Flames to dust, lovers to friends… Why do all good things come to an end?
I used to think that I could somehow earn immortality.
That idea, of course, was simply my self-focused version of a more generic idea: To wit, I thought that some things were immortal.
Art, I believe, is the closest entity on earth to being ageless, the one thing in this life that is a reflection of Eternity. But is Art really immortal; is it able to survive through the millennia, undying?
At a glance, it would seem so. We have some truly ancient gems, such as Beowulf or The Odyssey. But did they truly survive Time and Decay?
Perhaps. But they didn’t survive the inexorable tide of cultural change and empirical decay. We may possess the manuscript for Beowulf, but the need to translate it has robbed its words of whatever beauteous nuance they must once have possessed. The story as we know it must surely be but a tarnished façade, a haphazard reflection of the original epic.
How much more so the Odyssey must suffer, being even older. Michelangelo’s David? Still exists, right? Sure. But it less a piece of great art than a quaint, antiquated curiosity, a museum attraction for school-children and ‘artsy-fartsy’ snobs, long bereft of the awe that it once inspired. Dated and finished, but denied the finality of destruction – perhaps an even greater insult than being altogether lost.
Where is all the inspiring music of ages past? The works of Wagner, Prokofiev and Beethoven? Do we not have their writings still, their transcriptions of their great symphonies?
But who listens to ’em? Soon enough, we will still possess those sheaves of music, yet no one will record them. Soon they will not even be the two-dollar CD’s in the ‘bargain’ section of the record store, but museum pieces… Right next to the original manuscript of Beowulf, and Michelangelo’s David.
This too, wrote the Ecclesiast, is meaningless, a chasing after the wind…
Ben-Hur was once the greatest film of all time, or so we thought. Has anyone seen it lately? Can most of us even find a copy? Does anyone care? All the once-great actors and actresses are dead, from Erol Flynn to Laurence Olivier to Judy Garland. Bette Davis wound up being relegated to comedic bit parts in Tim Burton’s films. Tim Burton may be in his heyday now, but soon he’ll be dated, too, and his darling Johnny Depp will be dead of lung cancer. That’s if he doesn’t quit smoking, and if he does he’ll die of something else and be replaced by the next Hollywood icon. Sooner or later, an earthquake is going to take Hollywood out and we’ll have to make movies somewhere else.
Meaningless. A chasing after the wind.
I once wrote an epic, and published it. Built a fan base for it, too, and was right proud of myself. Now I find it revolting, steamy, profane and dark for the simple shock value of being profane and dark. I’m working on other books, but doubtless I will find those passé just as quickly.
Not only is every possible manifestation of it thus, but Art itself is essentially perishable. Perhaps on a slightly longer scale than anything else, but in the eternal sense just as pointless.
What of everything else that is not Art? People, places, things, experience, emotion… even that great Juggernaut, History itself?
Death. Disaster. Rust and decay, forgetfulness, apathy… There are more forces in this world that end than there could ever be that begin. And those forces that destroy are far more effective and persistent than the feeble forces that create. Life must always succumb to death, just as romantic love must always succumb to disinterest and disillusion. We’d like to think that marriage is forever, but if it doesn’t die in two years from divorce, it dies in thirty or forty from death… In the meantime, we forget just why we wanted to be ‘forever’ bound to begin with.
Meaningless, a chasing after the wind. Nothing could be truer, or more applicable to anything and everything.
The Ecclesiast finished that poem, though, carrying the introductory idea forth to its inevitable conclusion. Someday his words will be gone too, but not until their intention reaches fulfillment. We may have lost the poetic nuance of his thoughts due to translation, but their point remains clear nonetheless…
Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.
Everything – be it material, flesh, thought or spirit – is destined for the endless grave.
There’s no avoiding it.