To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Those words are Shakespeare's coming from the mouth of MacBeth. I purloined a few of those words to create something upon the same sad subject but slathered with hope rather than steeped in MacBeth's bitter despair. The occasion in my case was the passing of a close cousin.
Here's my version:
We watched in pain as all his tomorrows slowly faded into yesterdays.
The petty pace of day to day pressed him ever down the wandering path from the womb toward the clay.
His candle now burns elsewhere for his hour has played out upon this stage.
His syllables of sound and fury, reason, lecture, and love come no more to our listening ear.
Yet there is significance in his tale for each of us to discern for the shadows of his candle continue to flicker here.
No man remains an island when family and friends gather round him.
We bid him adieu at that bridge betwixt here and wide eternity, promising to meet there once again.
There the hosts are gathered of family and friends gone on to welcome him home across the bridge.
I think it's fitting to move on to the book I've been promising to review. My cousin would approve.
I first remember reading this book in high school. I think I had read it during junior high but didn't really remember it--perhaps I hadn't finished it. I know that I had read Tom Sawyer, but Huckleberry Finn is a much deeper, more substantial work than Tom Sawyer. When I read HF again in college, the professor referred to TS as "a boy's book," a basic adventure story for boys. HF is not only a boy's adventure, its a fascinating look at the life and culture along the Mississippi. It is an indictment of slavery, racism, and prejudice of several kinds. Twain's frequent stabs at religion are also very entertaining.
Huck Finn may be among the most interesting characters ever created in American literature. He has common sense but is burdened--even crippled--by superstition, as well as a conscience so tangled in the culture of slavery and the petty, prickly points of misunderstood religious teachings that he constantly struggles with what he feels is right versus what the culture has told him he must believe is right. The clear winner as the best, kindest, most sympathetic person depicted in the book is Jim.
It has been a few weeks since I finished the book so I don't remember all of my observations. I'm certain there are many learned dissertations upon the symbolism, meaning, and significance of the various characters and events. I'll steer my raft clear of that treacherous current.
Two interesting, funny, and ultimately repugnant characters are the Duke and the Dauphin. Below is Huck's recounting of Hamlet's soliloquy as given by the Duke:
He told us to give attention. Then he strikes a most noble attitude, with one leg shoved forwards, and his arms stretched away up, and his head tilted back, looking up at the sky; and then he begins to rip and rave and grit his teeth; and after that, all through his speech, he howled, and spread around, and swelled up his chest, and just knocked the spots out of any acting ever I see before. This is the speech — I learned it, easy enough, while he was learning it to the king:
"To be, or not to be; that is the bare bodkin That makes calamity of so long life; For who would fardels bear, till Birnam Wood do come to Dunsinane, But that the fear of something after death Murders the innocent sleep, Great nature’s second course, And makes us rather sling the arrows of outrageous fortune Than fly to others that we know not of. There’s the respect must give us pause: Wake Duncan with thy knocking! I would thou couldst; For who would bear the whips and scorns of time, The oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely, The law’s delay, and the quietus which his pangs might take, In the dead waste and middle of the night, when churchyards yawn In customary suits of solemn black, But that the undiscovered country from whose bourne no traveler returns, Breathes forth contagion on the world, And thus the native hue of resolution, like the poor cat i’ the adage, Is sicklied o’er with care, And all the clouds that lowered o’er our housetops, With this regard their currents turn awry, And lose the name of action. ’Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished. But soft you, the fair Ophelia: Ope not thy ponderous and marble jaws, But get thee to a nunnery — go!"
Well, the old man he liked that speech, and he mighty soon got it so he could do it first-rate. It seemed like he was just born for it; and when he had his hand in and was excited, it was perfectly lovely the way he would rip and tear and rair up behind when he was getting it off.
It is certainly some entertaining Shakespearean goulash. HF is one of the few books that has actually made me laugh out loud. There is a change of tone in the novel once Jim has been sold out by the pair mentioned above and Tom Sawyer arrives. Huck's recounting of Tom and Huck's rescue of Jim from slavery may be some of the funniest chapters ever written in the English language. That part almost goes on too long, but is so hilarious that I must forgive Twain for his indulgence.
It was during the production of the recent play that I was finishing my reading of the book, reading between acts of the play. Much to the consternation of a couple of my fellow actors, I burst out laughing. Tom and Huck are attempting to free Jim who has been confined in a shed and chained to the bed. A metal ring attaches Jim's chain to the bed leg. The bed can easily be lifted and the ring removed from the bed leg, but Tom has to make a grand production of the rescue to match the difficulties depicted in novels. Naturally, Huck doesn't see the sense in complicating the matter. I had to laugh aloud when I read this:
"...I wish there was a moat to this cabin. If we get time, the night of the escape, we’ll dig one.”
“What do we want of a moat when we’re going to snake him out from under the cabin?”
But he never heard me. He had forgot me and everything else. He had his chin in his hand, thinking. Pretty soon he sighs and shakes his head; then sighs again, and says:
“No, it wouldn’t do — there ain’t necessity enough for it.”
“For what?” I says.
“Why, to saw Jim’s leg off,” he says.
“Good land!” I says; “why, there ain’t NO necessity for it. And what would you want to saw his leg off for, anyway?”
“Well, some of the best authorities has done it. They couldn’t get the chain off, so they just cut their hand off and shoved. And a leg would be better still. But we got to let that go. There ain’t necessity enough in this case; and, besides, Jim’s a nigger, and wouldn’t understand the reasons for it, and how it’s the custom in Europe; so we’ll let it go. But there’s one thing — he can have a rope ladder; we can tear up our sheets and make him a rope ladder easy enough. And we can send it to him in a pie; it’s mostly done that way. And I’ve et worse pies.”
The sawing Jim's leg off bit made me laugh aloud; "I've et worse pies" nearly made me pass out.
The part about "lettin' on" to be doing something one way for dramatic effect while actually doing it an easier way was the icing on the comedy cake.
I rate this book as The Great American Novel. Everyone should read this book several times during their lifetime. Anyone who wants to ban this book utterly misses the meaning of the work.
In my own writing, chapter 3 of Book 3 is coming along nicely. I think more dragon (as opposed to cowbell) may be the answer to one of my plotting dilemmas. Book 3 will be dedicated to the cousin mentioned above.
These are the first two books in the series. Get them now by clicking the links at the upper left of the blog.