What shall I say tonight, to follow yesterday’s hubris fest? Something self-deprecatory? That’s always a favorite, and I imagine I’ll get to it before I’m done, but instead, just to make a change, why don’t I deprecate somebody else? Somebody famous, somebody whose majestic literary legacy makes me look not only tiny, but invisible.
I’ll trash Robert Burns.
Mitch Berg at Shot in the Dark reminds us that today is Burns’ birthday. Scotsmen and their descendants around the world are toasting him today, no doubt, and good health to them.
But I don’t like Burns.
It’s not his poetry I object to, but his life. When I think of Burns I think of his womanizing, and that offends me. I unloaded on this subject through one of the characters in Blood and Judgment. That whole 19th Century Romantic movement was as famed for its flouting of traditional sexual mores as for its creative accomplishments.
You know what happened to a girl who got pregnant out of wedlock in those days? How many young women debauched by these scoundrels, do you think, ended up thrown out of their homes, walking the streets? I’m not defending that kind of draconian attitude toward “fallen women.” I’m affirming a more draconian attitude toward seducers.
Part of it’s plain jealousy, I have no doubt. I’ve always had a furious, repressed resentment against guys who have an easy way with women. I envy them deeply. I’ll not deny it.
And I know that C. S. Lewis would reprimand me for practicing “the personal heresy,” allowing judgments about a poet’s life to cloud my appreciation of his work, which is a thing whole unto itself.
Guilty on both counts.
But that doesn’t make me like Burns.
I close this section with the only Burns story I know, which isn’t helpful to my purpose in any way, but might soften the effects of my rant.
As the story goes, Burns was walking down the road one morning, when he met a pretty milkmaid.
“Good morning, lassy,” he said to her, tipping his hat.
“Good morning sir.” The girl smiled and continued on her way. Obviously she hadn’t recognized the poet.
“Do you know who I am, lassy?” he asked, turning.
“I’m Robert Burns.”
“Oh,” said the girl. “I expect I’d better put doon my pails then.”
Commenter Michael suggested the other day, in response to my post about my medical test, that I might be “the Tom Bombadil of psychotropic drugs,” utterly unaffected by them.
That’s flattering, but laughable. If there’s a less Bombadillian character in the world than I, I don’t know who it is.
But it reminds me that in my recent re-reading of The Fellowship Of the Ring, I think I finally figured out a way to think about old Tom.
I’ve always had trouble figuring him out. I know that Tolkien didn’t write allegory, and so it’s always false to say of any of his characters, “This character symbolizes X.” His characters are rich and complex. They reflect qualities, and multiple qualities at that. They sometimes act in ways reminiscent of Christ or the Virgin Mary or others, but none of them is anybody but himself, consistently.
Still I find it helpful to see Tom Bombadil as a sort of Adam figure. Not the fallen Adam, but the unfallen, the First Patriarch who named the beasts and tended the Garden. Bombadil reminds me of the Green Lady in C. S. Lewis’ Perelandra, though he’s been tested and lacks her vulnerability. Bombadil, it seems to me, represents humanity as it was created to be—at one with nature but not beastly; highly sexual but chaste.
(By the way, I’m glad they skipped him in the Peter Jackson movie. He’s absolutely unfilmable, and the scenes in his house could only have been done as a sort of musical comedy number. I just can’t see it working).
I could well be wrong in my conclusions. Feel free to tell me why.