Friday, July 29, 2005

"To die and go we know not where"

If you open my current reading box on the right, you'll see that I've devoured Joe Simpson's Touching the Void (well literally, you'll see that I've finished reading it and recommend it, but understand that I devoured it. The link here is to the Wikipedia entry. The one on the right is to Amazon.

Simpson's narrative is powerful. The language is appropriately direct & unflowery. Literary images are few. There's frequent blunt confrontation with imminent death. At one point, Joe recalls a speech from Measure for Measure that he memorized as a teenager in studying for his O-Level exams. The speech is a good one. I've copied it below with a little context by Seamus Cooney.

From Shakespeare, Measure for Measure, Act III, Scene I:

Seamus Cooney: "Isabella, a nun, can save her brother's life by yielding her chastity to the wicked ruler -- which she refuses to do. Here she brings Claudio the news that he cannot expect a reprieve."

CLAUDIO: Has he affections in him,
That thus can make him bite the law by the nose,
When he would force it? Sure, it is no sin,
Or of the deadly seven, it is the least.
ISABELLA: Which is the least?
CLAUDIO: If it were damnable, he being so wise,
Why would he for the momentary trick
Be perdurably fined? O Isabel!
ISABELLA: What says my brother?
CLAUDIO: Death is a fearful thing.
ISABELLA: And shamed life a hateful.

CLAUDIO: Ay, but to die, and go we know not where;
To lie in cold obstruction and to rot;
This sensible warm motion to become
A kneaded clod; and the delighted spirit
To bathe in fiery floods, or to reside
In thrilling region of thick-ribbed ice;
To be imprison'd in the viewless winds,
And blown with restless violence round about
The pendent world; or to be worse than worst
Of those that lawless and incertain thought
Imagine howling: 'tis too horrible!
The weariest and most loathed worldly life
That age, ache, penury and imprisonment
Can lay on nature is a paradise
To what we fear of death.

No comments: