Literature


Sometimes I have thought it would be an excellent rule to live each day as if we should die to-morrow. Such an attitude would emphasize sharply the values of life. We should live each day with a gentleness, a vigor, and a keenness of appreciation which are often lost when time stretches before us in the constant panorama of more days and months and years to come. There are those, of course, who would adopt the epicurean motto of ‘Eat, drink, and be merry,’ but most people would be chastened by the certainty of impending death.

In stories, the doomed hero is usually saved at the last minute by some stroke of fortune, but almost always his sense of values is changed. He becomes more appreciative of the meaning of life and its permanent spiritual values. It has often been noted that those who live, or have lived, in the shadow of death bring a mellow sweetness to everything they do.

Most of us, however, take life for granted. We know that one day we must die, but usually we picture that day as far in the future. When we are in buoyant health, death is all but unimaginable. We seldom think of it. The days stretch out in an endless vista. So we go about our petty tasks, hardly aware of our listless attitude toward life.

The same lethargy, I am afraid, characterizes the use of all our facilities and senses. Only the deaf appreciate hearing, only the blind realize the manifold blessings that lie in sight. Particularly does this observation apply to those who have lost sight and hearing in adult life. But those who have never suffered impairment of sight or hearing seldom make the fullest use of these blessed faculties. Their eyes and ears take in all sights and sounds hazily, without concentration and with little appreciation. It is the same old story of not being grateful for what we have until we lose it, of not being conscious of health until we are ill.

I have often thought it would be a blessing if each human being were stricken blind and deaf for a few days at some time during his early adult life. Darkness would make him more appreciative of sight; silence would teach him the joys of sound.

Now and then I have tested my seeing friends to discover what they see. Recently I was visited by a very good friend who had just returned from a long walk in the woods, and I asked her what she had observed. ‘Nothing in particular,’ she replied. I might have been incredulous had I not been accustomed to such responses, for long ago I became convinced that the seeing see little.

How was it possible, I asked myself, to walk for an hour through the woods and see nothing worthy of note? I who cannot see find hundreds of things to interest me through mere touch. I feel the delicate symmetry of a leaf. I pass my hands lovingly about the smooth skin of a silver birch, or the rough, shaggy bark of a pine. In spring I touch the branches of trees hopefully in search of a bud, the first sign of awakening Nature after her winter’s sleep. I feel the delightful, velvety texture of a flower, and discover its remarkable convolutions; and something of the miracle of Nature is revealed to me. Occasionally, if I am very fortunate, I place my hand gently on a small tree and feel the happy quiver of a bird in full song. I am delighted to have the cool waters of a brook rush through my open fingers. To me a lush carpet of pine needles or spongy grass is more welcome than the most luxurious Persian rug. To me the pageant of seasons is a thrilling and unending drama, the action of which streams through my finger tips.

At times my heart cries out with longing to see all these things. If I can get so much pleasure from mere touch, how much more beauty must be revealed by sight. Yet, those who have eyes apparently see little. The panorama of color and action which fills the world is taken for granted. It is human, perhaps, to appreciate little that which have and to long for that which we have not, but it is a great pity that in the world of light the gift of sight is used only as a mere convenience rather than as a means of adding fullness to life.

If I were the president of a university I should establish a compulsory course in ‘How to Use Your Eyes’. The professor would try to show his pupils how they could add joy to their lives by really seeing what passes unnoticed before them. He would try to awake their dormant and sluggish faculties.

– From ” Three Days to See “ by Helen Keller

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Every lover’s in arms, and Cupid holds the fort
Atticus, believe me, every lover’s in arms.
The age that’s good for war, is also right for love.
An old soldier’s a disgrace, and an old lover.
That spirit a commander looks for in a brave army,
a lovely girl looks for in a love partner.
Both keep watch: both sleep on the ground,
one serves at his lady’s entrance, the other his general’s.
A long road’s a soldier’s task: but send the girl off,
and a restless lover will follow her to the end.
He’ll go against mountains and bend into stormy rivers,
he’ll push his way through swollen snowdrifts,
he’ll not rely on excuses, like angry northerlies,
or waiting for suitable stars to take to the waves.
Who but a soldier or lover could endure
cold nights or dense snow mixed with rain?
One’s sent out to spy on attacking forces:
the other keeps eye on his rival, his enemy.
This one lays siege to strong cities, that one his harsh friend’s entrance:
one breaks down gates, the other doors.
Often it helps to attack a sleeping enemy,
and strike the unarmed mass with armed hand.
That’s how Rhesus and his fierce Thracians were killed
and forfeited the leader’s captured mares.
Lovers, for sure, will make use of a husband’s sleep
and employ their arms while the enemy slumbers.
Getting past watchman’s hands, and enemy sentinels
is work for soldiers and wretched lovers.
Mars is chancy, Venus uncertain: the fallen can rise again,
while those you think could never be thrown are beaten.
So if you’ve called all lovers idlers, forget it.
Love is all experience and ability.
Great Achilles burns for stolen Briseis –
while you can Trojans, smash the Argive wall!
Hector went into battle from Andromache’s arms,
it was the wife who placed the helmet on his head.
The great lord Atrides, they say, seeing Cassandra
that Trojan Maenad, was enraptured by her flowing hair.
Mars too, surprised, felt the blacksmith’s chain mesh:
there was never a greater scandal in heaven.
I myself was lazy and born to idle leisure:
bed and shade both softened my mind.
Love for a lovely girl soon drove the idler
and ordered him off to earn his pay in camp.
Now see me, active and fighting nocturnal wars.
If you don’t want to be idle, fall in love!

from The Amores by Publius Ovidius

“I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony , half hope. Tell me not that I’m too late, that such precious feelings are gone forever. I offer myself to you again with heart even more your own, than when you almost broke it eight years and a half ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant..”

Jane Austen ( from PERSUASION – Captain Fredrick Wentworth to Anne Elliot)