I've known George Dinwiddie, pictured at left, since we were boys together in Chicago. We played baseball togther, we climbed trees, and when George's turtle died we buried it and dug it up every day for a week. But then, as sometimes happens to close childhood friends, our paths diverged. George matriculated at Cornell and went on to a stellar career as a Professor of English -- mostly at Harvard, with summers at Bologna, Quizmos, Payless, and other universities around the world. I, for my part, suffered one humiliation after another: failed marriages, foot problems, harebrained gambling systems, and bouts of religious mania. But when we met up again completely by chance at a Los Angeles E-Z Lube (George was at UCLA for a semester) we realized that at least one of our shared childhood interests was still burning bright: our passion for Tennyson! So that very day we got together for a leisurely discussion of "Tears, Idle Tears," from Tennyson's long work entitled "The Princess." A bit of that conversation is offered below. But first, the text of the poem itself:
Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean,
Tears from the depth of some divine despair
Rise in the heart, and gather in the eyes,
In looking on the happy autumn-fields,
And thinking of the days that are no more.
Fresh as the first beam glittering on a sail,
That brings our friends up from the underworld,
Sad as the last which reddens over one
That sinks with all we love below the verge;
So sad, so fresh, the days that are no more.
Ah, sad and strange as in dark summer dawns
The earliest pipe of half-awakened birds
To dying ears, when unto dying eyes
The casement slowly grows a glimmering square;
So sad, so strange, the days that are no more.
Dear as remembered kisses after death,
And sweet as those by hopeless fancy feigned
On lips that are for others; deep as love,
Deep as first love, and wild with all regret;
O Death in Life, the days that are no more!
Mitch: It's really an incredible poem, isn't it? Do you have a favorite line?
George: Well, two lines actually. "Ah, sad and strange as in dark summer dawns/
The earliest pipe of half-awakened birds..."
Mitch: Yes, those are great ones all right. The average schmuck would have just said "birds." But this guy comes up with "half-awakened birds."
George: It really brings them to life. You see them waking up.
Mitch: The dude is dying just as the world is coming to life. The birds are waking up and he's checking out. "Sad and strange..."
George: "Wild with all regret...." You know what William Saroyan said on his death bed? He said, "I know everybody dies but I thought an exception would be made in my case."
Mitch: Aw haw haw haw! That's funny. Hey, yesterday I was in the waiting room at the doctor's office when the door opened and a guy scuttled in that looked just like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. He went up to the wicket or whatever you call it where there were these two very attractive nurses. Without further ado the Hunchback of Notre Dame tells the following joke: a guy comes into a doctor's office and he has a vibrator stuck up his butt. He says, Doctor you got to help me, I can't get this vibrator out of my butt. So the doctor looks at it and then he says I'm sorry, it's stuck too far up there, I can't get it out. So the guy goes into a panic. He says, you've got to help me! Can't you do something? So the doctor says, Well i can change the battery. This is the joke the Hunchback of Notre Dame told to the two nurses. Then he sat down right across from me in the waiting room. So I said to him, Hey, I've got one. A guy comes to the doctor's office to hear the results of his physical. The doctor says, I've got good news and bad news, which do you want first. The guy says, The bad news. So the doctor says, You've got terminal cancer, you're going to die. So the guy says, Wow that's pretty bad, what's the good news. The doctor says, I'm fucking the receptionist.
George: What's that got to do with Tennyson?
Mitch: Not a damn thing!
George: Aw haw haw! Haw haw haw!