Dotage permits... by Bill Kirton
To begin with: a disclaimer. I was mulling over ideas for topics for this contribution and first put finger to keyboard the day that Andrew Crofts’ New Stages of Life appeared here on the 27th of last month. Serendipitously (or otherwise) while the topic I chose is somewhat related to Andrew’s, my thesis (NB ‘thesis’ = pretentious word for ‘stuff’) and ‘conclusion’ (NB ‘conclusion’ = the point at which it’ll stop) are not.
Part of the reason may be that my response to Andrew’s current ‘grandfather to three’ status is simply to note that I am the eldest of 3 sisters and 2 brothers, the youngest of whom is already a great-grandmother of one. Thus dotage permits me to get away with most things and, anyway, there’s no connection whatsoever between our separate contributions. But, partly, like Andrew's, mine is also about age. I’ll start way back and to avoid overly embarrassing anyone, mainly myself, I’ll dress it up in semi-linguistic stuff.
First, though, a (marginally relevant) aside. Several years, nay decades, ago, as a direct result of writing revues which my wife and I performed at the Edinburgh Festival, we were invited to be visiting artists and I was also a visiting Professor in the University of Rhode Island Theater Department. Part of the commission involved translating three Molière plays for performance. (Immodestly, by the way, one of them won a British Comparative Literature Association prize.)
The point of the aside is that, for no reason I can recall, having flown British Airways on all our previous trips to ‘foreign’ locations, we thought it might be a good idea this time to try an American airline, so we looked through the various schedules [Aberdeen – London – New York – New Orleans (because we were taking advantage of the chance to visit other interesting locations) – Boston – Providence]. In the end, because of a teaching commitment of my wife’s, we had to leave a day later than planned and so, serendipitously, instead of being on Pan Am 103 on December 21st 1988, we flew from London to New York on TWA on the 22nd. It was a horrible reminder (as, in many ways, is the current plague) of how flimsy the veil is between ‘L’Etre et le Néant’.
And that gratuitous, highly unsubtle slide into French takes me (at last) to my seemingly unrelated theme. I’m not sure I qualify fully for the ‘dotage’ I claimed earlier, but I’ve been around long enough to see how things could have happened, or been done, differently. I think, for example, that it’s such a pity that we no longer use ‘thee’, ‘thy’, ‘thou’ and ‘thine’. In Scotland, the plural ‘yous’ is still common, but we don’t have that enormous difference between ‘je t’aime’ and ‘je vous aime’ which is so eloquent (and meaningful) in French. The cast of Friends used to assure each other ‘I love you’ on a regular basis, but only occasionally did it signify that exclusive passion that people like Byron, Shelley and others rhapsodised so beautifully. ‘Love’s not time’s fool’, remember, but ‘bears it out even to the edge of doom’. However, like so much else, the separate, life-affirming experience that is romantic love now has to be absorbed into other, apparently similar, relationships – to the extent that it appears simply to be part of a generalising narrative when one needs it to be exclusively explicit.
|George Gordon, Lord Byron, of course|
But what has this got to do with different stages of life? Well, precious little, unless, like me, being robbed of the specificity of ‘je t’aime’, you used to try to get romantic mileage (or maybe leverage) out of quoting Byron et al. After all, they did wooing and stuff far better than we seem to manage nowadays. Marvell’s To His Coy Mistress is a classic of the genre but, while age forgives so many things, I can’t see me getting away with:
Let us roll all our strength and all
Our sweetness up into one ball,
And tease our pleasures without strife
Through the closing gates of life:
Thus, though we cannot make yon fiery ball
Stand still, yet we will make him crawl.
On the other hand, saying to a loved one ‘Thou liest’ is definitely less provocative than ‘You lying *******!’