Let me be clear: sociability and conviviality are wonderful qualities. Who wouldn't wish to be sociable and convivial? But there is a mistaken tendency to equate an absence of those qualities with misanthropy. Think of the hail-fellow-well-mets and bon vivants that you have crossed paths with in your life. Were they, without exception, lovers of humanity? Or, think of a politician. Any politician, without exception. I rest my case.
Some of you may be appalled by the following poems. But please bear in mind: they have nothing whatsoever to do with misanthropy. Trust me.
Richard Eurich, "The Window"
As Much As You Can
Even if you can't shape your life the way you want,
at least try as much as you can
not to degrade it
by too much contact with the world,
by too much activity and talk.
Do not degrade it by dragging it along,
taking it around and exposing it so often
to the daily silliness
of social relations and parties,
until it comes to seem a boring hanger-on.
C. P. Cavafy, Collected Poems (translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard (Princeton University Press 1975).
E. M. Forster met Cavafy while working for the Red Cross in Alexandria during the First World War, and they became friends. Forster was instrumental in introducing Cavafy's poetry to the English-speaking world. Of Cavafy, he wrote:
"He has the strength (and of course the limitations) of the recluse, who, though not afraid of the world, always stands at a slight angle to it, and, in conversation, he has sometimes devoted a sentence to this subject. Which is better -- the world or seclusion? Cavafy, who has tried both, can't say. But so much is certain -- either life entails courage, or it ceases to be life."
E. M. Forster, "The Poetry of C. P. Cavafy," Pharos and Pharillon (Hogarth Press 1923), pages 96-97.
William Adeney (1878-1966), "The Window"
Beyond all this, the wish to be alone:
However the sky grows dark with invitation-cards
However we follow the printed directions of sex
However the family is photographed under the flagstaff --
Beyond all this, the wish to be alone.
Beneath it all, desire of oblivion runs:
Despite the artful tensions of the calendar,
The life insurance, the tabled fertility rites,
The costly aversion of the eyes from death --
Beneath it all, desire of oblivion runs.
Philip Larkin, The Less Deceived (The Marvell Press 1955).
A confession: many decades ago, "Wants" was the poem that made me shake my head in wonder and delight, smile, and say to myself: "This is the poet I have been waiting for."
Gilbert Spencer, "The Cottage Window"
Wishes of an Elderly Man
Wished at a Garden Party, June 1914
I wish I loved the Human Race;
I wish I loved its silly face;
I wish I liked the way it walks;
I wish I liked the way it talks;
And when I'm introduced to one
I wish I thought What Jolly Fun!
Walter Alexander Raleigh, Laughter from a Cloud (1923).
Charles Dawson, "Accrington from My Window" (1932)