The Great Minimum

January 13, 2009

The Great Minimum

It is something to have wept as we have wept,
It is something to have done as we have done,
It is something to have watched when all men slept,
And seen the stars which never see the sun

It is something to have smelt the mystic rose,
Although it break and leave the thorny rods,
It is something to have hungered once as those
Must hunger who have ate the bread of gods.

To have seen you and your unforgotten face,
Brave as a blast of trumpets for the fray,
Pure as white lilies in a watery space,
It were something, though you went from me today.

To have known the things that from the weak are furled,
Perilous ancient passions, strange and high;
It is something to be wiser than the world,
It is something to be older than the sky.

In a time of sceptic moths and cynic rusts,
And fattened lives that of their sweetness tire
In a world of flying loves and fading lusts,
It is something to be sure of a desire.

Lo, blessed are our ears for they have heard;
Yea, blessed are our eyes for they have seen:
Let the thunder break on man and beast and bird
And the lightning. It is something to have been.

G. K. Chesterton

Time is a tyranny. It makes us believe that what we continue to possess is far more important than what we cannot hold on to, that what stays unchanged is worth more than what is learnt or tasted in a fleeting experience. Chesterton reminds us, however, that the moment is a unique humane entity: in its fold, despite its miniscule amount, we all find ourselves secret antiquarians. The moment is itself the metaphor for all things quantitatively trivial only when we fail to understand life. Everyone of us know the stuff that is “something” — irreplaceable, threateningly unfamiliar, and invigorating — and not just “some thing”. Chesterton’s repeated words “It is something” themselves play up the fact that, in the life of memory, there are some lost truths we nonetheless keep returning to if only to draw on them as resource for life’s reevaluation and sustenance. It is something for me today, surely, to have made such a realisation.

Gwee Li Sui

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