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The Spike Golden Jubilee Number May 1949

Ogdenash on Someone Like Saroyan

page 45

Ogdenash on Someone Like Saroyan

This is the tragic story of an author who had only one plot; and who, though he wrote a lot of stories and a lot of poetry, used the same one for the whole lot. Maybe he didn't have enough grey matter in his cranium to provide a hydroponic bath for a geranium. But what he had got he certainly made the most of, and he left a million or so more words than Ogdenash or Saroyan or I will ever boast of.

For this author was one of these fortunate men who know almost from birth that we come into this world only to pass out again. He'd got the plot early. Maybe it was only eight by three, but it was big enough to hold his thoughts while living and his bones post-humously; and even if it was up on a hill among a lot of crosses, he wasn't the sort of fellow who would give anything away to cut his losses.

This author's plot had been left by a maiden aunt. She had bought it for a prospective husband, but had never married, so she left it instead to her unborn nephew (or niece, as the case might be) when her plans miscarried. The only condition was that the nephew (or niece, as the case might be) would keep watch on the next plot in perpetuity. Or at any rate during his (or her) lifetime keep an eye on the plants etcetera which normally grow on the graves of arid aunts etcetera.

So this author (who turned out to be a nephew after all, thereby saving further parentheses) was brought up from birth to venerate one small piece of earth. Even when he was supposed to be at school he would play truant, and as a rule would be found trying to stretch his four-foot body over his own bit of ground. His one ambition was to grow up to be three feet wide and eight feet tall, so that when he was ready to be buried he would occupy it all. In fact it wouldn't be pedantic to claim that if Byron was a buffoon this author was the first Great Necromantic; because after spending six of his seven ages studying his plot instead of working for wages, he completely revolutionised literature and annoyed the followers of Marx and Freud, by proving that economics and psychology can't bring happiness because life and death are merely two aspects of the same thing. All you've got to bring to life, this author said, is an appreciation of the dead.

This author didn't even write in the old-fashioned fashion about human passion. He'd been too busy on his plot to experience any, although many's the time he'd heard lovers' foot-steps pass and once he'd even heard a couple laughing in the grass. Instead he concentrated on eternal things like the way the wind moans in the trees, and the way weeds sprout among stones, and seed, and die away; and how, on a later day, the new plants spring up again. Only to seed, and die again, like men . . . Only men didn't really matter: to the daisies they were only bread and butter.

If you think that's a pretty dull theme, I'd remind you that it doesn't necessarily make the narrator any duller than T. S. Eliot or Saroyan, or for that matter the Creator. They've all three got a pretty good idea of what everything is about, and they've come to the same conclusion as far as I can make out. Anyway this author was so serious about it that he wrote twenty books in prose and another twenty in verse without describing anything more cheerful than a decorated hearse; and in his whole lifetime he was never known to laugh at anything except a humorous epitaph, written by a nephew whose ambition is still to inherit the plot on the hill.

For I guess that if this author had guessed what was going to happen to him eventually he would have been pretty miserable all right. For when he froze on his plot one night, trying to keep the snow off the daisies whose grandchildren he was hoping to push up himself at a later date, they pried him loose and cremated him. And I know enough about this author to know that he would have been pretty crabby if he'd guessed that, after all he'd been through, they'd stick the urn with the ashes in Westminster Abbey.

Anton Vogt