Saturday, September 17, 2016

`Stalled by Our Lassitude'

I knew it was somewhere in Richard Wilbur, the sort of muted memory that in our benighted, pre-digital days would have gone on aching like a bad tooth. You would have leafed through the book, hoping magically to locate the elusive line, or simply forgotten it until the next time you remembered. Now, two searches turn up what I want:

“Not that the world is tiresome in itself:
We know what boredom is: it is a dull
Impatience or a fierce velleity,
A champing wish, stalled by our lassitude,
To make or do.”

The word that stuck was “velleity,” a wishy-washy wish. In “Lying,” as always, Wilbur honors creation. His poems are written in a spirit of awe, never to be confused with the cretin’s favorite adjective, “awesome.” Wilbur’s impulse is religious, never preachy, because we must prove ourselves worthy of the world, not the other way around. Perhaps metaphor is our dearest gift, a strictly human capacity: “Odd that a thing is most itself when likened.” There is no metaphor without us.

I’m reading Chesterton again. Here is the punchline to his essay “On Running After One’s Hat” (All Things Considered, 1908): “An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered.” Boredom is disrespectful. Chesterton considers a flood in Battersea. It turns his London district into Venice: “The true optimist who sees in such things an opportunity for enjoyment is quite as logical and much more sensible than the ordinary `Indignant Ratepayer’ who sees in them an opportunity for grumbling” So much opportunity for celebration; so much whining.

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