It's useful, don't you reckon, for us humanoid to be reminded.

Not too often, mind you, since we are held together only with some baling wire at best, and too easily lose all heart. But once in a while, to be reminded.

And I never thought it was any exercise in mashochism, either, as if we had to fetch in extra sorrow or join an organized orgy of dispair, not having enough in the house and having to import some.

On the contrary, it is not for the suspect joy of wallowing that the authorities prescibe it, but becuase it's a little window on the way things are and what reality is. As Richard says in his admirable play: Learn, good child, to think our former state a happy dream, From which -- awakened -- the truth of what we are Shows us but this.

And the "this" that he referred to was not very inspiring.

So today, once again, the churchy world commences its ancient litugry of pro forma penitence and ritual grief. And as the years have passed, I have come to see that things that are pro forma, things that are done by ritual, words that are utterly expected, are not necessarily empty, but reflect a real pang and a geniune tear of genuine wet human salt.

I used to think it was silly, more than a bit contradictory, for days of formal sorrow to be scheduled smack dab at the height of spring. Why not the winter, when there's nothing else to do? But again, I see now the wisdom of the authorities, who must have figured out we can stand the support of squirrels in full sprint, trees in full bloom, so we don't overdo it.

Hey, the doxy o'er the dale, as Shakespeare so rightly summed up spring. So before grief starts becoming counterproductive, as you might say, we have the doxies and the dales to keep us sweet.

There is something delightful, isn't there, ion the ancient grief of springtime, the immemoriable reminder how poor a creature man is, at the very moment the high-tailed heifers bleat about the pasture, and all Nature hollers brightly to us that the world is glorious.

I don't see much point in a sense of humor if it fails us when we could use it a little, which is when we are on a downer. Amazing the Shakespeare is always right. Hey the doxy o'er the dale.

The worst thing about these ancient days of penitence is the license they appear to give people for sermons. I speak as one who has suffered much from yappery from many pulpits. And yet, we would all agree, once in a while a reminder is needed to bring us down to size and remind us of our slight lapse from perfection; and if the reminder is sharp enough, as it is for Christians on Good Friday, we reconize anew the wits of the poet Waller: For then we see how vain it was to boast Of fleeting things, so certain to be lost.

Of course religion rarely touches our lives in America today, but I have often thought there is a core of something in it somewhere, and that sooner or later its ancient rhythms find some echoing string in our own lives. Not this year nor next, perhaps, but sooner or later.

But back to the baling wire that holds a human life and a human society together. Woe to the man -- I think it's what hell is for -- who in the name of truth or in the name of virtue tries to make the wire snap. In cotton bales I've seen it snap and it's a dangerous thing.

It never was the point of this ancient day, this moment of truth, to destroy the weak or shame ordinary men into the sterility of kinkiness of flagellation, but to remind the world how frail men are. And far from throwing them into meek timidity but to goad them on to fight.

All the same, when you hear the ancient lessons read today from every chancel of Christendom, you can't help feeling a trifle down.

Speaking of endless sermons, it's a shame good Dr. Doone was snatched from us so long ago, and from his spectacular pulpit at St. Paul's. He could preach forever and nobody who ever heard him wished he'd shut up sooner than he did. He was a man of the world and knew what he was talking about.

Once, after he had yapped gorgeously for years and all London was either in awe of him or in love with him, he fell sick and damn near died. It occurred to him, a man of almost unspeakable brilliance, he needed one of his own sermons. Which, needless to say, brought him right around and restored him to that balance and grace from which has frailty had threatened to topplie him: By those his thorns, give me that other crown: And, as to other's souls I preached thy word, Be this my text, my sermon, to mine own: Therefore that he may raise, the Lord throws down.