Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Quote of the Day (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, on Friends Recalling ‘Many a Vanished Scene’)

“We sat and talked until the night,
      Descending, filled the little room;
Our faces faded from the sight,
      Our voices only broke the gloom.

“We spake of many a vanished scene,
      Of what we once had thought and said,
Of what had been, and might have been,
      And who was changed, and who was dead;

“And all that fills the hearts of friends,
      When first they feel, with secret pain,
Their lives thenceforth have separate ends,
      And never can be one again.”—American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882), “The Fire of Drift-wood,” in The Seaside and the Fireside (1850)

Remarkably, Longfellow wrote this scene, of two friends in a farmhouse somberly summarizing the passage of time, when he was only 43—more than a decade away from when he would lose his second wife in a fire, and when friends would die quietly of heartbreak, having sent their sons off to perish in a civil war of unforeseen carnage.

Over the years, improved life expectancy had kept many Americans from facing the same grim death counts that Longfellow’s characters quietly lamented. But over the last few months, as COVID-19 has struck at a wider swath of people, that blessing has increasingly vanished. 

Last spring, it was not uncommon to be asked how many people one knew had contracted COVID-19, or even died of it—with the implication being that, all things considered, it really wasn’t that bad. Today, more and more people would answer both questions in the affirmative.

In addition, indirect deaths are resulting from the pandemic: doctors’ appointments and elective surgery delayed because of fear of coming down with the virus, as well as rampant isolation, depression and substance abuse.

There is also the “secret pain” glimpsed by Longfellow, the unspoken sense between once-intimate friends that they “never can be one again.”

In his time, it would have meant the separate paths people took in terms of earning a living, family life, perhaps relocation. Today, another element has been introduced into the equation: politics, which increasingly infects what was once considered the private realm. Social media have made obvious what people seldom if ever spoke about before.

The result is that, if they don’t un-friend each other on Facebook and Twitter, old friends will likely stay silent about what now divides them. Peace may be maintained, but the ease in another’s company once enjoyed has faded, like the faces of Longfellow’s friends in the evening light.

No comments: