We are Now Nearest to the World’s Last Night

My last post may have seemed a bit of a downer. For younger readers, “downer” is old druggie slang for a barbiturate by which a drug taker was “slowed down” (and sometimes stopped dead), its antonym being “upper,” by which was meant an amphetamine, or “speed.” I don’t remember anyone referring to downers as “slow,” but the name would have suited a man on downers. The few I’ve know resembled a simpleton who hadn’t been getting enough sleep.

While I hope that my last post did not leave you with the impression that I am a simpleton who hasn’t been getting enough sleep, I will not complain if it did. For I live my life as a proud grim man.

Ay, for doubtless I am old, and think gray thoughts, for I am gray.

(Alfred Lord Tennyson, “Locksley Hall Sixty Years After,” 1886)

* * * * *

There is no time like the present for a man to come out as grim. “’Tis the season to be jolly!” Faugh! say I. Faugh! ’Tis the season when we in the grim community especially feel the yoke of the smilearchy, the cheerocracy, the felicinormative.

Come, let’s sing a merry round,
Wake the cheerful glee,
Sing aloud in joyful sound,
Happy, happy we . . .

Happy we, oh!
Happy we, oh!
Happy, happy, happy, happy, happy we oh . . .

(“Come, Let us Sing a Merry Song,” in Mason and George J. Webb, eds., The Boston Glee Book, 1839).

* * * * *

And, for too many of us in the grim community, this also ’tis the season of shame. Who can blame us? Cruel mockery of the joyless is, after all, a holiday rite. Look at poor Grinch. All he asked was to be spared the annual racket in Whoville. Then there’s the libel against Ebenezer Scrooge, impatient of humbug. Should we celebrate humbug?

We wish you a load of humbug!
We wish you a load of humbug!
We wish you a load of humbug!
Claptrap and free beer!

(JM Smith, Bilious Balads, 2017)

Faugh! Faugh! say I. Here’s something a little more like it.

“Ale, man, ale’s the stuff to drink
For fellows whom it hurts to think:
Look into the pewter pot
To see the world as the world’s not.
And faith, ’tis pleasant till ’tis past:
The mischief is that ’twill not last.

(A. E. Housman, “Terence, This is Stupid Stuff,” in A Shropshire Lad, 1896)

* * * * *

No, ’twill not last.

I used to feel ashamed that I was grim. My high school had cheerleaders: vivacious bundles of smiling popularity who were held up as models for the rest of us. I believe it had a glee club. But it had no club for the grim, no refuge where we could raise our half-empty glasses in a croaking toast to the perishing world.

“Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
Oh Thou Who changest not, abide with me.”

(F. Lyte, “Abide With Me, Fast Falls the Eventide,” 1847)

* * * * *

You may think all of this unseasonably dark for Christmas Eve, but give me a moment to persuade you that it is not. In coming out as grim, I do not cast my lot with pessimists like Bertrand Russell. He was right when he wrote that “the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins,” but he was wrong to conclude from this that “only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built” (“The Free Man’s Worship,” 1910).

He was superficially wrong because to despair is to surrender all hope of safety, and more profoundly wrong because our universe in ruins will not be the end of all things. After the world’s last night comes the day without an end.

And this is a seasonable thought right now, because tonight, Christmas Eve, is our annual rehearsal of the world’s last night

“What if this present were the world’s last night?
Mark in my heart, O soul, where thou dost dwell,
The picture of Christ crucified, and tell
Whether that countenance can thee affright.”

John Donne, “What if this Present were the World’s Last Night.”

And tomorrow is our rehearsal for that final, glorious day.

Merry Christmas!  And thanks for reading the Orthosphere!

7 thoughts on “We are Now Nearest to the World’s Last Night

  1. Pingback: We are Now Nearest to the World’s Last Night | @the_arv

  2. What, still alive at twenty-two,
    A clean upstanding chap like you?
    Why, if your throat is hard to slit,
    Slit your girl’s and swing for it!
    Like enough you won’t be glad
    When they come to hang you, lad,
    But bacon’s not the only thing
    That’s cured by hanging from a string.
    When the blotting pad of night
    Sucks the latest drop of light,
    Lads whose job is still to do
    Shall whet their knives and think of you.
    Hugh Kingsmill Lunn

    When lads have done with labour
    in Shropshire, one will cry,
    ‘Let’s go and kill a neighbour,’
    And t’other answers ‘Aye!’
    So this one kills his cousins,
    and that one kills his dad;
    and, (so) they hang by dozens
    at Ludlow, lad by lad…
    Humbert Wolfe

  3. Pingback: We are Now Nearest to the World’s Last Night | Reaction Times

  4. I notice that you properly used the single end quote to begin ’twill. I am a retired editor/proofreader and you gladdened my heart.

    • I’m glad to have done so. Over the years many proofreaders have been inclined to purse their lips when presented with a slab of prose by JMSmith.


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