Tuesday, June 30, 2020

'How Beauteous Mankind Is!'

Outside the window above my desk grows a firebush, a sprawling shrub covered with tubular flowers the color of traffic cones. As I write, a mud dauber flits among the blossoms. One afternoon last week, after hours at the keyboard, feeling stiff, sore and irritable, I looked out the window and saw, four feet from my nose, a miracle suspended among the flowers: a ruby-throated hummingbird, its wings a blur, its body iridescent. Then it was gone.

That same evening I watched Jacques Tati’s Mr. Hulot’s Holiday, France’s supreme contribution, along with À la recherche du temps perdu, to civilized living. In the car the next day I listened repeatedly to Satie’s “Gymnopédie No. 1” performed by Philippe Entremont. At night I reread Pnin. I’ve concluded that I needed to address the charm, delight and wonder deficit. The human world in all its gratuitous ugliness was too much with me. Perhaps you have felt the same way of late. Beware: the ugliness is contagious.

There’s a quality I think of as aggrieved earnestness. People so afflicted are tuned to a narrow wavelength. Humor, beauty, irony and the frothier forms of pleasure elude them. They will never get Beerbohm. Their world is an unhappy place in need of correction at whatever the cost. They nag and bore us. They are yentas, regardless of sex. Their idea of conversation is a shrill sermon. They would never look twice at Matisse.

Of course, there’s much to be serious about. A playful sense of irony will never cure cancer. Most grownups know that. In Act V, Scene 1 of The Tempest, Ferdinand and Miranda are playing chess. She says:

“O, wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in it!”

Prospero, her father, with infinite gentleness replies to Miranda's naiveté: “’Tis new to thee.” Those four monosyllables never fail to move me.

Next up,Laurel and Hardy. And P.G. Wodehouse.


Tim Guirl said...

I just finished reading P.G. Wodehouse's novel, Quick Service, a balm and a buffer.

Edward Bauer said...

I'm in the middle of Leave It To Psmith, with a stack on my desk including other Wodehouse, Pnin, some Waugh, and Shakespeare comedies. That should last me through the immediate portion of this bleak time. The world is too much with us, and I have had enough.

Faze said...

Finishing up "Cocktail Time", here. Late Wodehouse (1950s), but prime stuff.

Don Kenner said...

Some Updike short stories and the Thin Man Movies have kept me sane of late. La Traviata and Don Giovani also. I need to reread Pnin.

karim benslama said...

why "playing chess" ?
isn't it at the end of the play, in the last scene ?
(i'm french and not quite familiar with shakespeare - just some memories - that reaction, from Miranda, had shocked me - less so, her father's comment - it is, indeed, the words of a wise man...)