Wednesday, October 26, 2016

`For a Writer to Be His Age'

“There are not many Doctor Johnsons to set forth upon their first romantic voyage at sixty-four.”

Two-thirds of a lifetime ago, there was not a place on earth I did not wish to visit. I dreamed of living in Ireland, Israel, Saskatchewan and even Chicago. I know now I was less a romantic voyager than a feckless soul in Ohio. Dreaming compensated for chronic inaction. I mistook gear-grinding for passionate intensity, to quote my then-favorite poet. I boasted I would never live to see thirty, and almost got my wish. The real adventure proved to be getting from one prosaic day to the next, and then learning the days weren’t really so prosaic, if not always poetic. The line at the top is from Chap. 2 of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Virginibus Puerisque (1881), “Crabbed Age and Youth.” Stevenson, who knew something of loss and regret, goes on: 

“Youth is the time to go flashing from one end of the world to the other both in mind and body; to try the manners of different nations; to hear the chimes at midnight; to see sunrise in town and country; to be converted at a revival; to circumnavigate the metaphysics, write halting verses, run a mile to see a fire, and wait all day long in the theatre to applaud Hernani. There is some meaning in the old theory about wild oats; and a man who has not had his green-sickness and got done with it for good, is as little to be depended on as an unvaccinated infant.” 

No more flashing for me. My “romantic voyage” was postponed at the dock, not unlike Dr. Johnson’s. With Boswell he toured Scotland in 1773, and while on the Isle of Skye turned sixty-four, as I do today. I’ve grown into my age, and no longer feel twenty-one or even seventy-three. Auden told the Paris Review in 1972: “It’s frightfully important for a writer to be his age, not to be younger or older than he is. One might ask, `What should I write at the age of sixty-four,’ but never, `What should I write in 1940?’” 


Edward Bauer said...

Happy Birthday! And thank you once again for your daily contribution to the improvement of my literacy. As my Franciscan say (after their Founder): Peace and all good things.

Unknown said...

I've been out of touch, but I came back today--just in time to wish you a very Happy Birthday. Fran Manushkin