Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Food and Poetry

I'm trying to eat more fruit. I was chewing on a mandarin orange, at lunch-time today, when I thought of the famous line from Louis Macneice's poem "Snow":

I peel and portion
A tangerine and spit the pips and feel
The drunkenness of things being various.

It occurred to me that some foods are just more poetic than others. The poem wouldn't work so well if Macneice had written:

I chew a chunk
Of pepperoni pizza and I feel
The drunkenness of things being various.

This in itself is an argument for eating more fruit.

As I've written before, I'm an enormous prig, and I often crave a world that is more solemn, ceremonious and refined. In my early twenties, I was a fan of Friedrich Nietzsche, and I would carry a volume of excerpts from Thus Spake Zarathustra around in my pocket. I particularly liked this passage:

It is not the mouthful which hath most choked me, to know that life itself requires enmity and death and torture-crosses:—   But I asked once, and suffocated almost with my question: What? is the rabble also necessary for life? Are poisoned fountains necessary, and stinking fires, and filthy dreams, and maggots in the bread of life? Not my hatred, but my loathing, gnawed hungrily at my life! Ah, ofttimes became I weary of spirit, when I found even the rabble spiritual!
Even back then, though, I realized that I was myself part of the rabble. (Don't get the wrong idea about my Nietzschean phase. I wasn't a neo-Nazi, or anything like that. Nor was I anti-Christian.)

Well, I'm over my Nietzsche phase, but I still find myself yearning for a less banal and less crass world-- I feel this more powerfully at some times than at others. For instance, on Sunday, having some time to spare, I revisited the long-running W.B. Yeats exhibition in the National Library, Dublin. It's an excellent exhibition-- you can see his manuscripts, many of his effects, and even a lock of his hair! The building in which it is housed is a pleasant Palladian structure, but huge banners with enormous lettering have been draped around the ornamental pillars outside. It's so jarring, it makes me wince, and wonder why anyone would do such a thing.

I realize that life requires buffoonery as well as heroic verse. But my intuition is that it should be mostly heroic verse, with interludes of buffoonery. Whereas the consensus seems to be that life should be mostly buffoonery, with interludes of heroic verse-- marriage proposals, religious ceremonies, political debates, and a few other situations.

Incidentally, speaking of fruit and poetry, here is a story that I think is relatively amusing. Last year, I was making tea in the staff kitchen and I realized I had no milk. So I used the milk of a colleague who I know doesn't mind me taking it. However, there was hardly any of her milk left, so I bought her a new carton later in the day, and sent her this email, assuming she would realise it was a pastiche of "This is Just to Say" By William Carlos Williams:

I have drunk most of the milk
With your name on it
In the staff fridge

And which was undoubtedly
Not intended
For me.

Forgive me. The
Student's Union shop
Is so very far away.

(But I bought you a new carton and put your name on it afterwards.)
She wrote back:

Thank you for the poem. You are, as always, very welcome to the milk.

"That's not much fun", I thought, when I read it. It was only many months later, when I happened to mention it, that I realised she'd never heard about the William Carlos Williams poem. God only knows what she made of my email!

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