begin in delight…

Jul 2, 2020 poetry appreciation

End in wisdom. Yup, that’ll do. Here’s a delightful morsel which I trust will bring a smile to your lips: ‘Hymn to the Comb-Over‘ by Wesley McNair’. Doesn’t the very title brighten your day?

‘Hymn to the Comb-Over’ has that quality of close observation which distinguishes good writing. As I read I can picture each different variety of combover (though I do think McNair missed a trick not mentioning the way that some of the side to side ones, in a high wind or under the stress of movement, will move as a complete unit, as it were hinging from the point of origin; Ronnie Hill, I’m thinking of you). McNair deliciously offsets the ludicrous content with the phrases of a solemn form (it is a ‘hymn’ and it asks us, ‘let us praise’) but what really makes this poem work, for me, is the fact that the comb-overs are ‘wonderful’ as well as ‘ridiculous’ and there is no ridiculing of the combers themselves. The poem mocks so affectionately and, most importantly, with empathy and insight, recognising that herein lies ‘the old sorrow of time’s passing’; the sorrow too, perhaps, of not being able to face and accept it.

I don’t know if by the end we’ve arrived at exactly kind of wisdom Frost was imagining. And the poem certainly isn’t ‘Invictus‘. Still, I think there’s some kind of celebration of the spirit here and, written as it is from alongside rather than above, the poem offers a gentle reminder that none of us is exempt from folly.

Let us praise, indeed.

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