Tag Archives: epitaph

Final Thoughts on “Don Quixote”

The Death of Don Quixote — Gustave Dore

The Death of Don Quixote — Gustave Dore

So I finally finished Don Quixote, and I figured I would give my overall impression and final thoughts, since I published a whole series of posts exploring specific aspects of the text (see links below).

As a whole, I liked this book a lot. It was funny yet thought-provoking. It’s pretty much an easy read (although quite long) and the story holds up well today, since it deals with some universal truths about humanity.

I really related to both Sancho and Don Quixote as characters, because they are essentially outcasts, as well as archetypes of creative and passionate people. And like most creative and romantic outcasts, they are picked on, ridiculed, and taunted by people who are more popular, richer, and “smarter” than they are. But in spite of all the abuse, the two remain steadfast in their ideals and follow their passions until the end. This is something I admire greatly.

It is a person’s dreams, imagination, and aspirations that make life meaningful and worth living. When deprived of these, we lose our will to live and we begin the process of dying. This is what happened to Don Quixote when he was defeated and had to relinquish living as a knight-errant.

But for all this, Don Quixote could not shake off his sadness. His friends called in the doctor, who felt his pulse and was not very well satisfied with it, and said that in any case it would be well for him to attend to the health of his soul, as that of his body was in a bad way. Don Quixote heard this calmly; but not so the housekeeper, his niece, and his squire, who fell weeping bitterly, as if they had him lying dead before them. The doctor’s opinion was that melancholy and depression were bringing him to his end.

(p. 1124)

The only way that feels right in bringing this blog series to a close is to share the epitaph for Don Quixote’s tomb:

A doughty gentleman lies here;
A stranger all his life to fear;
Nor in his death could Death prevail,
In that last hour, to make him quail.

He for the world but little cared;
And at his feats the world was scared;
A crazy man his life he passed,
But in his senses died at last.


For those of you who are interested, here are the links to my previous posts on the book:

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“Four Quartets” by T.S. Eliot – Part 4 of 4: Little Gidding

FourQuartets

For my fourth and final installment on T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, I decided to do something a little different. For each of the first three poems, I explored some of the themes and symbolism that appeared throughout the poems. For “Little Gidding” I am going to focus on a single motif: Eliot’s impressions of the impact his poetry had on the world.

Eliot was 54 when he completed this poem in 1942. This would have been right in the midst of World War II. It is not surprising that as he was entering the later years of his life and observing the turmoil around him that he would contemplate the impact he might have had on the world as well as his contributions to humanity.

There are two sections of the poem that I want to explore. The first is within the long stanza at the end of Part II. Here, Eliot is having a conversation with himself. The elder self, having the wisdom that comes with experience, shares his insights with the younger self.

For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.
But, as the passage now presents no hindrance
To the spirit unappeased and peregrine
Between two worlds become much like each other,
So I find words I never thought to speak
In streets I never thought I should revisit
When I left my body on a distant shore.
Since our concern was speech, and speech impelled us
To purify the dialect of the tribe
And urge the mind to aftersight and foresight,
Let me disclose the gifts reserved for age
To set a crown upon your lifetime’s effort.

It appears that Eliot feels he is at the end of his creative period and that a new voice, or new poet, is needed to begin advancing the next generation. I sense a touch of sadness, but the older self is encouraging and validating, reminding himself that his words had an impact, that they have value. Eliot’s poetry can certainly “urge the mind to aftersight and foresight.” I know that whenever I have read anything by Eliot, I find myself examining my past and at the same time envisioning my future, while somehow staying centered in the present.

The other section I want to talk about appears at the beginning of Part V.

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from. And every phrase
And sentence that is right (where every word is at home,
Taking its place to support the others,
The word neither diffident not ostentatious,
An easy commerce of the old and the new,
The common word exact without vulgarity,
The formal word precise but not pedantic,
The complete consort dancing together)
Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,
Every poem an epitaph.

I almost feel guilty writing about this section. It is so beautiful and honest, I feel like anything I write would fail to live up to the poetic beauty expressed here. It is the perfect description of Eliot’s poetry. When I think about all the poetry I have read by Eliot, it is true that every phrase and every sentence is just right. Every word that he chooses, whether common or formal, fits right in and does not seem out of place. The cadence of the language has an innate musicality that causes the words to dance together, bringing the poems to life. And yes, “every poem is an epitaph.” Each of his poems honors his genius and his contributions to humanity.

As a writer and a musician, I am no different from many other artists. I have no desire to become rich and powerful, but I have a humble hope that something which I create and share might have a positive impact on another person. I wish I could let Mr. Eliot know that his words have made a difference in my life.

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