Back in 2007, a Taiwanese mother hired me to coach her eight-year-old son, who was preparing for an English recitation contest in which he was to recite two texts -- a soliloquy from Macbeth and some sententious glurge from John D. Rockefeller, Jr. The mother stressed that understanding was not important. So long as her son could rattle off the two pieces fluently, with flawless pronunciation, she could care less whether he could tell "the dignity of labor, whether with head or hand" from "the way to dusty death." We worked hard. Within the limits of my commission, I thought I'd done a pretty bang-up job, and when the day of the recitation contest arrived, he delivered his text with impeccable consonants and stirringly simulated conviction -- all perfect until he came to the end:
Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound financial structure,
Whether in government, business, or personal affairs.
He was heartily applauded by the audience of parents, who of course didn't know what he'd just said any better than he did, and ended up taking second place. Somehow I managed to keep a straight face throughout.
I've always liked to think my old friends the synchronicity fairies had a hand in that particular error, plugging a line of Junior's pompous fluff into the slot marked "sound and fury, signifying nothing."
The world is too much with us; late and soon,Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers; --Little we see in Nature that is ours;We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;The winds that will be howling at all hours,And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;For this, for everything, we are out of tune;It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather beA Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.
-- William Wordsworth
Welcome, O life! I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.
Old father, old artificer, stand me now and ever in good stead.
-- James Joyce