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.
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:
I dwell in a lonely house I know
That vanished many a summer ago,
And left no trace but the cellar walls,
And a cellar in which the daylight falls
And the purple-stemmed wild raspberries grow.
O’er ruined fences the grape-vines shield
The woods come back to the mowing field;
The orchard tree has grown one copse
Of new wood and old where the woodpecker chops;
The footpath down to the well is healed.
I dwell with a strangely aching heart
In that vanished abode there far apart
On that disused and forgotten road
That has no dust-bath now for the toad.
Night comes; the black bats tumble and dart;
The whippoorwill is coming to shout
And hush and cluck and flutter about:
I hear him begin far enough away
Full many a time to say his say
Before he arrives to say it out.
It is under the small, dim, summer star.
I know not who these mute folk are
Who share the unlit place with me—
Those stones out under the low-limbed tree
Doubtless bear names that the mosses mar.
They are tireless folk, but slow and sad—
Though two, close-keeping, are lass and lad,—
With none among them that ever sings,
And yet, in view of how many things,
As sweet companions as might be had.
This poem drips melancholy from each stanza. I get the impression of a man in his later years, who is basically living in the past. His life is nothing but the ruined remnants of what he was in his youth. The images of the raspberry growing in the ruins of what was once the cellar (a symbol for the foundation upon which his life was once built) is particularly poignant. While the raspberries are delicious summer berries, representing the sweetness of his youth, the brambles on which the berries grow are full of thorns, and the vines are like painful memories, sharp and prickly, entwined in his brain.
Several types of birds appear in the poem, and each one symbolizes a part of his memory. The woodpecker is the constant tapping, tapping, tapping of his past, reminding him of what is lost. The bats are the memories which haunt him at night, fluttering through his dreams. The other birds—whippoorwill, hush, and cluck—symbolize the happier memories of his childhood, calling back to him.
I feel there is a larger overarching theme here. Nature reclaims all that is created. The house is reclaimed by nature, overgrown and reduced to little more than a crumbling foundation. Likewise, the man knows that nature is about to reclaim him, and like the house, all that will remain of him will be an old, crumbling, neglected gravestone, covered with brambles.
I awoke this morning to the sights and sounds of a thunderstorm here in the Appalachian Mountains. It dawned on me that it was Christmas Eve and that I generally like to read and write about something appropriate for the holiday. But with the stresses of my relatively new job and being engrossed in reading the very long and dense Infinite Jest, I failed to look for something to read that was seasonal. So I gave it a little thought and decided that I would read the lyrics to one of my favorite Christmas songs and analyze it as a poem.
They said there’ll be snow at Christmas
They said there’ll be peace on earth
But instead it just kept on raining
A veil of tears for the Virgin’s birth
I remember one Christmas morning
A winter’s light and a distant choir
And the peal of a bell and that Christmas tree smell
And their eyes full of tinsel and fire
They sold me a dream of Christmas
They sold me a silent night
And they told me a fairy story
’till I believed in the Israelite
And I believed in Father Christmas
And I looked at the sky with excited eyes
’till I woke with a yawn in the first light of dawn
And I saw him and through his disguise
I wish you a hopeful Christmas
I wish you a brave New Year
All anguish, pain, and sadness
Leave your heart and let your road be clear
They said there’ll be snow at Christmas
They said there’ll be peace on Earth
Hallelujah, Noel, be it Heaven or Hell
The Christmas we get, we deserve
What I find most amazing about this poem (yes, I will refer to it as a poem instead of a song) is the expression of contradictory emotions. On one hand, there is disillusion and a touch of sadness, yet this is contrasted by feelings of hope and optimism at the possibility for happiness and spiritual joy. And it is done in such a way that I cannot say which side of the emotional spectrum is most strongly expressed. The result is that you connect to this poem based upon your own emotional state when you engage with it. So if you are feeling sad, you connect with the sadness but then get touched with a sense of hope. Conversely, if you are brimming with joy and happiness, you get that from the poem too, but tempered with the knowledge that there is still sadness in the world and that all things, even the joyous, will pass.
We have all heard the old cliché, that we create our own Heaven and Hell. I believe this, and I love the way it is expressed at the end of this poem. The choices we make and the thoughts that we choose to latch on to directly impact our feelings and the reality around us. If we choose the path of spirituality and happiness, then we deserve the blessings that accompany those conscious decisions and should celebrate those blessings. But if we choose to focus on the negative and the path of hate and fear, then we also deserve the life that we are burdened with and must accept responsibility for the reality which we helped create.
I wish all of you many blessings for the holidays and New Year, regardless of which holiday you observe or whether you observe a holiday at all. For myself, I am going to focus on my family and spreading more happiness, love, compassion, and understanding, because I think the world could use a little more of that right about now.
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