{npm22: 25~ a start}

Today’s proverb is both ancient and Chinese, and though it might be cliché’s first assumption, it’s not written by Confucius. Surprise, there are hundreds more sages and creators of proverbs from this ancient culture! Today’s proverb is from the Tao Te Ching. Though this book isn’t found on B&N’s website in its entirety, it exists in various copies and dialects and is a widely studied, widely argued over classical Chinese text. The Tao Te Ching is usually credited to Lao Tzu, though others argue it was written by someone else, and is probably something from between the 4th and 6th century BC. It’s ancient. So, we have a genuine Chinese proverb, though the wording isn’t the same as we use now. Originally it said, “A journey of a thousand li (a traditional Chinese unit of measure, approx. 0.3 mile/0.5 km.) starts beneath one’s feet.” No one knows how or when, but as the quotation came West (probably because no one could figure out what a li was), the phrase turned into:

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

Empty suitcases
Filled up with memories
Of “Once Upon A Time, Boldly.”

Nope, I’m not actually ready… but I’m going anyway.

PS – yes, I know I can’t really draw an airplane.

{npm22: 24 ~ rest}

Today’s proverb is actually fairly recent, as proverbs go, with a straightforward provenance. According to Phrases, it was printed anonymously in a news sheet called the Hampshire Advertiser, in Southampton, England in August, 1857. It appears in the first stanza of a rather bad poem — and a rather long poem. Eleven stanzas of …erm, instruction. I haven’t read it myself, but apparently the ultimate line of every stanza is the same:

Ye votaries of sofas and beds
Ye sloths who exertion detest,
This maxim I wish to drive into your heads
A change is as good as a rest.

Ye children of Fashion and Wealth,
With countless indulgences blest,
Remember that indolence preyeth on health
A change is as good as a rest…

Ah, the Victorian Era, ever ready with the didactic bit of poetry to drive into your heads. Sheesh.

“A change is as good as a rest.” – English proverb

monday night
fresh ironed pillow-slips
a tightly made bed –
perfectly equipped
to sleep like the dead.

…if you’re counting sheep
as the hours slip by
at least in fresh sheets
you’re sleepless – dignified.

Is a change as good as a rest? Not… really. But, if nothing else, it helps you rest, a little.

{npm22: 23 ~ spoons}

Growing up Southern-adjacent (with Southern-born relatives but not having spent much time there yourself) means hearing a lot of weird phrases and stories of which you’re not quite sure you know the meaning… One of the odder phrases was, “You’d better feed ’em with a long spoon.”

I always heard this proverb outside of home in reference to some animal or other which couldn’t eat properly. There’s an Aesop fable about a stork and a fox having a meal, and one needed a shallow dish and one needed a vase…? Or something. Another variation is an allegory of people in heaven (or hell?) wearing casts and having to feed each other from across the table with long spoons, in order to live…? But, at home this saying meant to stay WELL away, on the other side of the table, in order to feed with a long spoon this ravening beast you’d somehow led to your table … so that it would not bite off your hand.

Obviously, I had to look this one up.

Once again this is a very old proverb, from 14th c. England, where having a meal with the Trickster was seen as a distinct possibility. Human beings were taught that they were often tricked and messed about by the devil, and so they were more than a little wary.

We first find this proverb in Chaucer’s Canterbury collection, in the Squire’s Tale, 1390. Therfore bihoueth hire a ful long spoon That shal ete with a feend. Therefore, whoever would eat with a fiend must have a very long spoon. (Note to self: avoid meals with fiends.)

“He who sups with the devil should have a long spoon.”

With a whip and a chair
We’ve a banquet to prepare:
No, that’s not bloodthirsty roaring.
He’s been sleepy – that’s him snoring.
You’ve heard shouting? shrieking? yelps?
It’s SO hard to find good help.
Me, be careful? You’re obsessed!
He’s just any other guest…

Happy weekend, dear ones. Keep your friends close, and your fiends… somewhere outside arm’s reach.

{npm22: 22 ~ idle hands}

Thanks to Ye Olden Tymes or the Middle Ages, there are a ton of proverbs and sayings about the devil. Most people feared the forest, the dark, and the unknown beasties within it, and helpful religious leaders identified any fearful unknown as the devil and capitalized on the idea of toeing the line to avoid being fed to it. When the average person began to read and consider arguments, truths and opinions for themselves, those fears didn’t diminish – rather they shifted. Though a literal devil might have taken a backseat, the fear of social hell took precedence…

Therefore, to avoid being thought of as indolent or ignorant, everyone wanted to be thrifty, clean, and reverent, so enter the idea of keeping busy. Or at least looking busy. This idea is so old that the first mention of this proverb is way back in the fourth century. The first finding of this phrase in (Middle) English comes from Chaucer in 1405 saying, “Dooth somme goode dedes, that the deuel, which is oure enemy, ne fynde yow nat vnocupied.” Do some good deeds, so that the Devil, which is our enemy, won’t find you unoccupied.

There are myriad variations of this proverb. My sixth-grade teacher, Mrs. Martin, told us that “Idle hands are the Devil’s workshop” which I always found confusing and unlikely. My father told us that idle hands were the Devil’s playthings – which seemed less unlikely, and to my literal mind, definitely more worrying. To keep things clear, we’ll go with the earliest, not the most popular version of this proverb:

“The devil makes work for idle hands.”

A Puritan person would say
“Idle hands will lead children astray.”
Now that I’d dispute –
To give kids their salute,
They’ll cause chaos hogtied – that’s their way.

Just kidding, kids. This is just what my parents believed, for reasons best known to themselves and having nothing AT ALL whatsoever to do with me. *cough*

More poetry? Poetry Friday is hosted today at Reflections on the Teche.

{npm22: 21~ in place}

One memorable summer I shared a room with my two older sisters. For some reason or another as I recall, my older sister was in trouble for being untidy, and my eldest sister was in trouble for something else, thus all the three of us sibs were shoved into one space. As you might expect, things got… intense. The usual sibling squabbles were turned up to eleven. We had the usual parental cleanliness pressure, but with the shared space there was increased stress and I — cracked. That summer I became mildly obsessed with keeping things straight – from my possessions and the masking tape lines my eldest sister had put on the floor of our room to the sections of food on my plate. I lined up my shoes and organized my hair clips.

I hear people in jail can also become obsessively neat…

Let me tell you, that sibling experiment ended with a great sigh of relief for all involved.

“A place for everything and (put) everything in its place.”

these measured loops
a choreography
celestial circling, turning

Though the Oxford Book of Quotations notes this proverb from the 17th century, there’s no follow-up reference. The closest discovered before 1799 is included in a collection called A Century of Sermons, by one John Hacket, Bishop of Lichfield, in 1675 which simply states that “the Lord hath set everything in its place and order. The phrase exactly as we know it didn’t appear in print until 1842, and was in keeping with myriad other cheerfully didactic Victorian phrases that were taken as conventional wisdom and not authored by anyone in particular.

{npm22: 20 ~ book-learnin’}

Somewhere, college-aged me is face-palming in dismay.

My junior year we were required to read Alexander Pope’s An Essay on Criticism. To say that it was a slog is an understatement; I could not STAND his know-it-all tone and his insistence that all the great minds had to make their way through the Greeks and other classical writers, and that good poets must write in a prescribed way – prescribed by him, of course. Add to that, it was written in verse so there was this overarching sense of self-superiority AND rhymed couplets. Gah! Imagine my disgust to learn that he was, at the time of his publication, all of twenty-three — nearly the same age as I was — and yet he pontificated as if he knew EVERYTHING.

Granted, he knew more than I did, but STILL.

Despite how annoying Pope was, we get tons of witty sayings from him — “To err is human, to forgive, divine,” and “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread” among the most notable. His declaiming today’s proverb wasn’t really original, writing, as he did, during the Age of Enlightenment where the publication of works became more commonly accessible. Suddenly anyone – gasp! – who could read had access to learned discourse, not just those who had been classically educated at the best schools. On that more level playing field, English politician/philosopher Sir Francis Bacon published a 1601 essay on atheism. In it he argued, “A little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism; but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion.” That train of thought is a cousin of our proverb:

“A little learning is a dangerous thing;”

drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
there shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
and drinking largely sobers us again.
– Alexander Pope, An Essay on Criticism, 1711

the risk
the uncertain swimmer, it’s said
must jump, lest they give in to dread.
can’t dip in a toe
and say that you know
dive! perceive the depth then as read

Is a little learning is a dangerous thing? Perhaps, although maybe knowing even a little can alert you to the vast seas of ignorance in which you’ve previously been content to swim. At least one can hope so.

{npm22: 19 ~ float}

Since yesterday’s proverb was so old, I thought I’d find one that’s newer. This one is very much considered an American proverb, as it came into common usage in 1963, in a presidential speech by former President John F. Kennedy. Kennedy claimed that it was a saying from Cape Cod, and indeed it had been a slogan of The New England Council for thirteen years at that point. However, it had an earlier provenance in a New Jersey newspaper, referring to a fundraising scheme for missionary work in 1910.

