Tuesday, August 26, 2008

For My Uncle Dan . . .

Dear All:

A few days ago, I attended the funeral of my Uncle Dan. He was born in County Kerry, Ireland, in 1907 and came to America at age twenty. Two years ago, he went back to Ireland and still knew every road, and recognized people he hadn't seen for seventy years. He led a rich life, left three children and two grandchildren behind, and was noted for his joy. Not many people get such a good deal out of existence.

But it was a sad day anyway.

During the services, the following verses, from Ecclesiastes, were recited more than once:

To every thing there is a season,
And a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die;

A time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

A time to kill, and a time to heal;

A time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, and a time to dance;

A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose;

A time to keep, and a time to cast away;

A time to rend, and a time to sew;
A time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate;

A time of war, and a time of peace.

Simple words, and a solace when you're saying goodbye to somebody who's had a full life. I want to note, however, that much of English and American literature is solidly built upon the Bible and specifically, the King James Version. Why? Because every family had a Bible. Even families that disapproved of books saw nothing wrong with reading the Bible. Lots of writers learned about cadence and language from the Old Testament.

The King James Version is also perhaps the only major work of literature ever written by a committee. First published in 1611, it was commissioned by King James I of England on behalf of the Church of England, and apparently involved over fifty translators. Nevertheless, it remains the gold standard for rich, sonant language. That was (the tail end of) the age of Shakespeare, remember. The vernacular was particularly good.

Even the KJV nods, however. Usually people say "under Heaven," rather than "under the heaven." This is how traditional verse perfects itself. Wording that sounds good for a decade or a century is eventually rubbed away, "all that glisters is not gold" changes the suspect word to "glitters," and so on.

All for today,



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