Monday, February 1, 2016

Joy's grape

Here is a picture of a pair of ducks in the creek behind my house. I took the picture a couple weeks ago.

I see these ducks fairly often when I walk my dog down by the creek, especially on weekends, when I walk him later in the morning. This morning, I saw them again. They were standing on a branch that extends from the opposite bank down into the water. They were just like a textbook illustration, standing side-by-side, out of the water so you could see their orange feet and all. I wished I had brought my camera, but I hadn't.

I've read a blogger who doesn't like to see people reaching for their cameras all the time instead of just living in and enjoying the moment. I think it's a natural impulse, now that we have the ability, to try to instantly retain what we are happy or excited or moved to see. We know that the moments are fleeting and we wish we could keep them a little longer. The camera is a way to try to fulfill this wish.

John Keats' poem Ode on Melancholy attributed melancholy to the fact that life's pleasures pass quickly, and he advised being conscious and mindful of beauty, to get the most out of it, while acknowledging its brevity. Keats was probably living with the knowledge, or at least the suspicion, that he himself would die young, so it was a strong feeling for him. The final stanza is particularly beautiful:

She [Melancholy] dwells with Beauty—Beauty that must die;
And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips
Bidding adieu; and aching Pleasure nigh,
Turning to poison while the bee-mouth sips:
Ay, in the very temple of Delight
Veil'd Melancholy has her sovran shrine,
Though seen of none save him whose strenuous tongue
Can burst Joy's grape against his palate fine;
His soul shall taste the sadness of her might,
And be among her cloudy trophies hung.

I remember my English professor, Dr. Tiemersma, admiring the lines "him whose strenuous tongue / Can burst Joy's grape against his palate fine," and also his recommendation that we never pronounce "Proserpine" to rhyme with "poisonous wine" except when Keats demanded it of us.

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