WAR AND PEACE
“Do I dare to eat a peach?”
Or should I, instead, read “War and Peace”?
In a few months’ time, it’s on BBC;
a series I shall be compelled to see.
Jim Broadbent’s in it: good enough for me!
But then, the book will forever be
an unread classic. I hang my head;
so many of these I should have read.
Now in my sixties, still I feel
lacking in resolve, the essential steel.
I identify with Ethelred,
forever unready, forever in dread;
this Tolstoyan epic, this massive tome,
a sword of Damocles over my head.
A man’s ambition should exceed his reach;
perhaps life’s too short to read “War and Peace”.
I recently read a highly entertaining, stimulating, amusing book: “The Year of Reading Dangerously” by Andy Miller. It’s an autobiographical account of how he decided to read his way through a list of fifty books in the course of a year. The fifty books on his “List of Betterment” are generally literary masterpieces or popular cult classics, and included Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” and “War and Peace”. It was partly reading Andy Miller’s book that made me think about whether I should read “War and Peace”. Then, just a few days later, I saw that the BBC are planning to show a major dramatization of “War and Peace” early in the new year. I suddenly realized that, if I didn’t read “War and Peace” before the BBC show it, then I would probably never get around to reading it.
My poem has two quotations in it; one correct and the other one deliberately incorrect. The correct quotation is “Do I dare to eat a peach?”, from T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”. This line has had many interpretations over the years, many of them with sexual connotations; but I just liked the sound of it, and the way it rhymes with War and Peace. The incorrect quotation I used is Robert Browning’s “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp”, which – purely for the sake of the rhyme – I’ve changed to “A man’s ambition should exceed his reach”.