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For what is man’s soul but a flame. It flickers in and around the body of a man as does the flame around the rough log.
Now, one winter’s night, when the folk who sat around the fire had been silently gazing into the flames for a while, the fire began to speak to one and all, in their own language.
“Brother soul,” it would say to one, “are you not a log, too? Why are you so sad and heavy?”
“Sister flame,” would answer the human soul, “I have been chopping wood and minding the housework all day. I want nothing better than to sit still and watch you.”
“I know,” said the fire. “But, now it is evening, do as I do, shine and sparkle! Fun and warmth!”
And the souls obeyed the fire and began to play. They told stories, guessed riddles, they tuned the fiddles and hung garlands on the tools and implements. Then they sang songs, played forfeits, and recalled old proverbs, thus thawing the ice out of their limbs, the peevishness out of their minds. They woke up and were merry, for the fire renewed in their hearts the wish to live out their humble and difficult lives.
–Selma Lagerlöf, Kristuslegender (1904)
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:
The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.
Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”