Sunday, November 04, 2018

'Not Here But Anywhere'

My youngest son is a tenth-grader in an all-boys boarding school in Ontario, and this past week about a dozen boys in his dormitory were suspended for smoking dope or consuming what they call “edibles” and what we called “electric brownies” or, punningly, “Toklas brownies.” We spared David the lecture. He’s a fairly prudent kid, certainly more prudent than I was at his age. I feel no hypocrisy expecting him not to do something I did wantonly for years. Nor does Canada’s recent decision to legalize the “recreational” use of marijuana impress me. My approach is empirical. I think of the people I know who smoke dope, in some cases for decades, and I weigh the quality of their lives – arrested careers, fumbling speech and general fecklessness. Regular pot smokers embody few of the qualities I value.

Recounting such knowledge to a young person isn’t likely to have much lasting impact, if any, especially in a culture that dismisses permanent things. Young people are immortal and generally all-knowing. I was. Lessons are best learned on the job. On this day, Nov. 4, in 1950, Philip Larkin wrote an eight-line poem in a single sitting, “before breakfast in pyjamas,” as he later told Monica Jones. “Wires” appeared in The Less Deceived (1955):

“The widest prairies have electric fences,
For though old cattle know they must not stray
Young steers are always scenting purer water
Not here but anywhere. Beyond the wires

“Leads them to blunder up against the wires
Whose muscle-shredding violence gives no quarter.
Young steers become old cattle from that day,
Electric limits to their widest senses.”

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