Their Ancient, Glittering Eyes: Prefatory Remarks for the Alderson-Tillinghast Inaugural Lecture


Many thanks to all of you for being here today, a day I have long been awaiting, because it is the day when I finally get to express my deep gratitude to the University and its benefactors, and particularly to Mrs. Diane Alderson, for the chair that has been so generously bestowed upon me, the Alderson-Tillinghast Chair in the Humanities. The late Edwin Boyd Alderson, Jr., was a distinguished judge, and Richard Tillinghast, here with us today, is a celebrated man of letters, and my talk today—about the cinematic representation of Pontius Pilate—is to some degree about the areas Alderson and Tillinghast represent, the complexity of the Law and the intricacy of the Arts.

But I would be sorely remiss, in these grateful remarks of mine, if I did not make some mention of that other element in the title of the chair, the smallest part but the one that I hold most dear, and that is the hyphen, for that little half-dash suspended midair between the names seems to me to contain within it, with supreme understatement, all that existed between Edwin and Richard, by which I mean their tremendous friendship. The picture of them you see here is one I lifted from Richard’s Facebook account. I keep it on the cluttered desktop screen of my computer, and now and again I have opened it up to consider it since the surprising announcement of my receiving ths chair was made at the University Convocation in January.  I take heart from this picture, and not just because of the boldness with which Richard has mixed checks and stripes. But what I’m really struck by is the fun they are so obviously having there in Shenanigan’s.

It is just such fun, a capacity for joy, that the Humanities ought to cultivate in us, it seems to me, especially at times like the present when there is so much joylessness in our national scene. There is actually nothing new in the difficult and trying political circumstances we find ourselves in currently—in fact, it is the oldest and most predictable story there is, that the powerful will be filled with corruptions and outrages that we will be called upon to combat. To seek justice as a judge does, and to speak truth to power as does a poet—these can be wearisome tasks, but if we do so in the company of our friends, this picture seems to say, it will all come out all right. And so, in that spirit, let me bring these remarks to a close with a few lines of Yeats, from the final stanza of Lapis Lazuli:

                                                    … and I

Delight to imagine them seated there;

There, on the mountain and the sky,

On all the tragic scene they stare.

One asks for mournful melodies;

Accomplished fingers begin to play.

Their eyes mid many wrinkles, their eyes,

Their ancient, glittering eyes, are gay.

About Uncomely and Broken

I am a classicist in Sewanee, Tennessee.
This entry was posted in Poetry, Pontius Pilate, Sewanee, Time. Bookmark the permalink.

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