Friday, September 06, 2019

`Innocent Vanities, and Jests, and Irony Itself'

“I hold that any man searching his memory for the things that from earliest days have given him most delight, and sincerely recording them, not necessarily with verbal garniture [OED: “ornament, trimmings”] at all, is while he does so a poet.”

I like the spirit if not necessarily the letter of E.V. Lucas’ sentiment. My taste runs to a more formal understanding of poetry but I share his emphasis on the impulse to express gratitude. Complaining comes too easily and quickly becomes tiresome. We love to vent and fume. We’re a selfish species.

Lucas (1868-1938) makes his point in “Poetry Made Easy” (Selected Essays, Methuen and Co., 1954), and illustrates it with lines from “The Great Lover” by Rupert Brooke, a poem that amounts to a catalog of thanks: “Sleep; and high places; footprints in the dew; / And oaks; and brown horse-chestnuts, glossy-new.” It’s a flimsy poem, but you get the idea. Lucas suggests other objects of gratitude:

“I find that on my list of loves scents would take a very important place—the scent of gorse warmed by the sun coming almost first, gorse blossom rubbed in the hand and then crushed against the face, geranium leaves, the leaves of the lemon verbena, the scent of pine trees, the scent of unlit cigars,” and so on for another six lines. Let me add the scent of a newly opened can of coffee, yeasty bread in the oven, honeysuckle, an artful dab of perfume on a stranger in an elevator, and petrichor.

Lucas moves on to another sense, touch: “. . . smooth dried beans, purple and spotted, and horse-chestnuts, warm and polished by being kept in the pocket, and ptarmigan’s feet, and tortoiseshell spoons for tea-caddies.” The last two items remain outside my experience.

Lucas is best remembered for his edition of Charles Lamb’s work in seven volumes and for his biography of Lamb. The men share a grateful bent. Lamb writes in “New Year’s Eve”:
“I am in love with this green earth; the face of town and country; the unspeakable rural solitudes, and the sweet security of streets. I would set up my tabernacle here. . . . A new state of being staggers me. Sun, and sky, and breeze, and solitary walks, and summer holidays, and the greenness of fields, and the delicious juices of meats and fishes, and society, and the cheerful glass, and candle-light, and fire-side conversations, and innocent vanities, and jests, and irony itself— do these things go out with life?”

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