Sunday, August 6, 2017

What The...

Balzac famously said that he spent all morning taking out a comma and all afternoon putting it back. One has to admire his agonizing.

Take the for example. What would The Vatican and The Bronx be without them. Certain words demand the article as do, THE Museum of Modern Art and THE Metropolitan Opera. As I recall the main street in The Bronx was The Grand Concourse just like The Grand Canal in Venice.

Then there’s The French Quarter, The Renaissance and The Roaring Twenties. It would be unthinkable to leave out the The. Imagine if Hamlet had said, To be or not to be. That is questionable. I rest my case.

Yet my daughter, Lauren, who lives in northern California has the audacity to scold me for sticking, the, before our shared freeways. How dare she! Down here we have The 405, The 101 and The 5. Somewhere en route those major highways lose their,The. Maybe it happens in San Luis Obispo so that by the time it reaches San Jose they have no stomach for,The. What I call The Silicon Valley, she calls Silicon Valley. And to think, I raised my daughters in The San Fernando Valley.

May I point out that we don’t walk through valley of shadow of death? But rather through THE valley of THE shadow… Balzac, I’m sure, would agree. From a literary point of view it grants it the weight of specificity.

A little research tells me that we here in South California originated the freeway system and the 101, for example, was known as The Ventura Freeway or The Hollywood Freeway depending on where you were driving. The world doesn’t hold still for an L.A. minute. When our own private routes extended to the far reaches we lost the attached city but retained the prefixed article. But that doesn’t account for the above mentioned Valleys.

I wonder if The is on life-support. It hasn’t escaped my attention that what we used to call, The Ukraine, seems now to have been shortened to just plain, Ukraine. I smell Putin at work. I’m beginning to get nostalgic for what once was, The Soviet Union, now morphed into the crony capitalist state of Russia. Just another instance of the perils inherent in short-hand. 

        Like Balzac, poets also spend midnight hours grappling with that dreaded three letter word. Stanley Kunitz had written about his vacillation. In his great poem, End of Summer, he changed the first line from, The agitation of the air, to, An agitation of the air. His revision opened up the poem and accelerated the tempo. Then there is Wallace Stevens poem, The Man on the Dump, with this final line, What was it one first heard of the truth? The the.
         That says it all.
As for Lauren I forgive her for dropping her,The. It happens when you live in The Wine Country and I love her just the same..

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