At the beginning of Budding Prospects, TC Boyle’s protagonist Felix Nasmyth confesses
I’ve always been a quitter. I quit the Boy Scouts, the glee club, the marching band. Gave up my paper route, turned my back on the church, stuffed the basketball team. I dropped out of college, sidestepped the army with a 4-F on the grounds of mental instability, went back to school, made a go of it, entered a Ph.D. program in nineteenth-century British literature, sat in the front row, took notes assiduously, bought a pair of horn-rims, and quit on the eve of my comprehensive exams. I got married, separated, divorced. Quit smoking, quit jogging, quit eating red meat. I quit jobs: digging graves, pumping gas, selling insurance, showing pornographic films in an art theater in Boston. When I was nineteen I made frantic love to a pinch-faced, sack-bosomed girl I’d known from high school. She got pregnant. I quit town.
[. . .] nor can foot feel, being shod.
Gerard Manley Hopkins
I know what it feels like to give up,
to say ‘that’s it — fuck it — I quit’.
No one over thirty can stand
blowhard braggarts like
William Ernest Henley
“It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul”
but who lost his eleven-year-old daughter
and died of tuberculosis at fifty-three.
No, give me unromantics like Philip Larkin
who “work all day” and “get half-drunk at night,”
who lie in bed in the mornings
squandering precious existence dreading death,
contemplating what it will be like
“Not to be anywhere,
“Nothing more terrible, nothing more true.”
Or tortured souls like Gerard Manley Hopkins
who “pitched past pitch of grief”
birthed dissonant poems that screech like talons
scratching across blackboard slate.
* * *
That’s right, Brazil, down by seven,
quit playing defense, get the goddamn thing over,
drive past the favelas to your sturdy houses afterwards,
get into to your beds, pull the covers up over your heads,
and with a flashlight read “Terrence, This Is Stupid Stuff:”
“Therefore, since the world has still
Much good, but much less good than ill,
And while the sun and moon endure
Luck’s a chance, but trouble’s sure,
I’d face it as a wise man would,
And train for ill and not for good.
’Tis true, the stuff I bring for sale
Is not so brisk a brew as ale:
“Out of a stem that scored the hand
I wrung it in a weary land.
But take it: if the smack is sour,
The better for the embittered hour;
It should do good to heart and head
When your soul is in my soul’s stead;
And I will friend you, if I may,
In the dark and cloudy day.