PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A PREMATURELY OLD MAN
By Ogden Nash
It is common knowledge to every schoolboy and even every Bachelor of Arts,
That all sin is divided into two parts;
One kind of sin is called a sin of commission, and that is very important,
And it is what you are doing when you are doing something you ortant,
And the other kind of sin is just the opposite and is called a sin of omission and is equally bad in the eyes of all right-thinking people, from Billy Sunday to Buddha,
And it consists of not having done something you shuddha.
I might as well give you my opinion of these two kinds of sin as long as, in a way, against each other we are pitting them,
And that is, don’t bother your head about sins of commission because however sinful, they must at least be fun or else you wouldn’t be committing them.
It is the sin of omission, the second kind of sin,
That lays eggs under your skin.
The way you get really painfully bitten
Is by the insurance you haven’t taken out and the cheques you haven’t added up the stubs of and the appointments you haven’t kept and the bills you haven’t paid and the letters you haven’t written.
Also, about sins of omission there is one particularly painful lack of beauty,
Namely, it isn’t as though it had been a riotous red letter day or night every time you neglected to do your duty;
You didn’t get a wicked forbidden thrill
Every time you let a policy lapse or forget to pay a bill;
You didn’t slap the lads in the tavern on the back and loudly cry Whee,
Let’s all fail to write just one more letter before we go home, and this round of unwritten letters is on me.
No, you never get any fun
Out of the things you haven’t done,
But they are the things that I do not like to be amid,
Because the suitable things you didn’t do give you a lot more trouble than the unsuitable things you did.
The moral is that it is probably better not to sin at all, but if some kind of sin you must be pursuing,
Well, remember to do it by doing rather than by not doing.
From p. 32-33 of The Face is Familiar: Verses by Ogden Nash, J. M. Dent and Sons Ltd. (which explains the “cheques” in this American author (or does it?)), at the Aldine Press, Letchworth, Paperback edition 1965, first published in Great Britain 1942, Revised and rearranged by the author 1954. So, war-baby and baby-boomer, and a child of the 60s, all rolled into one. Would he like that? We went to the same school, but then so did Barack Obama and I: I don’t think it confers privileged insight.