Thursday, April 28, 2011

The poison-dart frog, the three-toed sloth

Spent the evening finishing reading a dissertation that's being defended tomorrow. Encountered, for what I believe may be the first time, Wordsworth's draft epitaph for Charles Lamb: I am not sure I can find it online, but it includes the wonderfully awful lines "From the most gentle creature nursed in fields / Had been derived the name he bore" (it also was much too long to be inscribed on an actual tombstone, which bespeaks a certain self-involvement inappropriate to the occasion!).

It is a commonplace to say of Wordsworth's style that his strengths are also, often, his very great weaknesses. Here is another sentiment that caught my eye as I read, this one from a much better-known poem, and that makes me laugh and cringe: "I’d rather be / A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn." There is considerable evidence to show that Wordsworth himself was aware of this effect of risibility and sometimes mobilized it deliberately; nonetheless, I cannot feel I am an ideal reader for this particular poet...

Saw a very good theater piece last night, Future Anxiety at the Flea. From the description, it sounded as though it might be moralizing or preachy (a play about extinction and climate change!), but it is actually incredibly funny and also dementedly science-fictional in a way I very much enjoy; the dialogue is hilarious and sometimes quite moving also, and the performances, too, were excellent. Strongly recommended. (7pm curtain, eighty minutes running time!)

We were two for two, it turned out (too often dinner is better than the play): dinner at Petrarca was also excellent. We shared the piatto rustico, which basically should make that restaurant a destination for anyone who likes cured products of the pig (go there in the early evening, order that platter and a bottle of wine, you and a companion will basically have your whole dinner off it); then I had a Caesar salad with grilled shrimp and fresh berries with zabaglione for dessert.

Have only had time for some small bits and bobs of light reading on the side, and am too lazy to sum it up now; I think I must go now and read a serial-killer thriller to wind down...


  1. Agreed re Wordsworth; am sympathetic to Auden's description of him (later repudiated) as a "bleak old bore." W. is exceptionally good in a few poems -- Immortality Ode is one of my very favorite bits of literature, and there are passages in the Prelude I often revisit -- but overall it is hard to stay in the right mood. (Wordsworth has all the absurdity of Milton without much of the gorgeousness.)

  2. This way of indicating the 'name' of my lamented friend has been found fault with; perhaps rightly so; but I may say in justification of the double sense of the word, that similar allusions are not uncommon in epitaphs. One of the best in our language in verse I ever read, was upon a person who bore the name of Palmer; and the course of the thought, throughout, turned upon the Life of the Departed, considered as a pilgrimage. Nor can I think that the objection in the present case will have much force with any one who remembers Charles Lamb's beautiful sonnet addressed to his own name, and ending--

    "No deed of mine shall shame thee, gentle name!"