Monday, December 20, 2010

The Troll's Story

Photograph taken in 1882 by Napoleon Sarony

Wiki says:
Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde (16 October 1854 – 30 November 1900) was an Irish writer, poet, and prominent aesthete who, after writing in different forms throughout the 1880s, became one of London's most popular playwrights in the early 1890s. Today he is remembered for his epigrams, plays and the tragedy of his imprisonment, followed by his early death.

Wilde produced four society comedies in the early 1890s, which made him one of the most successful playwrights of late Victorian London.

At the height of his fame and success, whilst his masterpiece, The Importance of Being Earnest, was still on stage in London, Wilde sued his lover's father for libel. After a series of trials, Wilde was convicted of gross indecency with other men and imprisoned for two years, held to hard labour. In prison he wrote De Profundis, a long letter which discusses his spiritual journey through his trials, forming a dark counterpoint to his earlier philosophy of pleasure. Upon his release he left immediately for France, never to return to Ireland or Britain. There he wrote his last work, The Ballad of Reading Gaol, a long poem commemorating the harsh rhythms of prison life. He died destitute in Paris at the age of forty-six.

Three quotes by Oscar Wilde:
“A thing is not necessarily true because a man dies for it.”

“The truth is rarely pure and never simple.”

“There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.”

I am no Oscar Wilde, cutting a wide swath through my contemporaries. My life has been almost completely driven by fate and destiny. It has always been a matter of response. I mean that the world has offered and I have responded. I doubt I could be less convinced that I am the captain of my own fate, or rather, not the "me" who is living it. In some larger sense, I may yet be captain of my fate and rather think that is the deeper truth, that I am in collaboration somehow with my destiny but that would be the "me" before I was born into this life and after the last, the "me" that will survive this one. Whatever that means.

W. Somerset Maugham told a fable concerning fate about the servant of a man living in Baghdad. That servant had gone on an errand into the Baghdad market for his master, there to be jostled by a woman. He turned and realized that he had been jostled by death appearing as a woman. He then returned to his master and requested a horse and declared he would ride to Samarra in order to avoid his own death. Off he galloped to Samarra hoping to avoid his fate. His master went to the market and found death still there. He asked her, "Why did you frighten my servant, disturbing him and running him off from my service?" To this, death replied, "I am sorry, I did not mean to frighten your servant like that. It is just I was surprised to find him here for I have an appointment with him tonight in Samarra."

I believe this is a retelling of a much older story but this is the story as we have it these days, from W. Somerset Maugham.

I feel like my life has something of that flavor to it.

The Troll's Story

I have turned to stone
under the bridge built by faith
and in my cramping
fist I hold the car
I drove home in drunk weather
dodging my sodden
fate but finding this
more gritty outcome still mine,
no more damn chances.

September 24, 2009 2:19 PM


  1. I think we have to trust that Death knows what she's doing. It's Decision we have to watch out for, because he doesn't know what the hell's going on.

  2. I wonder about life being lived on the edge, verses life planned, assessing risk, assuming doing so will limit the drama, or at least extend the time. I’m convinced there really wasn’t a choice. The cards were cast long before we had or took the time to decide our course.

  3. :D

    It does seem that way. Actually, it's forced. What we call Decision is based on what we call Information. You can't make a decision without sufficient information. Otherwise you are not "informed".

    However the second law of thermodynamics as well as many other processes routinely destroy information so completely that there is no way to see the universe other than as a place intensely hostile to information as we understand it. Thus it seems we eke out a window where we can hold information if we are careful and it's how we do business, even though the universe itself is wasteful in this area. Information is, relative to the universe, short lived and a by product of little value. It is certainly not conserved, and we have to fight to protect ours because of that fact.

    Since making decisions relies on this short lived stuff of little value to anyone or anything else, it is itself a suspect process. It is certainly true that I have rarely had enough information to feel truly informed. Thus my decisions have been largely blind.

    My oldest friend, Conal Boyce has sections in his recent book, The Chemistry Redemption, dealing with this topic.

    And that, Joseph is exactly what you said. :D

  4. Anthony, it feels as you describe in my life but it bubbles along this way elusively and under the surface of things most of the time. Meanwhile, all around us there are people certain that they are captains of their own ships or at least ought to be. These people will fight strongly against any alternative organizing principle.

  5. this poem has a wilde thread running through it... you convey as much remorse as fury and there they lean against each other.

  6. This kind of situation is actually personal to my own life. I have a friend incarcerated for his behaviors in much the same way. He is serving eighteen years for a series of connected events because there were three "victims" and the law required consecutive six year sentences without any leeway for circumstantial adjustments. The sentence is correct to the facts of the case but horribly over the top in terms of length. The judicial community hates that part of what is called Megan's Law. You can commit certain homicides with far less consequence.

    So my friend sits incarcerated and watches homicidally dangerous inmates come and go during his incarceration.


The chicken crossed the road. That's poultry in motion.

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