Saturday, January 01, 2005

The Great Arc of the Tether

Your humble contributor confesses that he has now abandoned the project of condensing the history of tetherball into mere morsels, when it is best served as an elaborate feast. It's like trying to explain the formation of lint, its many varieties and uses, lint collecting, and efforts to wipe out lint, all in a few words.

We have already noted the influence of the sport on science, arts, and life in general. Suffice it to say that anyone who witnessed the ball descending from the pole at Times Square early this morning has some sense of the universal appeal of tetherball as symbol. The image is clear -- the ball tightly wound at the top of the pole, slowly uncoiling and dropping down; and, indeed, the message is clear -- the game is over, let the game begin anew!

Despite its compelling nature, we should be careful to avoid a metaphysical misinterpretation of tetherball, as did Conrad:

"It is hard to believe that you will ever look on these lines. God seems to have forgotten me. I want to see you--and yet death would be a greater favor. If you ever read these words, I charge you to begin by thanking a God merciful at last, for I shall be dead then, and it will be well. My dear, I am at the end of my tether."

(from "The End of the Tether")

Or, seeing in the tether a support for certain pagan cyclical notions, such as Yeats -- "Turning and turning in the widening gyre" -- though, Yeats seemed to have been influenced more by falconry, a far less noble sport.

We should, rather, simply wonder at the mystery.

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