02 May Carl Somers
Many of you know by now that Joanna’s water broke several weeks prematurely early in the morning on Saturday. We’re all here in one piece and I’m happy to be able to make this announcement, which I’ve been looking forward to for a long time. But first a little background to a subject that many of you have been curious about for a long time.
Arden is the name of the forest in Shakespeare’s As You Like It. One of his frothier plays, AYLI is all at once an exploration of the relationship between urban & rural life; a lampoon of renaissance conventions of overly-dramatacized, tortured romantic love; and a celebration of the”true” role of love (and of friendship, which Shakespeare shows to be the foundation of love and not just its paler companion) as a practical, everyday constructive force for good and the one thing that makes life as a human being not only livable but beautiful and worth preserving.
Though light and funny, the play is also cynical and full of melancholy. It’s also tender, hopeful and life-affirming. Taken as a whole, it may be the most humanistic and optimistic statement about the human condition in all of the Shakespeare Canon.
It’s unclear whether the word Arden is simply an Anglicized reference to the French region of Ardenne (which is in fact forested), or whether he may also have intended the name as a tribute to his own mother, whose maiden name was Arden. It has also been suggested that the name is linguistipcally related to the Hebrew word for the garden of Eden. This theory makes a lot of sense in context and word play of this kind was extremely common in late renaissance literature. More than likely, I think, Shakespeare intended all three allusions.
Arden is also of course phonetically linked to “ardent,” which is “having, expressive of, or characterized by intense feeling: passionate; fervent,” from the Latin “ardere” meaning “to burn.” This allusion also makes sense in the context of the play, and may have gone into the stew of his decision about what name to give the play’s forest setting.
“But love is a durable fire / in the mind ever burning / never sick, never old, never dead / from itself never turning” – that’s NOT Shakespeare, oddly enough, but his contemporary Sir Walter Raleigh, and it’s been on my mind a lot as I thought about the baby, her name, and this message.
I can’t give a rundown of the play or its full significance to me here, typing into Joanna’s phone (!!!), but in announcing the birth of our daughter I did want to share a little of the background to her name and, having done so, will direct the following words to her, in advance of the day when she’s old enough to wonder “what’s in her name” (sorry, couldn’t resist) and to comprehend what we hoped for her when we gave it to her:
Arden, there will be so many important lessons over the years and, unfortunately, probably a few too many rules for you to follow. Most will be necessary, some will be maladministrated. A few, hopefully, will be truly enlightened. But the big message, the prime directive, is all right there in your name. All later lessons will be milestones along the way. The rules are our best intentioned means of getting you there in one piece. Wherever you may find yourself in life, in whatever confused thicket of whatever dark wood you may wander, keep these three things closest to your heart:
1/ to be adaptable and at home wherever you’re at. People talk nonsense about being true to yourself. Don’t worry about that: you could never be anything else. Focus instead on bring equal to your circumstances and you will always thrive;
2/ to be a loving person and to be a loyal friend to everyone you love; and
3/ to be a passionate and joyful person. This is the most fundamental and important thing. Take an interest in everything that there is and take joy in everything you can. Choose joy, Arden. Be a shelter and a light for all the others, and know that, like a forest of real trees, you must have fire to live.
Happy birthday, baby Arden. Now burn, burn, burn.
Arden Jansen Somers was born at 3:42 A.M. on September 12, 2010th, weighing 5.6 lbs and measuring 17.5 inches. Mother and baby are perfectly healthy and in good spirits. They send their love to everyone. And so do I.
P.S. Arden just had her 1st poop like 30 seconds ago.