Thursday, April 11, 2013


As I have noted before, I do my best to avoid politics, both domestic and international.  Life is too short.  I believe that trying to behave decently towards others is the most politic thing that one can do with one's life. Speaking for myself, this is struggle enough for one brief stay above ground.

Moreover, there is always the problem of having to identify your place on the political spectrum.  I suppose that I am a reactionary.  A wistful, laissez-faire reactionary.

On the other hand, there are those who like to think of themselves as being "progressive" and "open-minded" and "tolerant" when it comes to political matters.  (And, for them, everything is a political matter.)  There is something of a religious fervor about this self-designation.  It does seem to make them feel better about themselves.  Self-esteem (our modern mantra) is a wondrous thing, isn't it?

It has been edifying to see some (not all, but some) of these self-designated "progressive" and "open-minded" and "tolerant" political beings openly celebrating the recent death of a well-known politician.  Yes.  Of course. Why not?  Throw a party.  After all, from time immemorial the demise of an opponent (real or imagined) has always provided a perfect occasion to reaffirm the eternal verity of one's own deeply-held beliefs.

Now.  As to the state of the souls of the celebrants . . .

Richard Eurich, "Eddistone Light" (1974)

             The Pier

Only a placid sea, and
A pier where no boat comes,
But people stand at the end
And spit into the water,
Dimpling it, and watch a dog
That chins and churns back to land.

I had come here to see
Humbug embark, deported,
Protected from the crowd.
But he has not come today.
And anyway there is no boat
To take him.  And no one cares.
So Humbug still walks our land
On stilts, is still looked up to.

W. R. Rodgers, Awake! and Other Poems (1941).

Paul Nash, "The Studio, New House, Rye" (1932)


Clarissa Aykroyd said...

I very much agree with you about most of this... I live in the UK but I am Canadian (and have lived here for less than ten years), and so I probably don't really understand people's feelings about Thatcher. However, nothing is going to make me understand why you would "celebrate" the death of an 87-year-old woman...particularly when her death makes not a blind bit of difference to the political landscape.

This is such an interesting poem, too!

WAS said...

I had to peel back my eyes once when I read your comment this morning, Stephen. Not only is it a well-said, interesting point, the news that people are celebrating Margaret Thatcher’s death is shocking to me. This week, in fact, with our conversation about the existence or non-existence of good political poems and songs still reverberating in distant recesses of my skull, I revisited “Tramp the Dirt Down” by Elvis Costello, one of the one or maybe three political songs that actually work in my view, now that its subject is dead (in case you aren’t familiar with the song, it’s about an Irish bloke who wants to live long enough to outlive Margaret Thatcher so he can laugh and “tramp the dirt down” on her grave). Now I don’t have any truck with Thatcher myself, I am ignorant of the details of the song and am as profoundly uninterested in the long-running Irish-British row as anyone. Yet I have applied the song’s sentiments since 1990 when the song came out quite readily to every occupant of the White House (including the current one). Without really knowing why it is so moving. Hearing it again this week, whatever political charge it once had was gone – what is the point of waiting out these animosities? – and it was sadder, like a lost historical document, becoming for me something mysterious about the Irish, and how their pugilism as the quickest way to martyrdom is so easily defeated by someone who, in Costello’s take on Thatcher, didn’t have the decency of a proper imperial to acknowledge that she conquered them with efficiency and ruthlessness. All you can do is commend such souls to heaven, for only then can we be equal before God (because the phony stage God has been deflated). The action is surprisingly like the spitter after humbug on the pier. Nothing changes. One has to learn to deal.

Stephen Pentz said...

Ms Aykroyd: thank you very much for visiting again, and for your thoughts.

I agree with you completely, and you have stated articulately what I was trying to get at: there is a lack of basic humanity and decency on display when it comes to these "celebrations." Old-fashioned concepts, I fear.

And here's another thought: what kind of world is it that these "celebrants" wish to create for the rest of us?

As for "The Pier": it is a strange little poem, isn't it? It can fit a great number of circumstances, I think.

Thank you again.

Stephen Pentz said...

Mr. Sigler: it's good to hear from you again.

Yes, I am familiar with "Tramp the Dirt Down," and it was one of the first things that came to mind this week. I'm afraid that I have a quite different take on it. It was where I began to part company with Mr. Costello, having been an admirer since he first emerged in 1977 or so. It seemed mean-spirited and hateful at the time, and it still seems so.

