Saturday, August 10, 2013

How To Win Friends And Influence People. Or Not.

This post is not misanthropic.  Really.  Rather, it is about sociability and conviviality.

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)


E Berris said...

Dear Stephen Pentz,
I regularly follow your blog, very much drawn in by the beautiful picture gallery. Many of these are unfamiliar, even from artists whose work I know (Gilbert Spencer, Eurich etc) and they seem to be very preponderantly British. Please could you tell us a little about your sources and your choices? My friend also loved your blog when I introduced her to it.
thank you. E. Berris

Stephen Pentz said...

E. Berris: thank you very much for visiting again, and for your kind words about the blog.

I've long been fond of British art of the early- to mid-20th century. Many years ago, I became aware of Paul and John Nash and Stanley Spencer, and my explorations branched out from there. As for my choices for the blog posts, there is no method, just what looks good and feels right.

As for sources, up until a few years ago, I had to find sites for individual museums. However (as you are probably aware) the BBC "Your Paintings" site has now collected images for over 200,000 paintings in UK museums. The BBC site is limited to oil paintings, so one still has to look at individual museum sites for watercolours.

I greatly appreciate your visits. Thank you again.

Andrew Rickard said...

An especially fine selection, Stephen. Thanks, as ever, for your posts here. I felt the same way when I first came across Larkin.

You may have seen it already, but Larkin recites Wants at the very end of the BBC programme Down Cemetery Road.

Stephen Pentz said...

Andrew: thank you very much for stopping by again, and for the kind words.

I suppose that feeling that way about Larkin makes one look suspicious in the eyes of the politically-correct directorate who decided, after his death, that Larkin was an untouchable misogynist, racist, and conservative. Fortunately for all of us, his poetry will be read and enjoyed hundreds of years from now, when the members of the directorate will be long-forgotten.

Thank you very much for the link to Down Cemetery Road: I have been meaning to watch it for years, but never got around to it. Larkin walking beside the misty, litter-strewn canal/stream, with a cooling tower in the distance, as "Wants" is recited by him is perfect. I also love Larkin's response to Betjeman mentioning that a group of Hull residents wanted to meet Larkin after hearing Betjeman recite "Here": "Another evening gone." Classic Larkin.

Thanks again. I always look forward to hearing from you.