Friday, October 19, 2012

Christina Rossetti and the humor of tragedy

I've been mulling over the serious power of humor lately, ever since hearing Tig Notaro's amazing comedy set on This American Life.  Just to warn you, the other segments of the show aren't necessarily for the faint of heart, but the Tig Notaro part comes first, and it is precisely for the faint of heart.  It's for those of us who need a little bit of encouragement and help in order to look pain square in the face, and live well anyway.

Somehow I always thought that humor was for "cheering up" and for distraction.  It certainly can be, and that's fine, but it's not the highest or most important use of humor. The best humor, as it turns out, is all about courage and truth.

And now for a sobering little funny from Christina Rossetti:

A handy mole who plied no shovel
To excavate his vaulted hovel,
While hard at work met in mid-furrow
An Earthworm boring out his burrow.
Our mole had dined, and must grow thinner
Before he gulped a second dinner,
And on no other terms cared he
To meet a worm of low degree.
 The worm turned on his blindest eye
Passing the base mechanic by;
The Worm entrenched in actual blindness
Ignored or kindness or unkindness;
Each wrought his own exclusive tunnel
To reach his own exclusive funnel.

A plough its flawless track pursuing
Involved them in one common ruin.
Where now the mine and countermine,
The dined on and the one to dine?
The impartial ploughshare of extinction
Anulled them all without distinction.

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