I t's a big question, whether to wear a red rose or not, and every year I go through this and say sure, but then when the day comes I never buy a rose, but may this year.

Tuesday is St. George's Day and the psychological heat is on all good WASPs to wear a red rose for the patron of England. The main trouble is that WASPs always forget things and think of it a week later, but even if they think of it on April 23 and are right in front of a flower shop, they say gee, I'd look like an ass. That is why you don't see so many people wearing roses.

There was a time at Canter- bury or Westminster when they had a big procession on some occasion in which the archbishop and everybody wore a wreath of roses on his head, but that was before everybody got self-conscious; before the Anglo-Saxon character developed, really. Nowadays an archbishop would feel a fool with roses sprouting above his ears, I think.

If anybody thinks of April 23 at all, it's probably because it's Shakespeare's birthday, and also the anniversary of his death. He was christened on April 26, 1564, so he was probably born three days before. You wanted to give a kid a day between birth and christening to get used to air and all that, but you didn't want to wait too long, what with plague and wolves in the forest, so April 23 is probably correct, factually, and even if it's not, this is the date always given to the best writer of the language (inventor of it, actually). It always seemed right for his day to be the same as St. George's, and my view is that if you're sort of Italian or something you could perfectly well wear a red rose for Shakespeare and forget St. George; or if you're a heathen, say.

I think our best chance to get the sidewalks full of red roses on the 23rd is to interest non-WASPs in wearing roses for Shakespeare. Hawaiians might be a good place to begin, since they are friendly to flowers, and if you think of Scyros and Naples and Budapest and all those places you can see their descendants might very well wear roses if they felt like it, or at least are more likely to than some fellow with a forge at Hickory Flat, because they have more external festivity about them than we do.

WASPs go through life scared to death they may offend somebody, not meaning to. A sturdy WASP never did say those disgusting words that the vulgar apply to various minorities, and by the age of 18 you learn not even to use generic or comprehensive words such as savages, bar-barians, slobs and so on.

London, wouldn't you say, is more tolerant in general than Washington. But we are going forward by leaps and bounds. This is partly because other ethnic groups celebrate their heritage, and WASPs explore, at first timidly, the riches of other cultures, becoming very tolerant and sophisticated at the last.

The average WASP youth's first introduction to the vast world comes when he cautiously tries green beer on St. Patrick's Day, partly to see what happens later, and in no time he is trying lasagna and Szechuan chicken and those odd pastries that squirt honey when you try to bite them. WASP youths ruin more neckties than any other ethnic group as they pursue their studies of the cosmopolitan world.

WASP girls have introduced millions to "pizza," a flat, tough pancake with anchovies that they insist is delicious, and sure enough the night comes in which her family (starving, nothing in the house) makes the liberating call to a "pizza parlor" that actually delivers one to the WASP household, asking no questions, and from then on the WASP eats as many pizzas as anybody. My wife discovered anchovies only as a grown woman, but one year somebody gave her a whole shoe box full of canned anchovies (they were moving house and had accumulated anchovies for years but of course had never tried one) and she never got over that gift. Once I gave her a cape that cost hundreds of bucks and it was all very well, but not as successful as the shoe box full of anchovies.

This is all because of Shakespeare. Through him alone we became citizens of the world. Our fathers' horizons were close and bound, but as we read him more and more the world began to open to us. The average WASP never noticed the stars of the sky are different until he read Shakespeare and boldly looked up there, to check on something Shakespeare said about the sky. We used to stomp through the woods, all but blind, until he started rattling on about violets and Juno's eyes.

We didn't even go bats for dogs until he sang vividly of the beauty of the hound -- whose ears sweep away the morning dew, of course -- and no WASP ever knew what humor was until he gave us deathless examples. When the rude mechanicals presented their interlude about Pyramus and Thisby in "A Midsummer Night's Dream," then we awoke from our stuporous gloom and laughed. The lion in that play was thrown on his own resources to roar extem- poraneously, without a script, and succeeded so well (to his substantial surprise) that he has ever afterward remained the model to us all -- we may indeed attempt high things and triumph through all our fears and doubts. The whole great world was new to us, but we thought of him, and made it up as we went along, just like Lion in the play.

Later, secretly, we read all about Antony and Cleopatra and Richard and Lear and learned things that even now (since that author died) nobody can say. Except for him it never would have occurred to us that life is sweet. We would have gone on painting ourselves blue and muttering, but since him we fling the window open and see the sun come up and a hey nonny nonny to us all.

We learned all about the toad, ugly and venomous, which (for all that) yet wears a precious jewel in his head. WASPs are more tolerant than anybody else because we understand toads better, and Falstaff, too, who for all his slight lapses from the very highest standards, yet had a jewel in his head too, or somewhere about him, possibly lifted from the battlefield, and came to a good end in bed, quietly, babbling of green fields.

Nowadays we all learn to read and write in school, and those who do this owe him most of all. Prince of scribblers he. And those who fritter away their lives jabbering are correct to think of him almost as a god. The gray hours when the sky is dead and the light is drained -- he first of all really got it down on paper, so that nobody afterwards ever thought it was anything unusual or permanent. He first of all first caught on to sugars in the blood, the ups and downs of chemistry, and he first of all said convincingly hold on. It doesn't take much, just a little imagination and a little experience and he taught every- body both. All you have to do is rev yourself up in the head and think of something briefly marvelous, just holding it clear in the front of the brain and to hell with the rest.

All losses are restored and sorrows end. That's what he hath left us. Father of the anchovy, discoverer of the toad, first herald of the sun coming up by God another morning. So I say if they've got these roses come Tuesday, and they're not too big -- no point looking absurd -- and they don't cost too much and you can buy just one and not a whole batch, then maybe. For George, patron of England, and for him, the patron of the world.