Friday, 1 January 2010

Doo Wop Dialog[ue]: 56

(42/M/London, England)


I referred briefly in one posting to Ulysses, the poem by Tennyson. He makes the decision to go on one last voyage rather than hang around vegetating. He accepts that he's not a young man anymore, nor are his companions, but

That which we are, we are.

I don't have the poem to hand but he goes on about experience being an arch through which the future gleams or words to that effect. And even though they're physically depleted they have the security of comradeship and a determination

To strive, to seek, to find,
And not to yield.

He and they are undertaking this voyage in the face of possible death, and even thinking of that he just says, matter-of-factly:

It may be that the floods will wash us down;
It may be we shall touch the happy shore,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.

In the London theatre critic Harold Hobson's autobiography he talks of a man who always associated the above lines with his late wife, and I can see why: they're not about heroism, or not in the conventional sense; they're about the simple acceptance in many lives that has a heroism all its own: These things might well happen. But it's okay, whatever happens. We are what we are.

For myself, I've been lucky enough to make accidental contact with an important figure from my teenage past whom I had freighted down with a lot of doowop-type idealisation and to feel, in some measure, that the past had righted itself as a result of that remeeting. It's not a fairytale, nor a romance, and yet it is immensely important because it is about real interaction, testing out who am, not who I imagine myself to be. Valuing those small moments of physical ease with that person - a world away from the gaucherie of adolescence - and seeing the precariousness of all contact with others makes me value what I have and seek to nurture it. Being with a friend's family, aware, as I never realised myself when young, how fleeting those moments are, and the wonder of some bonds that have endured over decades.

Tying this all back to doowop, and that final question in your posting, maybe the answer is that if we can now, as a different sort of light begins to fade, take some faltering steps towards seeing Gloria for what she is, and find that there can be as much joy and wonder, albeit of a different order, in the substance as there was in the unreal imaginings, then we have achieved something; like Ulysses, being able to say 'That which we are, we are." And it's okay. Though as the Essex say...

But the songs are still important. They are the past which is you still. And they still represent the voyage, the tantalising gleam of what might be: sweet dreams of contentment. But the important thing is to accept, not resentfully nor fearfully, the possibility of shipwreck - indeed, to see it as a condition of the voyage.

Again with the Essex...and I don't care if they're doowop or not.


I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untravelled world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.

Read the full text and listen to Lewis Casson, sounding none too young himself, here. I also recommend Tithonus, which you can read and listen to here. The image above is an illustration for Ulysses from the Victorian Web.

Harold Hobson's autobiography: Indirect Journey (1978). Video obit, probably from the BBC programme Late Review,
here. Drama critic of the Sunday Times, he recognised the worth of Harold Pinter's The Birthday Party before others did.

The Essex, if you need to ask,
here ... a theme which, ten years on, also applies to that renewed contact mentioned above. As Ginger might have put it:


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