Life as a kind of music

by hillarymay

I should probably be studying right now. In fact, I can think of at least five different things that I should be doing, but I just can’t seem to take my mind off of a particular passage I read in East of Eden. Not sure why this happens sometimes. And now that I’m thinking about it, I have gone a little crazy this week with the excerpts. Oh well. I can’t seem to help myself.

Lee said, “Mr. Hamilton, you’re going away and you’re not coming back. You do not intend to live much longer.”

“That’s true, Lee. How did you know?”

“There’s death all around you. It shines from you.”

“I didn’t know anyone could see it,” Samuel said. “You know, Lee, I think of my life as a kind of music, not always good music but still having form and melody. And my life has not been a full orchestra for a long time now. A single note only – and that note unchanging sorrow. I’m not alone in my attitude, Lee. It seems to me that too many of us conceive of a life as ending in defeat.”

Lee said, “Maybe everyone is too rich. I have noticed that there is no dissatisfaction like that of the rich. Feed a man, clothe him, put him in a good house, and he will die of despair.”

“It was your two-word retranslation, Lee – ‘Thou mayest.’ It took me by the throat and shook me, And when the dizziness was over, a path was open, new and bright. And my life which is ending seems to be going on to an ending wonderful. And my music has a new last melody like a bird song in the night.”

Lee was peering at him through the darkness. “That’s what it did to those old men in my family.”

‘Thou mayst rule over sin, Lee. That’s it. I do not believe all men are destroyed. I can name you a dozen who were not, and they are the ones the world lives by. It is true of the spirit as it is true of battles – only the winners are remembered. Surely most men are destroyed, but there are others who like pillars of fire guide frightened men through the darkness. ‘Thou mayest, Thou mayest!’ What glory! It is true that we are weak and sick and quarrelsome, but if that is all we ever were, we would, millenniums ago, have disappeared from the face of the earth. A few remnants of fossilized jawbone, some broken teeth in strata of limestone, would be the only mark a man would have left of his existence in the world. But the choice, Lee, the choice of winning! I had never understood or accepted it before.”

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