OF MEN IN TROUBLE (1)
Midpoint · Bech: A Book · Rabbit Redux
Deepest in the thicket, thorns spell a word. Born laughing, I've believed in the Absurd, Which brought me this far; henceforth, if I can, I must impersonate a serious man.
These four lines conclude Updike's five-part poem "Midpoint", written after Couples appeared in early 1968. He was then thirty- six years old, flush with money and publicity, ripe for stepping back from a prolific ten years of production — five novels, two volumes of poetry, three collections of stories, a book of prose — to take stock. "Midpoint", which is also the title of the book of verse he would publish the following year, is forty-one pages, a "long, philosophical poem" he called it later, whose five parts differ strikingly from one another. The introduction, written in freewheeling terza rima, recapitulates family memories from Shillington and considers "dear Chonny's" (his childhood name) present condition as a married man with four children setting out on the downward slope of "the Hill of Life," a drawing Updike made when young. In that drawing the five Updike/Hoyers, each of them situated, according to age, in appropriate position on the Hill of Life, are either climbing or descending that hill. Now, in 1968, he contemplates his "reward": "fame with its bucket of unanswerable letters, / wealth with its worrisome market reports, / rancid advice from my critical betters" and himself transformed into public unrecognizability —
From Time's grim cover, my fretful face peers out. Ten thousand soggy mornings have warped my lids and minced a crafty pulp of this my mouth.