And I don't think that one can dress it up in respectability by saying that he was putting himself into "character" as an Irishman. When it comes to politics, Mr. Costello is simple-minded and predictable. Which is quite disappointing, given his intelligence and creativity. It is all very stale agitprop. Boring.

As a follow-up to my response to Ms Aykroyd's comment: when someone is mean-spirited and hateful, am I supposed to take their vision of a perfect world seriously? If someone celebrates a politician's death, what does that say about their credentials as a human being?

And, to make clear: my bringing Humbug into play with "The Pier" has absolutely NOTHING to do with Mrs. Thatcher. It has everything to do with the celebrants, and those who find nothing wrong with such celebrations.

I always appreciate hearing from you. As you know, you and I may sometimes disagree on the details, but my response is not directed personally at you: I am merely trying to clarify my own thoughts.

Thanks again.

Sam Vega said...

A quirkily good little poem, and some excellent sentiments from yourself. I'm glad that you see fit to concentrate on the emotions and intentions of those who are doing the celebrating. My view is that there is indeed a temporary release of tension - sometimes amounting to joy - when we express feelings of hatred and encourage the ill-will of others. But the pleasure is brief, and I believe we then have to pay for it. The price is great, and the problem is that we do not know how great at the time.

Stephen Pentz said...

Sam Vega: very well said. I am wary of speaking of the state of other people's souls, but I do believe, as you rightly point out, that -- one way or another -- we pay for hatred and ill-will.

I greatly appreciate your comments. As always, thank you very much for visiting again.

Doug Miller said...

Yes. The pugilism of the Irish. (And so much for the quaint custom of not speaking ill of the dead.) But Mr. Pentz, isn't it our peculiar predicament that we don't, in fact, need credentials to be human beings? Beckett himself could not have said it better: we all stand on "A pier where no boat comes." (Unless perhaps you are so unfashionable as to believe in God.)

Stephen Pentz said...

Mr. Miller: good point about not needing credentials. We arrive on the scene with nothing. But, how about human obligations?

I have long thought that what follows is one of the most moving passages that I have ever read. It comes at the end of Mr. Sammler's Planet, as Artur Sammler stands beside the body of Elya Gruner:

"At his best this man was much kinder than at my very best I have ever been or could ever be. He was aware that he must meet, and he did meet -- through all the confusion and degraded clowning of this life through we are speeding -- he did meet the terms of his contract. The terms which, in his inmost heart, each man knows. As I know mine. As all know. For that is the truth of it -- that we all know, God, that we know, that we know, we know, we know"

Saul Bellow, Mr. Sammler's Planet (1970).

That's what I was inadequately trying to get at. "We know, we know, we know."

Although I do wonder: do the celebrants know?

Thanks for stopping by again. I greatly appreciate hearing your thoughts.

Andrew McEwan said...

Mr Pentz,
Perhaps had you and some of those commenting lived in the UK that Thatcher and her acolytes in personal, uncaring greed governed, you might begin to understand why there are many "celebrants" of her death. I won't bore or irritate you by rehearsing once more the details of the spite and petty tyranny she practised and fostered, but because a poisonous creature perishes of old age that does not change the the fact that it was poisonous. It would, indeed, be nothing other than hypocrisy for many who suffered under her uncaring policies to show anything other than celebration at her passing. Perhaps you are right to stick with the poems and the isolation, Mr Pentz. Well, there's my rant, so I guess I'm with the celebrants. Keep reading the poems.

Stephen Pentz said...

Mr McEwan: I always appreciate hearing from you, and I have always respected your thoughts.

However, whether I am from the UK or not, no one is ever going to persuade me that "celebrating" the death of a human being is appropriate. Or that such "celebrations" do anything but diminish the humanity of the "celebrants." Those who "celebrate" her passing on the grounds that she was "poisonous" (to use your word) should think long and hard about whether they themselves have become poisonous.

This is not a matter of UK politics. Rather, this is a matter of basic human decency. And perhaps if the "celebrants" read more poetry they might acquire some of that decency.

Thanks again.

Andy McEwan said...

Goodbye, Mr Pentz. It was nice knowing you, however briefly.
In sadness (believe me)I will take to heart your points on whether or or not we "celebrants" have ourselves become poisonous. I will live with that and poetry will not assuage the pain