Sunday, April 21, 2024

'A Twitter of Inconsequent Vitality'

This week I will interview a professor of chemical engineering who is retiring after forty-four years on the faculty. He came to the university straight from earning his Ph.D. He’s neither flashy nor hungry for publicity, and I was surprised he agreed to speak with me. He has a reputation for hard work and dependability – not qualities valued as highly as you might think. He seems to ignore academic politics and is widely if quietly respected, even by his colleagues and the administration. Selfless dedication to the job often goes ignored, as Louis MacNeice suggests in “Hidden Ice” (The Earth Compels, 1938), which begins: 

“There are few songs for domesticity

For routine work, money-making or scholarship

Though these are apt for eulogy or tragedy.


“And I would praise our adaptability

Who can spend years and years in offices and beds

Every morning twirling the napkin ring,

A twitter of inconsequent vitality.”


The theme of unrecognized service, of blindly coming to expect gifts, must have been on MacNeice’s mind at the time. The next poem in The Earth Compels is “Taken for Granted.” The opening stanza:


“Taken for granted

    The household orbit in childhood

The punctual sound of the gong

    The round of domestic service.”

1 comment:

Richard Zuelch said...

Your piece on the unflashiness of the ordinary reminds me of the saying (author unknown): "Everyone wants to save the world but no one wants to help mom with the dishes."