Tuesday, April 08, 2014

The cottage and the cottage cheese


The critic Helen Vendler said of the poetry of Howard Nemerov: "The world causes in Nemerov a mingled revulsion and love, and a hopeless hope is the most attractive quality of his poems, which slowly turn obverse to reverse, seeing the permanence of change, the vices of virtue, the evanescence of solidities and the errors of truth." It is this wry pessimism always redeemed just in the nick of time by optimism that has appealed to me about Nemerov's poetry, and never so much as when I read his late poems now in my even laterness.

Let me share one with you, a witty thing called "Adam and Eve in Later Life":


On getting out of bed the one says, “Ouch!”
The other “What?” and when the one says “I said
'Ouch,' ” the other says, “All right, you needn't shout.”

Deucalion and Pyrrha, Darby and Joan, Philemon and Baucis,
Tracy and Hepburn––if this can happen to Hepburn
No one is safe––all rolled up into two,
Contented with the cottage and the cottage cheese
And envied only by ambitious gods …

Later, over coffee, they compare the backs of their hands
And conclude they are slowly being turned into lizards.
But nothing much surprises them these days.



Nemerov was 62 when he wrote that poem, in 1982, but I suspect anyone over sixty, long-partnered, will resonate with the mix of coffee and decay. I'm not sure what the poem is doing in a blog called Science Musings, except to say that the blog has grown old too and outlived its title. We sit now on the late Porch of life, and even the youngsters are welcome to pull up a chair. The backs of their hands are smooth and their truths are not yet smudged with error. We love them in spite of their youth, and willingly share our cottage cheese.