In this world full of ponderous pundits and people who take everything far too seriously, have you noticed how relieved you feel when someone comes along who takes things lightly?
I was dreadfully serious in my 20s, as many of us are at an age when we need to convince everybody – especially ourselves – that, having passed the age of 21, we are really adult (that was the age of adulthood in the fifties and sixties – it seems to be somewhere over 30 these days). My great passion was poetry then – reading it but, also (ponderously) writing it – and I took modern poets like T.S. Eliot and William Butler Yeats very seriously.
But then, there was e.e. cummings. We had not “studied” him in our seminars; I first encountered him in unusually joyous circumstances, when I was leaning over the rail of a student ocean liner with the love of my life whom I had just kissed for the first time.
I was (ostentatiously) carrying a little poetry collection around with me. Henry leafed through it and then read out loud:
“when faces called flowers float out of the ground
and breathing is wishing and wishing is having –
but keeping is downward and doubting and never
it’s April (yes, April; my darling) it’s spring
yes the pretty birds frolic as spry as can fly
yes the little fish gambol as glad as can be
(yes the mountains are dancing together)”
It fit the moment and the mood, it was light-footed to read, cheerfully anti-authoritarian in its lowercase lettering, and lacking the gloom and doom that had shadowed my life until I met my completely joyous, radically optimistic, guilelessly enthusiastic Henry boarding in Rotterdam two days before.
Yonks later, I am growing less and less serious and more and more fond of pure unmitigated silliness. (No, this is not a second childhood, just an renewed appreciation of fun):
“o by the by
has anybody seen
who stood on a green
hill and threw
her wish at blue”
Tthe other day I encountered a serious young mother reproving her little girl for splashing in a mud puddle;
I just had to lean down and whisper to her:
Isn’t “the world mud-luscious…and puddle wonderful!”
We don’t expect anyone to advise us to become more shallow, but there is a lot to be said for trying not to be so boringly deep in order to walk more lightly on the earth. That was e.e. cummings’ idiosyncratic genius, like when he thanks God
“for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything which is natural which is
infinite which is yes.
(i who have died and will live again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth day of life and love and wings:
and of the gay
great happening illimitable earth)