Thursday, September 21, 2006

Eat, Drink, and Be Merry, for Tomorrow We Die

The message “eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die” is a cliché, and as such it has lost all of its imaginative persuasive force. We hear it, and write it off instantly because it is stale. In order to take it seriously, we need to hear it restated. It originally comes from the Bible, Ecclesiastes 8: 15: “Then I commended mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry: for that shall abide with him of his labour the days of his life, which God giveth him under the sun,” and has often be restated since. I wanted to collect a few versions of Ecclesiastes that I think are really powerful.

In Works and Days Ralph Waldo Emerson writes “Just to fill the hour – that is happiness. Fill my hour, ye gods, so that I shall not say whilst I have done this ‘behold an hour of my life is gone,’ but rather ‘I have lived one hour.’”

Walter Pater’s conclusion to the Renaissance is not to be missed; Pater’s five paragraphs will change your life. For Pater there are moments of exquisite pleasure, secular epiphanies: not to be alive to these moments “is, on this short day of frost and sun, to sleep before evening. … We have an interval, and then our place knows us no more.” He advises us to devote our lives to art: “for art comes to you proposing frankly to give nothing but the highest quality to your moments as they pass, and simply for those moments’ sake.” John Ashbery rephrases Pater directly in his major poem A Wave, in which he writes
We all have to walk back this way
A second time, and not to know it then, not
To number each straggling piece of sagebrush
Is to sleep before evening, and well into the night
That always coaxes us out, smoothes out our troubles and puts us back to bed again.
Italo Calvino, at the end of Invisible Cities, writes
The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of the inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space.
My favourite, however, is from the title track of Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. The album is a weirdly, endlessly stunning, absurdly accomplished tribute to Anne Frank; the song begins
What a beautiful face I have found in this place that is circling all round the sun. What a beautiful dream that could flash on the screen in the blink of an eye and be gone from me. Soft and sweet let me hold it close and keep it here with me. And one day we will die and our ashes will fly from the aeroplane over the sea. But for now we are young let us play in the sun and count every beautiful thing we can see.
The archaic three syllable “aeroplane” is matched by the way singer Jeff Magnum gives us a three syllable “every”: just as we are to count every thing, we get an extended word “every,” allowing us to count it as three things, to be alive to every detail.


mitch said...

When I read this, I instantly thought of Dave Matthew's song "Tripping Billies". You can find the lyrics here:

Anonymous said...

In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is one of my favorite songs. Magnum's voice is amazing. It's a beautiful outburst.

Dean Trippe said...

i love that song. :)

samax said...

ecclesiastes is one of my favorite books in the Bible. they could rename it "Whatever..."

Geoff Klock said...

Samax -- That's true and funny.

Femi said...

It actually origningally came from Isiah 22:13, where it says directly, "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die" and it was said in a fairly negative light.

Anonymous said...

Why do we miss the fact that Jesus built a parable around the two quotes from the Hebrew scriptures. I've been hearing this parable all my life, and it just tonight dawned on me how the parable of the Foolish Rich Man is based on the quotes from Ecclesiastes and Isaiah:

6 Someone in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me."
He replied to him, "Friend, who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator?"
Then he said to the crowd, "Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one's life does not consist of possessions."
Then he told them a parable. "There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest.
He asked himself, 'What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest?'
And he said, 'This is what I shall do: I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones. There I shall store all my grain and other goods
and I shall say to myself, "Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!"
But God said to him, 'You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?'
Thus will it be for the one who stores up treasure for himself but is not rich in what matters to God." 7

Anonymous said...

By the way, I'm the same one who just posted the thing about Jesus' parable. I just wanted to say that I wasn't trying to claim this pearl of wisdom for religion or Christianity only. I think all ways of wisdom--including music and poetry--teach the same lesson--life is not about "whoever dies with the most toys wins". I just hadn't noticed the connection with the parable before. Just wanted to clarify. Jack Kolar

Anonymous said...

Maybe you should consider 2 Nephi 28, verses 7-9.

7 Yea, and there shall be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die; and it shall be well with us.

8 And there shall also be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry; nevertheless, fear God—he will justify in committing a little sin; yea, lie a little, take the advantage of one because of his words, dig a pit for thy neighbor; there is no harm in this; and do all these things, for tomorrow we die; and if it so be that we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God.

9 Yea, and there shall be many which shall teach after this manner, false and vain and foolish doctrines, and shall be puffed up in their hearts, and shall seek deep to hide their counsels from the Lord; and their works shall be in the dark.

Published in 1830

Anonymous said...

Sounds to me like this is a hopeless situation so let us enjoy the now and face tomorrow head on tomorrow.

Unknown said...


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