wish'd the rough road long,
The rough road then returning in a round,
Mock'd our impatient steps, for all was fairy ground.

The foregoing simple, ironic
verse, is offered by Johnson in
discussing Pope's challenging
dictum in the Essay on Criticism,
"the sound should seem an echo 
to the sense." It's a parody of
a verse from Pope's translation
of the Odyssey, which Johnson
wrote to propose this easier 
hypothesis, Motion may be in 
some sort exemplified; and yet 
it may be suspected that in such 
resemblances the mind often gov-
erns the ear, and the sounds are 
estimated by their meaning.

Johnson's poetical arguments
suit these opening two images
very well, I think. They are,
we could say, up to each other.
That will leave us with Pope,
in an example of his own proof,
which Johnson is good enough
to give us, with his blessing.

   With many a weary step, and many a groan,
   Up the high hill he heaves a huge round stone; 
   The huge round stone, resulting with a bound, 
   Thunders impetuous down, and smokes along the ground.

What animates this laid-back, somewhat contrarian view of Friday, and strikes me as well substantiated by both of these verses, is not a sense that it is to be wasted, but a sense that it is not, and can be. This impression I owe entirely to two photographs I'm not going to reproduce, which Valéry Lorenzo currently posts of the same seaside roadway in early morning. In the first, a couple of distant figures are discernible in the fog. In the second, they are appreciably closer, and joined by a bicyclist and a dog, scaring a seagull. They constitute very impressive evidence for a style of his, of letting the picture come to him. 

Anyone who is advanced enough in life for Friday to seem to matter, is certainly as equipped as M Lorenzo is to make photographs, to make sense of it with patience. Reasonable steps can be taken, and one of them prudently is, to keep a watchful eye for it. But one doesn't want to lose flexibility with it, as Sisyphus did with his pet rock; and one doesn't want to rush it so hard as to miss it, even busily. Again, we find the 18th C judging the tempo for such things quite knowingly. Now that I see it's proposed, I'm not above con-ceding that a nice bath could lay an amiable predicate. It's worth a try, I think, to let Friday come to us for a change.

Samuel Johnson
The Complete English Poems
J.D. Fleeman, editor
Yale University Press, 1982©

Samuel Johnson
Lives of the English Poets
  A Selection
John Wain, editor
J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd, 1975©

Alexander Pope
Odyssey [Homer] 
  XI, 735-738
Cited in both, supra

No comments:

Post a Comment