Saturday, April 2, 2011

B is for ... Brevity.

Brevity is the soul of wit ~ William Shakespeare (allegedly...)

Erin, you can stop reading now. Just kidding.

Out, out, brief candle! ~ also William Shakespeare (allegedly...)

The author of the plays commonly ascribed to one William Shakespeare often reflected on Man's mortality. "All the world is but a stage," opines Jaques in As You Like It, "and all the men and women merely players; they have their exits and their entrances." It is, perhaps, telling that the exits are mentioned first; although Polonius finds something admirable in brevity, Macbeth's lament is much closer to "Shakespeare"'s message.

Dust thou art, and into dust thou shalt return ~ Genesis 3:19

Yet there may be something comforting in brevity, if we focus more on our time on that stage than the waiting in the wings afterwards - and, perhaps, something more still if we reflect that beyond one stage may lie another. The action in Tom Stoppard's play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead - a landmark in the theater of the absurd - takes place mostly in the wings of "Shakespeare"'s Hamlet; might we also take wings when our lines our spoken and the curtain falls?

* * *

A story I love, which comes originally from Persian folklore - although the version I heard was a Hebrew adaptation - concerns a very wealthy and powerful king.

This king had virtually everything he could possibly want, and it amused him to demand yet more of his loyal subjects. Upon a time, he summoned his vizier and said to him, "I have been thinking long and hard about what more I can ask of you, and I have realized there is still one thing I do not have. Legend tells of a ring of power, such that any happy man who wears it becomes sad, and any sad man who wears it becomes happy. I would own this ring." And the vizier, who was quick on the uptake, knew better than to disappoint his king; so he assured him in unctuous tones that the ring would be obtained, and departed, fretting and gnawing his beard at the impossibility of the task.

The vizier was no slouch in the wisdom stakes himself, and he consulted with all the wise men his wisdom could reveal; but none of them knew the location of this ring. He journeyed far and wide, and his beard grew longer, for he could not have it trimmed to his liking, and yet more sparse, for he rent it daily in agitation. At length, he despaired and determined he must return to the king's palace and admit his failure, and he halted for a night's meager rest at a tavern. While there, he fell into conversation, as one does at a low ebb with some strong drink inside one, with a stranger: a man who turned out to be a jeweler himself.

"... And I have searched for that accursed ring this past year, and tomorrow I shall return empty-handed, and the king shall have me torn apart by wild tapirs!" For this was the king's custom. Much to the vizier's surprise, as he concluded his tale of woe, his drinking companion laughed brightly and said the most astonishing words in the world: "I have the ring you seek." And he produced it, quite as if it were only a very ordinary ring of the sort jewellers carry with them everywhere they go.

The vizier accepted it in shaking hands, and observed that it was inscribed with these words: Gam zeh ya'avor, which is to say, This too shall pass. And as he read those words, it was as if all the year's long, despairing drudgery fell away; he laughed too, and he and the jeweller drank each other's health until the dawn.

Next day, the vizier, beard trimmed to even his satisfaction and a jaunty spring in his step, presented himself to the king. "Twelve months have passed since you dared enter my halls," intoned the king wrathfully. "I had given you up for a miserable servant." He snapped his fingers imperiously. "Bring forth the tapirs!"

But even this dire threat could not blight the vizier's mood. "Behold!" he cried in a voice that carried throughout the king's great hall. "I have found the ring you desired!" And he hurried forth and laid it in the king's hand.

The king examined it closely. His lips were observed to move as he deciphered the inscription. And he looked around him, at the sumptuous finery of his hall, at the gilded tableware, at the ornate draperies and peerless rugs, at the mighty edifice of his palace and the hushed throng of his subjects. And he looked at the ring - this too shall pass - and his countenance became grey with sorrow...


Heather Henry said...

Good story, I don't recall ever hearing it, but then again I don't have a superb memory. This too shall pass, I've always liked that, a comforting statement when you're in the midst of trials. Never thought of it from the perspective of having it all. :) Interesting!
Great blog. Thanks!

Erin Kane Spock said...

Thank you for giving me permission.
Everything is fleeting, yet we are always impatient for the next experience.
Thank you for the reminder.