Had a dinner party the other night, with our son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter Ruby Mae, age 7, plus a friend about our own age. Tim, let’s call him, hadn’t met our kids before or the kids’ kid (Ruby), and he was plainly enchanted by the child — talking to her, teasing her, playing, first, baseball and, then, boccie ball with her and me. At one point Tim praised her “gorgeous hair,” and I thought, inevitably of WB Yeats’ poem “For Anne Gregory,” which ends like this:
‘I heard an old religious man
But yesternight declare
That he had found a text to prove
That only God, my dear,
Could love you for yourself alone
And not your yellow hair.’
What are we without our attributes? Those things that have been attributed to us, largely through sensory perception: our golden hair, our sparkling eyes, our shapely calves, our affect?
These attributes change as we age, of course: our golden hair is streaked with silver, our eyes lose their sparkle, our calves and butt sag, our feelings grow more leaden, it could be. And still we are apprehended, and judged too, by these physical attributes, into which we project all sorts of feelings of our own: golden hair is radiant and glorious, sparkling eyes invite, shapely calves and buttocks are a glimpse of heaven, sprightly feelings invite to play and frolic.
It’s only God, or the saints, as Yeats’ poem suggests, that can transcend or forget these physical glories and lead us into contemplation of the metaphysical, the abstract, the everlasting, if any.
Until such time, if such time there be, we will love our daughters and granddaughters for their yellow hair, their sparkle, their promise. And go on coddling them, protecting, nurturing.