Thursday, November 22, 2018

'Thank You Very Kindly for This Visit'

Life is sustained by the little rituals, secular or otherwise. On the Fourth of July I listen to Charles Ives’ symphonies. Around Christmas I read the holiday chapters in Pickwick Papers (I can no longer stomach A Christmas Carol but can’t forget “There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!”). February 2 brings not groundhogs but favorite pages from Ulysses, and around Labor Day I read John Cheever’s “The Swimmer.” I’ve done these things for so long, readerly anticipation is built into the turn of the seasons. On Thanksgiving Day I return to one of my favorite poems, “The Transparent Man” by Anthony Hecht, which begins:

“I’m mighty glad to see you, Mrs. Curtis,
And thank you very kindly for this visit—
Especially now when all the others here
Are having holiday visitors, and I feel
A little conspicuous and in the way.
It’s mainly because of Thanksgiving.”

The speaker is a hospitalized young woman dying of leukemia. Hecht’s dramatic monologue is written in perfectly paced blank verse, and remains true to conversational American English throughout. Humility, the queen of virtues, is difficult for writers to render without sounding sententious. I once had a disagreement with a friend over Dostoevsky’s success in creating Prince Myshkin. I didn’t buy it for a minute. I do buy Hecht’s woman, a thoughtful, attentive person, sensitive to the feelings and reactions of others, attuned to beauty and complexity. She sees like a poet the correspondences that grace the world. I think of her as a courteous Midwesterner. She looks out the window at the winter trees:

“One by one,
They stand there like magnificent enlargements
Of the vascular system of the human brain.
I see them there like huge discarnate minds,
Lost in their meditative silences.
The trunks, branches and twigs compose the vessels
That feed and nourish vast immortal thoughts.”

The reader’s sense of helpless sadness is goaded by the young woman’s attractiveness. We think, I hope I could match her poise and intelligence, mortally sick in a hospital bed. No self-pity, no bitterness, no anger at fate. Only polite, wistful thanksgiving:   

“So I hope that you won’t think me plain ungrateful
For not selecting one of your fine books,
And I take it very kindly that you came
And sat here and let me rattle on this way.”


John Ahern said...

Wonderful poem. Is the whole of it available on line? The link does not include the lines you quote.

Thomas Parker said...

Every year I read one of Dickens' Christmas Books. Once you've dragged yourself through The Battle of Life or The Haunted Man, you will return to Ebeneezer and his crew with a renewed appreciation!