NOTES ON A SECOND OPINION
Back in 1986, our daughter Liza, so indigenously optimistic, was moping around, brooding on eternal nothingness, having just learned about existentialism at Dalton, and I thought I might offer a second opinion.
As schoolteacher talk wallows in outmoded despair, it often teaches in the next room about the Phoenix, the resurrection of gods, the return of Persephone each year with the spring, and the reemergence of Virgil, Theseus, Hercules, and the Aeneas from the underworld. So we can believe, if we want to, that the human spirit sometimes behaves inversely to Newton’s law of gravity: what goes down often comes back up again, levity being the soul of wit.
I wanted Liza to know back then that the softest things can bloom out of the hardest ground. Then years later, for her wedding, I rewrote the poem for her and her husband Alexis, trying to make it somewhat comprehensible, although I always feel that anything that can be understood probably hasn’t been said right. Things worth knowing are probably not so easy to understand. It’s a challenge to say something complicated in a simple way.
What happens to seasons, to plants, might also happen to planets. Nature is certainly the classic microcosm.
When I play something on the piano, I always try to surprise myself, to trick myself into being thrilled, to shock myself out of cliché so that I really hear something for the first time. Can language do this? Can it change our minds, our philosophy? Can it take a rabbi out of a hat, momentarily inverting reality with a cheap verbal trick? Can it make a far-fetched idea come alive and loop real, thus sending the reader on a life of metaphysical crime?
The forest of Arden was a few miles from Shakespeare’s house in Stratford, and is the setting for As You Like It.
May, 1986; redone May 21st, 1994
July 19th, 1996