Saturday, October 26, 2019

'Don't Drag It About'

In the American version of “What’s Going to Happen to the Tots?” (1955), Noel Coward sounds like a less savage reincarnation of the Jonathan Swift who gave us “A Beautiful Young Nymph Going to Bed” (1734). Here is Swift:

“Then, seated on a three-legged chair,
Takes off her artificial hair:
Now, picking out a crystal eye,
She wipes it clean, and lays it by.
Her eye-brows from a mouse’s hide,
Stuck on with art on either side,
Pulls off with care, and first displays ’em,
Then in a play-book smoothly lays ’em.”

And here is Coward:

“The pleasures that once were heaven
Look silly at sixty-seven
And youthful allure you can’t procure
In terms of perms and pots—so
Lullaby, lullaby, lullaby, my darlings,
Try not to scratch those large red spots.”

A witty reminder that all is vanity, and that vanity is not only contemptible but looks exceedingly silly at any age, especially on the far side of middle age. Coward takes on the more conspicuous signs of morbid self-regard – cosmetic surgery and the old lady who “starts to jive at eighty-five.” Consider the subtler symptoms, including the inordinate attention paid to the proper haircut or framing the perfectly calibrated retort. In the hermetic privacy of our skulls, we’re all narcissists. I brought up the Coward lyric only because today is my sixty-seventh birthday. How is one to behave at such an age? Damned if I know. In 1774, at age sixty-seven, Horace Walpole writes in a letter to the Countess of Ailesbury:

“Old age is no such uncomfortable thing, if one gives oneself up to it with good grace, and don’t drag it about `To midnight dances and the public show.’


Nige said...

I'd say behave at 67 much as you did at 66 and as you intend to do at 68. So long as it works... Happy birthday, Patrick.

Richard Zuelch said...

Happy birthday, Patrick! I'll be 67 on November 5th.

I love Walpole's letters.

mike zim said...

Happy Birthday.
Here's Dr. Johnson's prayer on his 70th.

(1779) Almighty God, Creator of all things in whose hands are Life and death, glory be to thee for thy mercies, and for the prolonging of my life to the common age of man. Pardon me, O gracious God, all the offenses which in the course of seventy years I have committed against thy holy laws, and all the negligences of those duties which thou hast required. Look with pity upon me and enable me to pass the days which thou shalt yet grant me in thy fear and thy glory; and accept, O Lord, the remains of a misspent life, that when Thou shalt call me to another state, I may be received to everlasting happiness. Amen.

Faze said...

Another 67-year old here. Longing for retirement and withdrawal, but still fascinated by the people I connect with through work. Reading is the only pleasure that not only persists, but gets better as we grow older.