Frank William Boreham 1871-1959

Frank William Boreham 1871-1959
A photo F W Boreham took of himself in 1911

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Boreham on Laughter in the Face of Pain

F W Boreham writes an Australian-flavoured essay entitled, ‘The Jackass and the Kangaroo’ in which he cites the juxtaposition of a dead kangaroo that has been killed on the road and a kookaburra (laughing jackass), ‘laughing’ in the face of such tragedy. Boreham takes these two images to say that this often happens in life:

We are for ever and ever discovering, with a shock of surprise, that the laughing jackass is never far away from the dead kangaroo. At every turn of our pilgrimage we see comedy stand grinning cheek by jowl with tragedy. The world is made up of the most discordant and incongruous juxtapositions.

Among the treasures in the Sydney Art Gallery is Sir Luke Fildes' famous painting entitled ‘The Widower.’ On the right-hand side of the picture sits the poor toiler, with his sick child on his knee. One overwhelming bereavement has already overtaken him, and another stares him in the face. His brow is clouded with uttermost sorrow and perplexity. He looks at his child and seems to say, 'If only she were here!’ And on the left-hand side of the picture are the younger children playing on the floor, laughing and crowing in their merriment.

They are not old enough to understand; but their delight seems cruelly to mock his despair. Have we not here the story of the laughing-jackass and the dead kangaroo over again? The thing occurs hourly.

…Who is there that, passing through some deep valley of weeping, has not been stabbed to the quick by the laughter on the hills?

I shall never forget the day on which I left the Homeland. I was about to set sail for lands in which I should be the eeriest stranger. I passed, on my way to the ship, through the crowded London streets, every one of which was endeared to me by old associations and enriched by fond memories. I was accompanied by those who were all the world to me, those who, like myself, were calling up all the reserve powers of the will to nerve them for the wrench of parting. And I remember how I was mocked by the sounds of the city streets. My soul was in tears; but who cared? People were chattering; crowds were jostling; newsboys were shouting; all London was sunlit and gay. It seemed as though the old haunts were glad to see me go. The laughter tore and lacerated my spirit. The jackass seems a hideous incongruity in the presence of the dead kangaroo.

F W Boreham, ‘The Jackass and the Kangaroo’, The Luggage of Life (London: Charles H Kelly, 1912), 142-144.

Image: The Widower.