Archive for February 5, 2010

Of the Last Verses in the Book

Posted in Biographical, Columbo, Poetry with tags , , , on February 5, 2010 by telescoper

I was having some quality Columbo time last night, giving my old moggy a good going-over with his favourite brush while watching a DVD featuring the detective with the  same name. Columbo (the cat) loves being brushed with a metal brush, especially on his head and his face. If I stop he grabs hold of it and pulls it back onto his muzzle as if to say “All right then, I’ll do it myself.” He likes such a firm application of the brush that it seems incredible to me that it doesn’t hurt him, but he clearly enjoys it,  so what the hell…

When I’d finished he looked even more handsome than usual, but as he sat next to me on the sofa I reflected on the fact that he is starting to show his age a bit especially around the face – possibly owing to his penchant for the brush! Nowadays his purring sounds more like snoring, his kittenish moments are rarer and crotchety episodes a bit more common. He also gets stiffness in his legs from time to time, which the vet attributes to rheumatism and, although it doesn’t cause him actual pain, this problem  makes him a lot less active than he used to be.  Still, he has a right to take things easy. He’ll be 16 next month, which is quite a venerable age for a Tom cat.

I’ve been feeling pretty old myself this week,  probably caused by fatigue associated with the onset of lecturing. All that walking up and down and waving your arms about can be quite tiring, I can tell you. Not sleeping much might have something to do with it too. I’m also feeling miserable because I  need new spectacles,  another sign of ongoing physical deterioration.  I’ve got less excuse for feeling my age than Columbo, however, as I’m only 46. I think that’s only about 6 in cat years!

However, getting older definitely has its good points too.  Twenty years ago I would never have envisaged myself sitting at home reading dusty old poetry books rather than going out to some sleazy nightclub, but the cardigan, carpet slippers and Columbo are suiting me just fine these days. Next week I’m going to go wild and have a night at the Opera, something that always makes me feel young. I may be no chicken, but I’m still younger than the average  opera-goer!

I haven’t posted any poems for a few days, so here’s one that seems to fit. It’s by a relatively obscure poet and politician called Edmund Waller. The wikipedia page about him isn’t very complimetary about his talents as a poet, but he is at least credited with having pioneered the use of heroic couplets in English verse. His biography is interesting too. He narrowly escaped being executed in 1643, during the English Civil War,  and was instead imprisoned in the Tower of London. He was only released after paying a fine of £10,000 – a truly enormous amount of money for the time. Although banished on his release, he subsequently returned to politics and lived to the ripe old age of 81.

Although his poetry is very unfashionable, this one is quite well known and – I think – rather marvellous, especially the last verse which puts me in mind of the lines from Leonard Cohen‘s great song Anthem:

There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

The poem is called Of the Last Verses in the Book.

When we for age could neither read nor write,
The subject made us able to indite.
The soul, with nobler resolutions deckt,
The body stooping, does herself erect:
No mortal parts are requisite to raise
Her, that unbodied can her Maker praise.

The seas are quiet, when the winds give o’er,
So calm are we, when passions are no more:
For then we know how vain it was to boast
Of fleeting things, so certain to be lost.
Clouds of affection from our younger eyes
Conceal that emptiness, which age descries.

The soul’s dark cottage, batter’d and decay’d,
Lets in new light through chinks that time has made;
Stronger by weakness, wiser men become
As they draw near to their eternal home:
Leaving the old, both worlds at once they view,
That stand upon the threshold of the new

(And, please, no jokes about “cottages”….)