Greetings from the deserted circus, we trust that you still have some bread. Indeed one hopes that we will always have a crust to eat for sustenance and comfort. As long as there's a loaf on the table and a drop of tea in your cup, all is not lost. Things would be a whole lot worse if there were plenty of circuses and no bread. So, for now, the great global carnival that is organised sport has abandoned ship and left it floating unmoored in its own infinite silence, like the Mary Celeste.
Which therefore begs a question for those of us labouring in the sawdust of this particular circus floor: why would you have sports pages at all, when things are falling apart and mere anarchy is being loosed upon the world.
Yes, we are reaching again for that old standby line from Mr Yeats, those doom-laden words that can be quoted on barstools by fellas who can barely remember their own name. But, pondering this question brought us back to another poem from his visionary canon that haunted our Leaving Cert days. Its title alone triggered a connection: 'The Circus Animals' Desertion'. "I sought a theme and sought for it in vain," is its opening line.
So what theme can we have, those of us who have had to desert the circus in these harrowing times? We know what matters are the stories currently being told with magnificent professionalism in the newsrooms of the papers, radio stations, television centres and the digital sphere.
The answer, if there is one, may be found in TS Eliot's maxim that humankind cannot bear very much reality. Hence the circuses: the TV, the concerts and comedians and movies and stage plays; the art and music and literature; the ball games and myriad other athletic displays. The mass appeal of these entertainments is rooted in the human drive for escapism, the need for regular release from our existential ball and chain. It seems to be a primal need. Perhaps our mass consumption of alcohol and narcotics is merely a darker manifestation of this fundamental psychic motor. In one way or another, we humans are perpetual fugitives from our human condition.
In 1968, Kenny Rogers and his band The First Edition had a major hit with the song, 'Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)'. He would go on to become an international star of country music. Last weekend alas, at the age of 81, dear old Kenny discovered that his condition was irrevocably terminal.
We are all singing that tune, whether we have a note in our head or not. But we don't want to hear it too often.
In 1941, Paramount Pictures released an adorable movie called Sullivan's Travels. Written and directed by Preston Sturges, who by then had achieved fabulous success in theatre and film, it is a satire about artists who want to deliver serious messages in their work. The eponymous protagonist, John L Sullivan, has directed a series of frothy smash-hit comedies. But now he wants to make a film about suffering humanity set in the great depression of 1930s USA.
His Hollywood bosses are not impressed. In the opening sequence they argue with him about the project. "How about a nice musical?" one of them suggests.
Nearly 80 years after it was written, and despite its genial comedic spirit, Sullivan's reply has a chilling resonance with our reality in 2020.
"How can you talk about musicals at a time like this? With corpses piling up in the street, with grim death gargling at you from every corner, with people slaughtered like sheep!" The studio fat cat replies: "Maybe they'd like to forget that."
Sullivan is determined to prove them wrong. His previous hit movies have ridiculous titles like 'So Long Sarong', 'Hey Hey in the Hayloft', and 'Ants in Your Plants of 1939'. But his new film will be a masterpiece; its title positively weeps with noblesse oblige: 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' (Adopted by the Coen Brothers as the title to their 2000 film, in homage to Sullivan's Travels.)
To acquaint himself with the plight of the downtrodden, Sullivan (played by Joel McCrea) dresses up as a hobo and leaves his LA mansion to hit the road with just ten cents in his pocket. Naturally, along the way he teams up with a sassy blonde (Veronica Lake). All sorts of escapades ensue until Sullivan finds himself sentenced to six years' hard labour in a prison work camp deep in the American south.
Manacled in leg fetters, treated sadistically, it is here that Sullivan has his epiphany. The beaten-down chain gang is taken on Sunday to a small rural church where a black preacher and his congregation have gathered for prayer. The convicts shuffle up the aisle and sit in the front pews. Poignantly, the preacher beseeches his flock, themselves suffering from society's penal segregation laws, to "neither by word, nor by action, nor by look, make our guests feel unwelcome; nor to draw away from or act high-toned. For we's all equal in the sight of God."
Then he introduces a little entertainment. The lights are lowered, a rickety projector starts rolling. And here in this house of worship, this sanctuary for fallen humanity, a Disney cartoon featuring Mickey Mouse and Pluto starts rolling. Within seconds the audience is tittering; soon they are doubled up with laughter as the comic anarchy unfolds on screen. They have been transported to another place. They have forgotten their woes in the real world.
Sullivan soon finds himself laughing along. He looks around and it dawns on him that people endure enough misery in their daily lives without having it reflected back to them in a movie too. They go to the pictures to escape it, not to see more of it.
In modern times the same truth still applies. It is basically why the films of Steven Spielberg are vastly more popular than those, say, of Ken Loach.
Sullivan, in the heel of the reel, abandons his magnum opus. "There's a lot to be said for making people laugh!" he finally declares. "Did you know that's all some people have? It isn't much, but it's better than nothing in this cockeyed caravan!"
Sport is the opium of the masses for a reason. It's not going to change the world, albeit it has produced revolutionaries who have helped change the world, from Muhammad Ali to Jackie Robinson and Billie Jean King. But mainly it is there to help people escape their trouble and strife.
Thankfully there is music to do that currently, and books and television dramas and radio and computer games. They can all be safely enjoyed in a world that is perforce more atomised than it has ever been. We are, most of us, living behind closed doors for now.
When we can open them again and start drifting in crowds once more towards the towering floodlights of a ball park; when the great communal gatherings of this sporting life start to reassemble; it is then we will know for sure that the healing has begun.
So let us paraphrase that mighty American folk hymn and sing it loud: May the circus be unbroken, by and by Lord, by and by. May the circle be unbroken, by and by Lord, by and by.
As the world of sport came grinding to a halt day-by-day last week, the festival of paddywhackery that is Cheltenham in March continued on its merry way - and wouldn't you just know it.