I opened my old college textbook The Literature of England at random yesterday morning and found “This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison,” Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem composed in his garden under a lime tree while his visiting friends took a walk in the nearby countryside. He had to stay behind, having been sidelined when his wife accidentally spilled boiling milk on his foot. (Ow-ow-ow!)
Before that, I took a brief stab at “Troilus and Criseyde,” and what a surprise, 45-plus years of not reading Middle English has rendered Chaucer’s brilliant quasi-epic poem essentially unreadable to me. I do know that reading it was one of the surprise delights of my education, but I would need to be re-educated to re-experience the joy — although perhaps that would be a more worthwhile venture than the three episodes of The Blacklist that I viewed the night before.
(Somewhere in the last few days, I read a reference that a society constantly exposed to tawdry crap aimed at the lowest common denominator becomes tawdry and low and full of crap. It was written more elegantly than that, but it was a good point. There are delights in the old stuff more subtle than a gun to the face.)
I don’t mean to be a snooty snob, but I do like a turn of phrase. Discovering Coleridge’s poem was another reminder of the thousands of undiscovered treasures waiting within reach on the shelves in this little room. OK, many of them I have indeed discovered and decided to save (Bradbury, Doc Savage, Hawthorne), but so many pages are as yet untapped, and the old treasures are fun to revisit.
Notice when I reach for examples, I pick Hawthorne (everyone knows he’s a classic, although he’s not necessarily many people’s “favorite” classic author), Bradbury (becoming a classic but not considered so until well into his career), and Doc Savage (not “literature”).
I do seem to have a unique perspective on what constitutes good reading. I enjoy enjoying stuff that’s off the beaten track. I like that about being in this skin.