Friday, January 18, 2013

`The Ultimate Result of All Ambition'

Writing of her friend Edgar Bowers, Barbara Bundy says the poet was “intimate with the strangeness of existence and the mysterious forces of being that bring us to fullness and emptiness,” and that he was “always welcoming of strangers, perhaps because he was so familiar with the ultimate stranger within.” Her syntax implies the qualities are related. Some of us, reminded of our homelessness in the world, scorn others in a similar state. Some, like Bowers, renew their solidarity. In this, he resembles Dr. Johnson, who turned his modest quarters into an informal homeless shelter, taking in a freed slave and an irascible blind woman. London snickered when he rescued a homeless prostitute, and Boswell reports him saying: “A man unconnected is at home everywhere; unless he may be said to be at home no where.” 

My brother is selling the house we grew up in. I wasn’t quite three when we moved in, in 1955, the year of his birth. My earliest memory is the grass in the neighbor’s backyard resembling a field of wheat. I haven’t lived there in forty years. I’ve never paid the property taxes or called the plumber, but the place remains as vivid as a road map. I still think of a real house as one built of brick. Upstairs in my room I read Hamlet and The Adventures of Augie March for the first time, and clipped Eric Hoffer’s column from the newspaper. When I walked in the back door on Nov. 22, 1963, I saw my mother, two rooms away, crying in front of the television. Even in my alienated days it stayed, in some primal sense, home. Bowers included “Dedication for a House” in his first book, The Form of Loss (1956): 

“We, who were long together homeless, raise
Brick walls, wood floors, a roof, and windows up
To what sustained us in those threatening days
Unto this end. Alas, that this bright cup
Be empty of the care and life of him
Who should have made it overflow its brim.” 

Growing up means learning to carry home around with us, like nomads. That strangers may soon be living in our old house is inevitable and right. Welcome! Johnson writes in The Rambler #68:      

“To be happy at home is the ultimate result of all ambition, the end to which every enterprise and labour tends, and of which every desire prompts the prosecution."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Horatio: Oh day and night but this is wondrous strange.

Hamlet: Then as a stranger give it welcome.