Tag Archives: shepherd

Thoughts on “Don Quixote” – Part 2: At the Crossroads

Painting by Wilhelm Marstrand

Painting by Wilhelm Marstrand

One of the symbols that I have always found fascinating is the crossroads. Not only is it a representation of a point in our lives where we must choose a direction, but it is also an intersection between two realms: the conscious and subconscious, life and death, past and present. Maya Deren’s exploration of voudou offers great insights into the powerful symbolism of the crossroads.

Anyway, as I am continuing to read through Cervantes, I have noticed the symbol appearing in the text. In fact, Don Quixote states in no uncertain terms how important the crossroads are.

To which Don Quixote replied, “Thou must take notice, brother Sancho, that this adventure and those like it are not adventures of islands, but of crossroads, in which nothing is got except a broken head or an ear the less: have patience, for adventures will present themselves from which I may make you, not only a governor, but something more.”

(p. 65)

What is being expressed here is that the story of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza conveys more than what appears on the surface. It is not just an island in the vast sea of literature. It is a mystical place where the spiritual and the physical meet, where the veil between reality and the imagination is torn away.

Not long after this passage, Don Quixote and Sancho meet a group of shepherds at a crossroads who are on their way to a funeral.

They had not gone a quarter of a league when at the meeting of two paths they saw coming towards them some six shepherds dressed in black sheepskins and with their heads crowned with garlands of cypress and bitter oleander, Each of them carried a stout holly staff in his hand and along with them came two men of quality on horseback in handsome travelling dress, with three servants on foot accompanying them. Courteous salutations were exchanged on meeting, and inquiring one of the other which way each party was going, they learned that all were bound for the scene of the burial, so they went on all together.

(p. 86)

Here we have the intersection between life and death. The three plants that are mentioned—cypress, oleander, and holly—are all evergreens and symbolize the cycles of life, death, and rebirth.

I still have a long way to go in this book, and I suspect that Don Quixote and Sancho will find themselves at many other crossroads along their journey. I look forward to seeing which pathways they choose.

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“The Shepherd” by William Blake

BlakeShepherdI was in the mood to read some William Blake today, so I picked up my copy of Songs of Innocence and of Experience and read the first poem which I had not yet covered in my blog, which was “The Shepherd.” It is very short, so I am including it here in the post.

How sweet is the Shepherd’s sweet lot!
From the morn to the evening he strays;
He shall follow his sheep all the day,
And his tongue shall be filled with praise.

For he hears the lamb’s innocent call,
And he hears the ewe’s tender reply;
He is watchful while they are in peace,
For they know when their Shepherd is nigh.

This poem seems very simple, yet something about it puzzles me, and the more I think about it, the more puzzled I become. The first thing that struck me was the repetition of the word “sweet” in the first line. It could be that Blake was just going for an alliterative effect, but that doesn’t seem right. He was subtly hinting at something, but I am not making the connection. Then the following line ends with another alliterative: “strays.” Again, something is not sitting right with me about this. The shepherd is not straying; he is staying with the flock. I cannot figure out why Blake chose “strays” instead of “stays.”

The biggest puzzle for me though is that at the end of the first stanza, where it is said that the Shepherd’s “tongue shall be filled with praise.” This seems to contrast the entire second stanza, which to me seems to imply that the Shepherd is Christ watching over his flock. If that is the case, why would Christ follow and praise the flock? It seems that it would be the opposite, that the flock would follow and praise Christ the Shepherd. The only explanation I can come up with is that the Shepherd recognizes that there is beauty, divinity, and holiness in the flock and seeks to nurture and protect that divinity, and to sing the praises of God’s manifestation in humanity.

I’m very interested in hearing your thoughts on this poem. Do you think that I am searching too deeply for hidden meaning or do you think my questions are valid? Let me know your interpretations. Cheers!!

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Filed under Literature, Spiritual