Friday, November 29, 2013

`Long May They Delve and Slaughter'

If one indulges in sin, one ought to at least have the decency to enjoy it and not bore the rest of us with voluble self-recriminations. Take gluttony (gula). On Thanksgiving Day: in with the food, out with the guilt, each gesture not cancelling but inflaming the other, like dousing the campfire with gasoline. In 1958, Anthony Hecht published The Seven Deadly Sins, a pamphlet with wood engravings by Leonard Baskin, later reprinted in The Hard Hours (1967). Here is “Gluttony”: 

“Let the poor look to themselves, for it is said
Their savior wouldn’t turn stones into bread.
And let the sow continually say grace.
For moss shall build in the lung and leave no trace,
The glutton worm shall tunnel in the head
And eat the Word out of the parchment face.” 

Rightly grotesque, with no easy moralizing for anyone. In a letter to Donald Hall in 1959 (The Selected Letters of Anthony Hecht, 2013), Hecht writes of the pamphlet: “the poems intend to justify the sins, not by making them attractive, but by showing that the alternatives are perhaps just as sinful or pointless; the rationale behind this being that the sins are not really deadly till they’re really persuasive.” Strenuous stuffing on Thanksgiving is inarguably persuasive, almost a religious duty and certainly patriotic. In “The Vindication of Obesity” (About the Size of It, 2007), the late Tom Disch celebrates the huskies of history and literature – Aquinas, Gibbon, “several great comedians, / Even Lord Buddha,” all “complacently obese.” He gives voice to Petronius' Trimalchio, to Gargantua and Falstaff. We might add Chesterton, Fatty Arbuckle and William Howard Taft, plus-size men all of them. Disch writes: 

Omnia Accipimus, our motto, means
There is no food, however ominous,
We won’t omnivorously devour: flesh
Of frogs, of eels, of foetuses; cheeses rank
As death; eggs, seeds, sprouts, fungi,
Whatever promise of growth we can divert
To our own swollen purposes. We lick our lips
And lift our glasses to the clods
And huntsmen whose raison d'ĂȘtre we are –
Long may they delve and slaughter.”

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