All Fall Down
We fall in love. So why don’t we fall in hate?
But we all know that “falling” is much more complicated than that. There is, for instance, a big difference between a “fallen soldier,” and a “fallen woman.” Slipping and Falling too is acknowledged to be a major cause of death and injury, especially among the elderly. There is indeed a horde of attorneys who specialize in lucrative “slip and fall” cases, where some entity with deep pockets can be accused of responsibility.
It must all go back to Adam and Eve. Presumably they were in some kind of love relationship. (After all, there was no competition.) But their fall (we are told) was the origin of all human evil. As the old “New England Primer” (America’s first home-grown text-book) taught, illustrating the first letter of the alphabet:
In ADAM’S fall,
We sinned all.
But since infancy, we have been plied with tales of tumbling, stumbling, and falling down, from Jack and Jill who fell down the hill, to London Bridges falling down, to Alice falling down the rabbit hole – to say nothing of Baby’s precipitous descent from the tree-top, “cradle and all.”
And of course there was Humpty Dumpty, who sat on a wall and “had a great fall.” (But there is some uncertainty about this. Traditionally he was an egg whose fall shattered him irretrievably – but in Lewis Carroll’s kindlier “Looking-Glass” version, he only looks like an egg, and although “all the King’s horses and all the King’s men” couldn’t put him back up on the wall, he apparently survives the fall, and is able to have a prolonged and very intellectual conversation with Alice.)
But the same theme of falling also resonates throughout serious adult literature. Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar makes it central to the entire plot. In an early scene, we are told that Caesar has epilepsy, which was known as “the falling sickness.” But this is just a foretaste of his fall from power, in which he literally falls and dies in the heart of Rome, when stabbed by the Conspirators.
Then comes Mark Antony’s famous speech, in which he goes from conciliating the Conspirators to rousing the mob against them. When he comes to the killing of Caesar:
O, what a fall was there, my countrymen!Then I, and you, and all of us fell down,Whilst bloody treason flourish’d over us.
But falling can also be a long, slow process, happening over centuries, as chronicled by Edward Gibbon in his magnificent history of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
However, it’s not only mortals who are subject to involuntary descent. Milton taught us that even angels fall. Satan, also known as Lucifer, is an angel fallen from Heaven, and is the main character of “Paradise Lost.” Some critics have actually complained that he seems more heroic than satanic.
And let us also acknowledge that the very sensation of falling can be extremely pleasant – hence the whole cult of “sky-divers,” not to mention the scores of amusement park “rides,” from roller-coasters to “drop towers,” based on the same thrill. Scientists have indeed found that one of the first experiences babies seem to enjoy is that of being dropped – and then caught.
At the same time, there is a sadness, exemplified by what we call the “Fall” of the year, that autumnal “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,” as Keats called it – the time when leaves fall from trees, when ice and rain make people more likely to fall quite literally, and (at least in our own questionably enlightened society) even the clocks fall back. The words of many melancholy songs echo that theme, from “Autumn Leaves” – in which “I miss you most of all, my darling, when autumn leaves start to fall,” – to the allegorical “September Song” whose days, in the autumn of life, “dwindle down to a precious few.”
And in many ways, we like to watch things fall – particularly water, in enormous quantities, falling great distances, over one or a series of rocky precipices. You find such “waterfalls” in nearly every well-watered land. The most famous, in our own part of the world, is called Niagara, and has, for some reason, become traditionally attractive to lovers. It is also strangely attractive to “daredevils,” such as those who would walk over the Falls on a tightrope, or tumble over them in a barrel.
This somehow brings us back to where we started – the death-defying feat of Falling in Love.