Friday, November 16, 2007


Life's Candle

In The Time Allotted, I discussed the idea that we have a fixed amount of time to live. Two expressions of this idea in mythology and literature are (1) a thread whose length is decided when we are born, and (2) a barrel with an predetermined amount of wine that keeps spilling out until the barrel is dry and we are dead.

There is another expression of the same idea in the Grimm Brothers' fairy tale Godfather Death (Der Gevatter Tod, tr. Jack Zipes):
He grabbed the doctor so hard with his icy hand that the young man could not resist. Then he led him down into an underground cave. There the doctor saw thousands and thousands of candles burning in countless rows, some large, some medium, others small. With every moment some went out and others flared up again, so that the little flames seemed to be constantly changing and popping up and down.

"You see," said Death, "these candles are the lights of people's lives. The large ones belong to the children, the medium ones to married couples in their best years, the small ones to old people. But often children and young people can have small candles too."

"Show me my life candle," the doctor said, for he thought it would still be quite large.

Death pointed to a tiny stub that was just about to go out and said, "There it is. You see it?"

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