Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Rind Enclosing a Fruit of Wisdom

Once again, I want to draw a lesson out of Thomas Carlyle's 31 March 1829 letter to Henry Inglas. Here is the text I quoted recently:

...I look forward to see how in the future you will unfold and turn to use so fair a talent. For henceforth, it depends nearly altogether on yourself: if you can but learn the lessons which Experience will teach you, it matters little whether these be of a sweet or bitter nature: the bitter as well as the sweet are but the rind enclosing a fruit of Wisdom, which is in itself celestial and perennial. Diligence, unwearied steadfast Endeavour; ‘like the stars, unhasting, unresting’!

I love Carlyle's metaphor of the rind that encloses, encapsulates a fruit of wisdom--actually Wisdom, personified. Metaphor almost always does a good job of explaining concepts, at least metaphors done well do. Carlyle did this well, in my judgment.

So the experiences of life should serve to provide Wisdom, and this Wisdom should then help you in your life. Perhaps what Carlyle wrote next will also be of interest.

This is the sceptre with which man rules his Destiny; and tho' fragile as a reed, removes mountains, spiritual as well as physical. I need not remind you here that such Diligence as will avail is not of book-studies alone; but primarily, and in a far higher degree respects the heart and moral dispositions. He who loves Truth, knows it to be priceless, and cleaves to it thro' all shapes, in thought, word, and deed, as to the life of his soul. Nay I believe the first and infinitely the most important question with regard to any Student of Knowledge is precisely this very question, so often overlooked: what is the state of his moral temper and practice? Does he really love Truth, or only the market-price of Truth, the praise and money it will sell for? Has he conquered his vanity; or, rather since that is impossible, is he faithfully striving against it?

I find that inspiring.

Writers are always looking for ideas for writing. Some writers struggle with this, being at paper with pen and drawing a blank. Others don't. I don't tend to have a problem with writing ideas. Sometimes capturing them and keep them from fleeing before they can be permanently locked down in a manner that will allow future development is a problem, but not the ideas themselves. These ideas typically come from life experiences, as Carlyle suggests.

One such event happened on 17 August 2004, and I wrote this cinquain as a result.

They met
on Tuesday morn,
quite accidentally.
You think it fate that made two one
head on?

What was the incident? A head on collision that I came upon perhaps five minutes after it happened, while on my morning commute. West Bound and East Bound, on that rural highway, found themselves in the same spot on the road, on a curve. The speed of the impact and centrifugal force forced the cars, now fused together, off the road outside the curve. By the time I went by, three or four other cars had stopped. One person was on a cell phone and three others were working car doors. I didn't figure my feeble physical skill would provide any more help than was already at work, so I went on. About seven minutes later emergency vehicles from town came at and passed me. I don't see how anyone could have survived the accident, but I never saw the police report to learn the details.

I decided to write the cinquain about the experience, forcing myself to stay within constraints of the cinquain form, trying disguising the words enough to imply a different meaning--a relationship--without leaving the other meaning out. I think I achieved that aim.

That was one of Experience's bitter lessons, one about driving I hoped I learned, and one about writing ideas.

More about this letter from Carlyle to Inglis in my next post.

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