The Cumberland Post

The Cumberland Post
My Backyard, Six Miles from the Cumberland River

Friday, April 23, 2010

Mortality and Spring--Tragedy or Comedy

On Monday I visited the local clinic to have a lesion on my nose examined.  The doctor there said it would be a good idea to have a skin surgeon do a biopsy. He set an appointment for me for today, Thursday. To cut (maybe not a good word choice) to my point here, he said he didn't need to do a biopsy, that the lesion was benign, something called a lentigo. (Note to grandkids: before leaving, I tried to arrange for him to take about an inch off my big schnozz but he said no.)

I've had scares like this before, most of us have. Some test that has to be run that we have to wait for. And we all get a bit nervous. But as I waited for the Thursday appointment, I was keenly aware that this interval of waiting was definitely different. It seemed to drag on forever as I ran through various and ever more horrible scenarios with my hyperactive imagination.

On the drive home after I got the good news, I realized that at least one reason for the gloomy morbidity I'd indulged in over the past two days (and nights) was that I have a birthday next week, my 70th. "Three score and ten" as the Bible says.
The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away. Psalms 90:10
A friend and colleague of mine used to remind people who complained about their birthday approaching because they were getting a year older that they should "consider the alternative." The alternative being death, of course.

As I climbed out of the car in my driveway, I caught a whiff of locust blossoms and for some reason that sweet scent made me recall something from the drama classes I'd taught: a simple contrast between the views of life embodied in the dramatic forms of comedy and tragedy. I remembered writing these differences on the blackboard (yup, that's what they were back in the day) over and over again down through the years. These differences in perspective were something I'd picked up and adapted from my reading for a graduate class, specifically a book called Anatomy of Criticism, by Canadian scholar Northrop Frye.  I used this material over and over because it made a lot of sense to me. It still does.

Inherent in Tragedy is the view of life as linear, a line connecting point A and point B. A Tragedy focuses on the individual, and the plot movement is toward his/her death or isolation. The form of Comedy, however, perceives life as a continuous cycle. The focus is on getting the two blocked lovers together and into the community, so the plot movement is integrating, toward marriage (not death), thus insuring the community's continuation on into the future via the fruit of the marriage, it's children.

Frye believed that there were deeper forms in works of literature, forms that were based ultimately on Nature, in this case the seasonal cycle of a year. He called them archetypes which over the centuries were expressed in various literary forms.

Waiting on my doctor visit had me thinking of my own individual linearity. My single life, moving between points A and B. Tragic thinking. Not necessarily bad, mind you, but still, too much of that and you can't function.

Getting the good news and smelling the locust blossoms, however, had wakened me once again to the bigger picture of Comedy, the understanding that even though individual lives end, other lives, those of our children and grandchildren, continue to flourish. The community or society remains alive and the cycle of life continues.

Okay. Enough of that. The real reason I wrote the above was to have the excuse to post some new springtime pics of home. First those wonderful locust blossoms. Can you smell them?

Even though they make good fence posts, locust trees are like weeds to most people. But once a year, they're in bloom and their perfume makes you forget their thorns. Several big locust trees grow around our house and in the fence rows.

The blossoms are kind of hard to see, but maybe clicking to a bigger pic will help. Tomorrow storms are expected with high winds, so the decks and the grass around our house will be covered with locust snow. The wind blows the little individual blossoms everywhere and f I didn't cut the grass for a month, there'd soon be little locust shoots springing up all over the place like weeds.
Here's my wife's little arbor with its clematis vines and (ugh) some vinca beneath the seat. I believe she has some honeysuckle on the left side, but it's always a little slower coming in.

Yes, those are dandelions sticking up behind the arbor, emerging just three days after I cut the grass. Speaking of weeds, there's probably a million little seeds in those fluffy things just waiting for the wind to spread them all over creation so they can do their bit to continue the cycle of weedy life. 

Here's some old azaleas growing along the back door deck. Life and Death. Red and White. And all that lovely, growing green.

Mobidity be damned!


  1. Dano,
    Happy BD. Keep this in the fore of your mind: Everyday above ground is a good day. Since your nose got a clean bill of health you'll be around to smell the flowers.
    Montana george

  2. Thanks George, And you're right about that "everyday above ground" being good. How's the packing coming? Take care...

  3. I guess we all get lentigos as we age. I'll be turning 63 in a couple of weeks.

    That's an interesting take on comedy and tragedy.

    We had six locust trees in the trailer park that we had to remove because they can damage underground utilities. It took a few years to get rid of the sprouts that kept popping up.

  4. A happy early birthday to you Pat. BTW, the woodpeckers love the locusts in our yard; some of the older trees have so many holes in their trunks they look like swiss cheese.

  5. That was beautiful, Dan. And very interesting. I always learn something over here at your place. I don't know how I missed this post...maybe my feed reader needs a tune-up.

    Duck and cover, my friend! That storm is a gollywhopper. Blasted me out of bed much earlier than I planned to rise this am.

    Not pertaining to this post...but, I have a fabulous CD of Elvis' original performances on The Louisiana Hayride. One cut is a young June Carter clowning around with a young Elvis...just a couple of kids with a dream. I'll have to see if I can bootleg a copy for you...

  6. Thanks Andy, I thought I'd already responded here but it obviously didn't take. I'd be very interested in that June Carter/Elvis CD on the old Hayride.