Monday, November 30, 2015

`No Want of Playthings and Avocations'

I listened with amusement as a youngish woman, healthy and prosperous judging from appearances, proudly complained about the tedium of her life. This was happening two days after Thanksgiving Day. Work was boring, her boyfriend and television were boring, Houston was boring and this damned party was the most boring in human history. She was an aficionado of life’s humdrum sameness, and without knowing it, I’m certain, Life, friends, is boring.echoed Henry in Dream Song #14: “Life, friends, is boring.” When young and drinking, this line was my mantra. Four lines later, Henry quotes his mother (whom we can reasonably assume is the formidable Mrs. Berryman): “`Ever to confess you’re bored / means you have no / Inner Resources.’” What a bourgeois drag, I thought. Too conventional to savor life’s tedium. Now I’m with Mom. In a letter to his friend the Rev. John Newton, on this date, Nov. 30, in 1783, William Cowper writes: “Let our station be as retired as it may, there is no want of playthings and avocations, nor much need to seek them, in this world of ours.” 

At age fifty-seven, after multiple suicide attempts and confinements, in semi-retirement at Olney but Buried above ground.still feeling himself “Buried above ground,” Cowper had plenty of excuses to complain of boredom and suffering.  Yet much of the rest of the letter is a burlesque of life in the “Antediluvian world,” pre-ark. Cowper is one of literature’s virtuoso riff-writers, starting with a theme and improvising a vivacissimo set piece. One understands the link of madness to comedy: 

“I will suppose myself born a thousand years before Noah was born or thought of. I rise with the sun; I worship; I prepare my breakfast; I swallow a bucket of goats’ milk, and a dozen good sizeable cakes. I fasten a new string to my bow, and my youngest boy, a lad of about thirty years of age, having played with my arrows till he has stripped off all the feathers, I find myself obliged to repair them. The morning is thus spent in preparing for the chace [sic], and it is become necessary that I should dine.” 

Cowper was a human rarity, impervious to boredom, thoroughly endowed with Inner Resources.

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