Monday, December 05, 2016

`Why One Has Been Happy'

Relationships are attenuated in the digital world, with electrons substituting for laughter and derisive snorts, but sensibility, if vibrant and strong, comes through the ether loud and clear. I never met Roger Forseth, a retired English professor of the old school, but sensed that we shared essential values and would have enjoyed each other’s company had we ever met. Most of my dealings with him arrived via his old friend Dave Lull.

From Dave I learned that Roger prepared for sleep each night by alternately reading a letter by Keats or one of Shakespeare’s sonnets. He and his late wife annually reread A.J. Liebling’s Between Meals. Roger admired Cowper as man and poet, and had little use for Shelley (a sure sign of robust intellect). His tastes were attractively unpredictable. He favored Beckett, Coleridge (“in my permanent personal anthology”) and Raymond Chandler. Among his favorite novels was Daniel Deronda. When Roger’s wife died in 2013, lines by Keats appeared in the program for her memorial service and on the stone marking the Forseth family plot. Literature counts for nothing if it is not a vital part of life and death.

I remember that Roger, in his church’s newsletter, reviewed Arthur Kirsch’s Auden and Christianity (Yale University Press, 2005). It appears no longer available online, but I recall that Roger especially prized middle-period Auden, such poems as “Horae Canonicae” and “Good-Bye to the Mezzogiorno.” I know nothing of Roger’s spiritual life, and that clearly is none of my business, but I would guess that these lines from the latter poem would please him as a sort of epitaph:

“To bless this region, its vendages, and those
Who call it home: though one cannot always
Remember exactly why one has been happy,
There is no forgetting that one was.”

Roger died on Saturday at age eighty-nine.

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