Happiness is a stray –
though it lets you feed it
it's never yours.
You go through life losing it
and stumbling on it again.
Even then it often turns on you.
17 October 1986
Two of the poems I studied at school were ‘The Jaguar’ by Ted Hughes and ‘Toads’ by Philip Larkin. Years later I discovered ‘Toads Revisited’ and ‘Second Glance at a Jaguar’. Now here, after reading one of the others, I find myself revisiting my poem ‘Stray’ (#453). The first poem was about freedom; this one is about happiness.
I’ve always had a soft spot for strays. I guess that’s why I took to Beckett so readily; I’d be hard pressed to think of a single major character who’s not some sort of stray. They’re all wanderers even the ones like Malone and Mahood who only wander in their minds. In his biography of Beckett Anthony Cronin writes:
The Beckett man is a lone individual who regards other with fear, hatred, impatience or contempt... He does not believe in the brotherhood of man; and questions of equality are disposed of by the eager admission that he is, in all respects, inferior. He lays no claim to any virtue that can be named except to a rather dubious humility and a too eagerly embrace resignation.... The Beckett man has usually no past except, since he has been born, a mother or mother memory. He belongs to no recognizable community. He has no employments or qualifications for employment. Nor has he any sources of income except charitable ones. – Anthony Cronin, Samuel Beckett: the Last Modernist, p.379
The character of Jim in my new novel is—or at least becomes—a Beckett man although I’m not sure I agree with Cronin as to what the archetypical Beckettian is or ought to be. Neither Didi nor Gogo could be described as fearful—a little wary perhaps—or contemptuous and they’re the most patient characters in literature. One thing they do have in common with all Beckett’s other characters is they’re unhappy and I include Winnie from Happy Days despite all her protestations to the contrary. They all stopped chasing happiness years before they got to this point in their lives. Now they—especially I would say Winnie—find moments of contentment in distraction. As I note in the new book:
People are content to be distracted. It is an immensely powerful force. No one recognises true happiness any more; they think it squalid and farcical and are slightly embarrassed to be seen with it. Every once in a while it pokes its head out of its hidey–hole and people go, “What’s that funny-looking thing?” but the next thing you know something shiny has caught their eye and it’s gone.