Kind of Blue
Lots of sad news today, some at work, some on TV. Sadness isn't something I feel much any more, so when it comes knocking I feel it acutely. It's not "hello darkness, my old friend," it's more like "who the hell let you in?"
It takes me back to 1983, a bad year. I spent much of it travelling, reading poetry to try to cheer myself up (this was dumb, it was before I knew poets had the highest rate of mental illness of any profession). Say what you want about Neruda, who can be beyond beautiful, his stuff doesn't typically cheer you up.
I picked up Lewis Carroll's The Hunting of the Snark, and read in the modern Introduction the chilling advice that it was exactly the kind of book that could drive a borderline person over the edge. Reading it anyway, I moved on.
I went to the Prado. Velasquez is sublime, but not cheery. In the Goya room we have Saturn Eating His Children. Ugh. Turn the corner and they have Brueghel's Triumph of Death and Bosch's Garden of Earthy Delights in the same room. This week's theme: those zany Northern Europeans!
I don't remember exactly what got me out of it. Certainly Adrian Mitchell had a hand in it:
When I am sad and weary
When I think all hope has gone
When I walk around High Holborn
I think of you with nothing on.
Somewhere in there heard a sketch on A Prairie Home Companion where Keillor is showing off to a girl, claiming he wrote this:
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no, it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to ev'ry wand'ring bark
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
I suspect, somewhere in Shakespeare's London, that exact scene played out. And she said: "roit, that's right nice, with the rhymes and all." And he said thanks and paid his bill.
I saw Julius Caesar at Stratford, and they did it just right (costuming was Italy: 1942). And that reminded me that in Shakespeare's world, melancholy was a dread disease. His Marc Antony is not defeated or cowed by Caesar's death, he is energized:
Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him;
The evil that men do lives after them,
The good is oft interréd with their bones,
So let it be with Caesar… The noble Brutus
Hath told you Caesar was ambitious:
If it were so, it was a grievous fault,
And grievously hath Caesar answered it….
Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest,
(For Brutus is an honourable man;
So are they all; all honourable men)
Come I to speak in Caesar's funeral….
[When I play Antony, I take a breath, gaze into the distance, and put in a #3 pause here. Then, with feeling:]
[Like a child who has lost his father]
He was my friend, faithful and just to me:
But Brutus says he was ambitious;
And Brutus is an honourable man…
[Like a lawyer, shaking his finger]
He hath brought many captives home to Rome,
Whose ransoms did the general coffers fill:
Did this in Caesar seem ambitious?
[Like a woman holding a baby]
When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept:
[Like a Klingon Captain:]
Ambition should be made of sterner stuff:
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
And Brutus is an honourable man.
[Like Tuckerman Babcock brokering a deal on Election Isle:]
You all did see that on the Lupercal
I thrice presented him a kingly crown,
Which he did thrice refuse: was this ambition?
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
And, sure, he is an honourable man.
[Like George W. Bush in the debates with Gore]
I speak not to disprove what Brutus spoke,
But here I am to speak what I do know.
You all did love him once, not without cause:
What cause withholds you then to mourn for him?
[Sudden attack of vertigo - hand over eyes]
O judgement! thou art fled to brutish beasts,
And men have lost their reason…. Bear with me;
My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar,
And I must pause till it come back to me.
[Opens one eye and peeks around his hand.]
I committed it to memory. I don't know why I found it so nourishing. It's wicked, of course; it's a rhetorical masterpiece; and it mocks Roman stoicism (I'm of the school that thinks the play should be called The Tragedy of Brutus - the man of honor taken down by a sociopath, anticipating Othello, and, well, a lot of other stuff).
But here is the good secret - that's not the best part. Here's how Antony finishes up:
But yesterday the word of Caesar might
Have stood against the world; now lies he there.
And none so poor to do him reverence.
O masters, if I were disposed to stir
Your hearts and minds to mutiny and rage,
I should do Brutus wrong, and Cassius wrong,
Who, you all know, are honourable men:
I will not do them wrong; I rather choose
To wrong the dead, to wrong myself and you,
Than I will wrong such honourable men.
[how great is that!?]
[Then, like the rabid weasel he is:]
But here's a parchment with the seal of Caesar;
I found it in his closet, 'tis his will:
Let but the commons hear this testament–
Which, pardon me, I do not mean to read–
And they would go and kiss dead Caesar's wounds
And dip their napkins in his sacred blood,
Yea, beg a hair of him for memory,
And, dying, mention it within their wills,
Bequeathing it as a rich legacy
Unto their issue.
We'll hear the will: read it, Mark Antony.
The will, the will! we will hear Caesar's will.
ANTONYHave patience, gentle friends, I must not read it;
It is not meet you know how Caesar loved you.
You are not wood, you are not stones, but men;
And, being men, bearing the will of Caesar,
It will inflame you, it will make you mad:
'Tis good you know not that you are his heirs;
For, if you should, O, what would come of it!
"It will inflame you" - har!
Then I was on to Antony and Cleopatra, Much Ado About Nothing, The Tempest. Not blue anymore, alive. Alive.