Friday, 9 December 2011

the chambered nautilus


Hi. Sorry for low productivity online, which is being caused by high productivity offline in terms of getting the Warhorses of Letters book finished and rehearsing for the show postered below. But this morning, while I was in a very private place, I read a magic bit of Cuppy.

He's talking about an Oliver Wendell Holmes poem about the chambered nautilus - a primitive animal with a shell made up of lots of little chambers - and he discusses the ways in which poets through the ages have got the nautilus' biology wrong.

Then Cuppy returns to the poem, which is about constantly rebuilding the mansion of your soul. The first paragraph here is good, but it's only here to set up the second. You'll see what I mean:

I guess I'm sensitive about my soul. Seems to me it isn't too terrible, surely not in need of any complete overhauling and repair job. I've kept it in mind all along. I won't say it has steadily grown in grace year by year, because I don't believe as much as that was wrong with it in the first place. My soul in early youth was certainly as good as it is now, if not better, and come to think of it I shouldn't wonder if Dr Holmes had something to do with that pleasant state of affairs. As I strode up and down our back yard shouting parts of 'The Chambered Nautilus' at the top of my voice, first in order to learn the words by heart and thus retain my status as teacher's pet, later for the joy of showing off a bit, I don't recall that I thought very much about the meaning of it all. I just liked it. Anyway, it couldn't have harmed me and maybe it helped. Maybe it sank in.

As for those more stately mansions of the soul that Dr Holmes so beautifully recommends, I am not absolutely sure that I qualify there. It doesn't sound like me. I just go along doing the best I can, but nothing too wonderful, nothing sensational. Not that I haven't laid plans for larger mansions than I have achieved. Again and again I did that. I tried. I might have succeeded, too, if I hadn't been crossed up every time by persons I can only describe as lowdown rats - and that's too good for them. If I haven't made the grade you can blame them for it, don't blame me.

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