Monday, November 16, 2009

Magnificently Unprepared

There is a quote from The History Boys that I often think about. Truth be told, there are many quotes from The History Boys that I think about, I do so like that play.

Anyway, there's a line that goes:

Magnificently unprepared for the long littleness of life.

It comes from a short poem by Frances Darwin Cornford (a granddaughter of Charles Darwin), about Rupert Brooke, one of the most preeminent English war poets of World War One. The entire poem reads:

A young Apollo, golden-haired,
Stands dreaming on the verge of strife,
Magnificently unprepared
for the long littleness of life.

There is something so freeing in those last two lines. No one ever tells a young person,"Yeah, you'll have some great times but sometimes you'll be bored or overworked or overworked and bored and won't be able to see the end." Or, have you ever heard a commencement speaker say,"You'll do great things graduates, take the road less traveled, etc. And, oh yeah, there will be bills to pay and diapers to change, and just when you think you're on top of the world, your spouse is going to call and wonder why you didn't pick up milk."

Now, I know that sounds just awful but it's true. Life isn't one long, glorious climb to the top. In reality, there are bills to pay and work to do and milk to buy. And for some reason, having someone put that sentiment into a work of art just makes it seem easier to handle. As if it's okay to acknowledge the monotony; or even that there is company in the boredom.

I guess I can sum it up best with yet another quote from The History Boys:
The best moments in reading (and I would add art/theater to this) are when
you come across something -- a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at
things -- which you had thought special and particular to you. Now here it
is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who
is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours.


  1. I've never heard that quote - I love it. It so sums up the 99.9% of life that we all live doesn't it?

  2. you know this was probably the most wonderful post i read all day...advice that should be heard, yet seldom spoken...

  3. Yes, no wonder so many people are disillusioned with their lives. No one took the time to explain that all of that greatness is gotten to by taking many ungreat steps.

  4. Thank you guys. I was worried that the quote would be taken the wrong way. Ronda, I totally agree, someday when I get asked to do a commencement speech (ha!) I'm going to use this quote. Brian, you're right, we can't make this the overriding aspect of our life, we just need to understand it.

  5. I value life so much that I really do not consider anything mundane or ordinary.