Ulysses & Henry

I feel my advancing mortality more each time school starts up again.   Every autumn I find the stairs a little steeper, the distance from building to building a little farther.   Each year the students are the same age, and I see their eyes filled with hope, and ideas, and more energy than I can dimly remember having myself.   But each year, I slow a little more.  My vision fails a little more.  And the horizon of my dreams contracts, yet still remains out of reach.

This last year was supposed to be a year of sabbatical and renewal, but was a year of challenges, of ideas thwarted, and hurts endured: I lost more than I gained.  The morrow brings burden to this weary shell,  perhaps no greater than any other year, but certainly no less.  It is the labors of Sisyphus, while my efforts to bring some focus to the problems of security and privacy more resemble those of Cassandra than that son of Aeolus.

I was expressing some of this on one of my network sites; friend Corey then sent me a link to Tennyson’s poem, Ulysses, which I have not read in over 35 years.   It is a boon to have friends, and especially friends who know classic thoughts to share.   Here is the last paragraph of Tennyson’s work:

There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toil’d, and wrought, and thought with me—
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads—you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
’Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Wonderful, and I understand it more than 35 years ago.   It also brings to mind the following, from Henry V by Shakespeare:

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead.
In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour’d rage;
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect;
Let pry through the portage of the head
Like the brass cannon; let the brow o’erwhelm it
As fearfully as doth a galled rock
O’erhang and jutty his confounded base,
Swill’d with the wild and wasteful ocean.
Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide,
Hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit
To his full height. On, on, you noblest English.
Whose blood is fet from fathers of war-proof!
Fathers that, like so many Alexanders,
Have in these parts from morn till even fought
And sheathed their swords for lack of argument:
Dishonour not your mothers; now attest
That those whom you call’d fathers did beget you.
Be copy now to men of grosser blood,
And teach them how to war. And you, good yeoman,
Whose limbs were made in England, show us here
The mettle of your pasture; let us swear
That you are worth your breeding; which I doubt not;
For there is none of you so mean and base,
That hath not noble lustre in your eyes.
I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game’s afoot:
Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!’

And Daniel sent a quote by George Bernard Shaw: “Life is no brief candle to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got a hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it onto future generations.”

So, tomorrow – perhaps not quite at the dawn – it will be once more into the breach … to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.  Perhaps not so much in the cause of St. George, but more in the spirit of Prometheus.  There is fire to be gifted, and I may yet grasp the rush and bring the flame, despite the curse of Zeus.

Thanks, Corey.

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