A Parable

Biblical Languages Jul 31, 2009

Classes couldn’t take me any further. I studied Italian in highschool and college, but there comes a point when you have to immerse yourself into not just the language, but also the culture to truly understand how the people think in their mother tongue. I had planned my steps carefully, plotting my stay and travels. During that time, an interesting exchange took place.

He sat holding a tired Italian translation of Shakespeare’s sonnets. English is my native language and over the years I have grown to love all its peculiarities, but few pieces of art matched the simple beauty of the Sonnets. He was an older man, perhaps in his late sixties. Having wedged himself in the corner of a park bench, his right leg crossed his left. He looked tired, but blissful. Unconscious of my standing there, he peered intently into the pages, occasionally muttering something to himself.

“Good afternoon,” I began, subconsciously employing my Italian.
“Good afternoon,” He said looking up from his reading.
“I noticed you’re reading Shakespeare, do you enjoy it?”

His eyes lifted his heavy brow as he took a deep breath, he looked back full of conviction and said, “I live for Shakespeare.”

I tried to make sense of that comment when he continued. “My life was through. It was over. I had given up. I was headed to make my own end when someone walked by and, without a word, put a copy of the sonnets in my hand. I opened to the middle and found number thirty.” His head leaned back as he closed his eyes and recited,

“When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste:
Then can I drown an eye, unused to flow,
For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night,
And weep afresh love’s long since canceled woe,
And moan th’ expense of many a vanished sight.
Then can I grieve at grievances forgone,
And heavily from woe to woe tell o’er
The sad account of forbemoaned moan,
Which I new pay as if not paid before.
But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restored and sorrows end.”

He looked back at me. “It saved my life. That was thirty-seven years ago and I have dedicated myself to his writings ever since.”

I was thoroughly impressed. Not just because I had never heard a sonnet in Italian before, but also by this man’s passion. He had found his true love. Curious about his studies, I asked, “So, are you planning to learn how to read Shakespearian English?”

He laughed, “No, I don’t have the time and it’s a very difficult language. Besides, the translations are good enough for me.”

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