Monday, December 13, 2010

`Let Well-Tuned Words Amaze'

We’ve had three days of uninterrupted rain, the gray relentless kind ignored by natives, who pull up their hoods and go jogging. Almost poetically the weather service identifies the cause as “a plume of very moist, warm Pacific air.” “Plume” is a lovely word for something that causes mudslides and floods. Closer to home it fogs windows, pools on roofs and clogs sewers with pine needles. The air smells like rotting leaves, not at all like Christmas. Supermarkets heat a brew of spices near the front door as olfactory incitement to Yuletide covetousness. I love the smell but its pecuniary impact is nil. It just makes me think about dancing with the Fezziwigs:

“There were more dances, and there were forfeits, and more dances, and there was cake, and there was negus, and there was a great piece of Cold Roast, and there was a great piece of Cold Boiled, and there were mince-pies, and plenty of beer. But the great effect of the evening came after the Roast and Boiled, when the fiddler (an artful dog, mind. The sort of man who knew his business better than you or I could have told it him.) struck up ‘Sir Roger de Coverley.’ Then old Fezziwig stood out to dance with Mrs Fezziwig. Top couple, too; with a good stiff piece of work cut out for them; three or four and twenty pair of partners; people who were not to be trifled with; people who would dance, and had no notion of walking.”

Most years I reread A Christmas Carol – this must be my fortieth immersion – and always notice something new. In the preceding paragraph, the fiddler “went up to the lofty desk, and made an orchestra of it, and tuned like fifty stomach-aches.” I reread Dickens for the small touches, human cartoons and linguistic turns, not convoluted plots, sentimentality and social-justice hectoring. My turn to Dickens in December – at least A Christmas Carol and parts of Pickwick Papers -- is instinctive, like migrating birds. I take the advice of Thomas Campion (1567-1620):

“Let well-tun'd words amaze
With harmonie diuine.”

Campion urges us to accept the long cold darkness of winter by transplanting summer pleasures indoors. The urge to nest, to hunker down in a state of ambulatory hibernation, is hard to resist in December:

“The Summer hath his ioyes,
And Winter his delights;
Though Loue and all his pleasures are but toyes,
They shorten tedious nights.”

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