Today, Tomorrow, Then Forevermore.
What does the text suggest to you about an individual’s response to constraints of convention or circumstance?
. . .
A personal Response to James Lasdun’s “To a Pessimist“.
It’s all because of You. Like a leech, you’ve taken all that I can give and I don’t know if it’s desperation or if your touch has grown unsettling but I won’t have it anymore. The nights when I let you hold me as I sobbed felt needed – cathartic; but now, now I know better. I know better than to let vermin into my home. I know better than to let you drag me so far into your darkness that I lose all sense of direction, lose all hope. I may not know who I am but I know you, my love, were a cruel partner: you were never good for me. My dearest Pessimism, I’m sorry but it is time for you to go.
When faced with suffocating expectations of a strong woman I’m forced to realize just how weak I am. It pains me to admit that I’ll never live up to the legacy of my mother, grandmother, and the many women before them. In those regretful moments of fragility, I let Pessimism in. Like an old friend, the comfort comes quickly and everything else seems unimportant but then his hold on me tightens and, just as soon, I’m his. James Lasdun in his poem “To a Pessimist” outlines this very meticulous, but brutal, exchange. By starting the poem “It’s true”, the rest of the stanza seems very matter of fact reflecting just how calming and almost reassuring Pessimism can be. Further, the play on colloquial phrases, “the grass is basically ashes” and “half-full or empty” depicts how sly and manipulative pessimism can be. The literal changes made to the phrases were minimal but their meanings were greatly altered; just is the influence Pessimism has. The familiar grows strange and unsettling in his hands.
I have come to realize just how familiar the feeling of hopelessness and self-pity Pessimism allows has become. As he continues to manipulate my reality and skew my perception of the truth, I begin to believe I’m too sensitive to be strong and, ergo, too weak to be the ideal woman. This is to say, when I fail to meet the standards I believe that have been set for me, a sense of self-loathing is further affirmed.
What do You know of love anyway? You always said you would teach me but your fingers felt like death on my skin and that is not the kind of companionship I need. I cannot die to myself to satiate your hunger. There is splendour in my existence. I am the amalgamation of dreams they never thought could be realized – miraculous. So, please, do pack of your things. I would like the company only of myself to revel in God’s own handiwork.
In the second shift, the second and third stanza, Lasdun explores the wonder of life itself. Most masterfully outlined as he writes, “if not to aspire/ to outright happiness, then at least to resist/ abject despair/”, the speaker has clearly had a change of heart. Though the underlying pessimism – rather resistance to optimism – is still present, there is slight consideration regarding the validity of life and living it in spite of the “invariably smash[ed]” grass.
Regardless of how familiar I get with abject despair, it has never been a circumstance I’ve grown too comfortable with. This is to say, my optimistic side always pulls through somehow. It feels like a constant battle between Pessimism – my disloyal companion – and optimism – the core of who I am; my mind and soul are left to manage the collateral damage. The feeling of inadequacy I associate with being unconventional is due, in part, to lengthy trains of thought with severe and unfounded association. That being said, I’ve realized in order to get myself out of the wilderness of my mind I have to use the same devices that got me there in the first place – overthinking. With this, I am able to reconstruct my self-worth and progress as I seek redemption. I may never live up to the legacy of my grandmother’s grace or my mother’s entrepreneurial success but I can create one just as magnificent.
There is no hope for us. This isn’t to say I won’t miss you or that I won’t see you again – because I will – but that I just can’t live with you anymore. You have overstayed your welcome and I am just now finding the courage within myself to tell you this; I allowed you to make me feel so small, so insignificant that I forgot just how impactful my voice is. Give me enough reason and I can make music in your ears but please don’t forget the sound of thunder is nothing but a clap of my hands. Today, my voice will move mountains. Today, you will hear me when I say get out of my life.
Something so beautifully crafted in the image of God gone to waste; it is about time that I look in the mirror.
The last shift of the poem outlines the speaker’s attempt at redemption. Though they remain acutely aware of just how hopeless life can be, they have faith that tomorrow may not be the worst one yet. Further, they refer to their experience with the gods and their ability to “bless as well as… punish” to emphasize that life will ebb and flow according to powers greater than us. The inconsistency of life is where they are able to finally find their redemption.
Much like the speaker, when I am able to push past pessimism and find some good in the world, only then am I able to have faith in things getting better. I will never the ideal vision of a strong Nigerian woman but that simply has to be okay – I have far too much life to live. Furthermore, I have experienced God’s mercy in abundance, who am I to be overwhelmed or submit to fatigue when I am punished now and again? Like Lasdun indicates, there is bound to be circumstances of hardship but there also will be blessings, the issue arises when my perspective allows for only one to be recognized.
Go find your next victim: stroke their hair, hold them with those frigid fingers of yours, and once they get comfortable, pull them in like you did me. I hope they’re stronger than I was and have the courage to push you away. I want to experience all life has to offer but you could never really understand.
Goodbye for now, old friend.
My lowest regards,
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