Sunday, December 13, 2009

`Do Not!'

A reader scolds me for expressing insufficiently spirited condemnation of SUVs and the plastics industry. The charge surprises me because I’ve never sat in an SUV let alone driven or purchased one, and I’ve never felt notable fondness for polymers as a class of materials though I’m grateful for the ring of reinforced plastic that holds my left shoulder in place and for the plastic keys and mouse with which I write these words. My anonymous reader classes me with “the Earth haters,” as “a cheerleader for capitalism” who “rape[s] the planet” and doesn’t appreciate the critical importance of recycling. Honestly, that’s not me. You have me confused with someone else, though you seem familiar enough with Anecdotal Evidence to quote it at length. I’m the guy who uses those spiral light bulbs that give me a headache when I read by one for too long.

I can’t go more than a week or so without reading Stevie Smith, whose humor and good sense are dependably bracing and who, I’m certain, had no wish to rape the planet. Let me suggest my critic read a Smith poem bearing a title he/she already enjoys using – “Do Not!”:

“Do not despair of man, and do not scold him,
Who are you that you should so lightly hold him?
Are you not also a man, and in your heart
Are there not warlike thoughts and fear and smart?
Are you not also afraid and in fear cruel,
Do you not think of yourself as usual,
Faint for ambition, desire to be loved,
Prick at a virtuous thought by beauty moved?
You love your wife, you hold your children dear,
Then say not that Man is vile, but say they are.
But they are not. So is your judgement shown
Presumptuous, false, quite vain, merely your own
Sadness for failed ambition set outside,
Made a philosophy of, prinked, beautified
In noble dress and into the world sent out
To run with the ill it most pretends to rout.
Oh know your own heart, that heart's not wholly evil,
And from the particular judge the general,
If judge you must, but with compassion see life,
Or else, of yourself despairing, flee strife.”

“Prinked” is a fine, neglected word also found in “Next, Please” by Philip Larkin, another poet for whom thoughts of death are never far away and who was among Smith’s most appreciative champions. Dr. Johnson defines “to prink” as “To prank; to deck for show” – in other words, to posture, to behave in such a way as to solicit attention.


Levi Stahl said...

I'm impressed that you've managed never to sit in an SUV. You've not missed anything, trust me. (I don't picture you as particularly confrontational, so I'm assuming the situation is the result of mere chance, though I like imagining you mixing extravagant demurrals with complicated schemes in order to avoid taking rides in the SUVs of friends and family. "No, no, I, like Wordsworth, believe in the value of a long, long, long walk.")

"Prinked." Now that's a good word, as is the phrase "to deck for show."

William A. Sigler said...

Did your reader google Thoreau, find your name, and wail at all the trees you urged cut down?

A poem of Robinson Jeffers' (another prophet of the ecology movement), Meditation on Saviours, comes to mind:

"A bad mountain to build your world on. Am I another keeper of
the people, that on my own shore,
On the gray rock, by the grooved mass of the ocean, the
sicknesses I left behind me concern me?

Here where the surf has come incredible ways out of the splendid
west, over the deeps
Light nor life sounds forever; here where enormous sundowns
flower and burn through color to quietness;

Then the ecstasy of the stars is present? As for the people, I
have found my rock, let them find theirs.
Let them lie down at Caesar's feet and be saved; and he in his
time reap their daggers of gratitude."

Anonymous said...

Everyone knows that while you´re reading books you could be more usefully employed shouting slogans (environmental or Marxist or Muslim or Feminist or Republican or Democrat, etc.) and waving placards and going red in the face with rage, and so on. It is indeed one´s duty to shout slogans and wave placards, in time to the other red-faced righteous ones, and failure to comply is a trollable offence.

Gaw said...

Hardy uses prinked in Beeny Cliff: 'purples prinked the main'.