[Temple Outer Court]George Herbert: "The Church-porch"

Day 21: Evening

Wit's an unruly engineStriking friend, sometimes engineer.


Wit's an unruly engine, wildly striking

Sometimes a friend, sometimes the engineer.

Hast thou the knack? pamper it not with liking:

But if thou want it, buy it not too deere.

   Many, affecting wit beyond their power,

   Have got to be a deare fool for an houre.

     Wit is an unruly machine, sometimes wildly striking a friend, sometimes the driver. Have you the knack? Do not encourage it because you like it: but if you insist on cultivating it, do not pay too high a price. Many, who take on wit beyond their power, have got to be a poor fool for some time.

     When you get an idea for a good joke, you don't care who it hurts, your best friend, yourself. The joke is all that matters; the effect that your ingenious observation and turn of mind can make on the listeners draws you on, like temptation. The consequences are inconsequential. The cleverness is all. Cultivating your raillery, you may entertain only yourself and hurt everyone else, including yourself. Ruled by your humor, you may become careless of people and antisocial.

     Some will not completely understand this stanza, and it is just as well if you don't. For those who enjoy words, concepts, ideas and dealing with people, wit can have an exhilarating and compelling attraction. Having the power to make people react even offensively, like a child telling a ghost story, delights the instigator. Wit is the mind's version of practical jokes and, like practical jokes, has a destructive life of its own once it is set in motion. Those who initiate the joke do not consider the repercussions and do not see the effects on others. We, I say advisedly, do not comprehend the damage to ourselves and our relation to those around us. Sometimes you may be a dear fool for more than an hour. [It could be the rest of a life.]

© 1997 J. R. Arner

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