…and before that Wikipedia claims it was a common phrase in China, and was first published around 1894-ish in a novel called The Gallant Maid. How I wish I had a solid reference for that phrase in the novel, but… it’s from the Qing Dynasty and it’s in Chinese, so no luck. Regardless, so much for this proverb being a “new” one!

This proverb has been used to support theories of rising economies trickling down from the deepest to the shallowest cups. While that may or may not be a political taradiddle, I have always loved the imagery of a sudden swell making all the little boats bob and sway.

“A rising tide raises all boats.”

the pull of the moon
gathers with chill clarity
dancers from the deep

Did you know that the best fishing is on an incoming or rising tide? Yet another Random Thing I Learned looking at this proverb. Happy Tuesday.

{npm22: 18 ~ bedmates}

Spanish novelist Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616) is credited with saying that ‘a proverb is a short sentence based on long experience.’ That speaks to today’s little proverb nicely. I have to admit that this is one of my favorites simply because of its sheer effrontery. I would go so far as to say its intended use is to prod, pique and annoy. The levels of insult are myriad – hey, who are you calling a dog?! As for getting up with fleas – those blood-sucking parasites are viewed with the distaste reserved only for other shameless thieves like leeches, ticks, mosquitos, …and vampires.

(Does it surprise anyone that the common variation of this was ALSO a favorite proverb of my sixth-grade teacher?)

This proverb is VERY old. The Latin “qui cum canibus concumbunt cum pulicibus surgent” is allegedly a quote from the Roman philosopher Seneca, but that isn’t found in his works. Its first sighting in English is in James J. Sanforde’s Garden of Pleasure, published 1573:

“He that goeth to bedde wyth Dogges, aryseth with fleas.”

three dog night
swaddled soft in fur
(never mind the wet noses)
let sleeping dogs lie.

PS – I had no idea this was a random 70’s Alan Parsons Project song. Thanks, Internet!

{npm22: 17~wake}

Welcome to the one day of the year when it’s safe to put all your eggs… in… Right, sorry. It won’t happen again.

Today’s proverb is very old indeed, though finding the actual date it first came into use seems impossible. The oldest sighting came from Giovanni Torriani’s 1666 piazza universale di proverbi Italiani a collection of some ten thousand Italian proverbs. Using one proverb to define another he says, ‘Venture not all in one bottom.’ ‘To put all ones Eggs in a Paniard, viz., to hazard all in one bottom.” (Here “bottom” is another name for a ship’s hold, while a pannier is what baskets strapped to donkeys and oxen were called.) Don Quixote used the phrase as we’re familiar with it (“‘Tis the part of wise man to keep himself today for tomorrow, and not venture all his eggs in one basket”) and though it was likely in use well before then, it wasn’t until 1894 that it was printed in America:

Behold, the fool saith, “Put not all thine eggs in the one basket” — which is but a manner of saying, “Scatter you money and your attention”; but the wise man saith, “Put all your eggs in the one basket and — watch that basket.” – Mark Twain, Pudd’nhead Wilson

I don’t know; I get that the proverb is trying to teach prudence, but what if we threw all the eggs into every effort? Sometimes holding back doesn’t get you want you want…

“Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”

bet the house
don’t miss your shot
return every jab life throws
sling back its arrows

{npm22: 16~dark}

Okay: quick question – when is it full night? After sundown, right? The weather guide on my phone has all of these handy little bits of information based on latitude and longitude and standard time zones… there’s Twilight Starting and Twilight ending, there’s Solar Noon and then the usual Sunrise and Sunset. There’s this whole thing about solar declination and ACTUAL Sunset vs. Apparent Sunset. It’s great – and way overdone for our uses today. All we need is …Dawn.

Thomas Fuller, an English theologian, in the year 1650, is actually who we believe coined this phrase. It appeared in his work titled A Pisgah-Sight of Palestine and the Confines Thereof. (Yet another guy who really needed to work on his titles.) Possibly because it fit his sermon, he seemed to imply that this phrase was literal — that it’s utter pitch black dark right before sunrise — ergo, it’s always darkest just before dawn, since just before then is the darkest time.

Dear Rev. Fuller,

We regretfully inform you that a whole ball of solar fire doesn’t just pop up and the world is flooded with light like a switch… As the Earth turns, the light of that solar ball rises gradually. So, it’s actually darkest? Probably just after midnight. But, good job for getting us thinking about metaphors and such.

Love, Random People on the Internet.

“It is always darkest just before the Day dawneth.” – Rev. Fuller

before dawn
tick: the clock’s hand jerks
closing the circle of day
today, tomorrow
and round again it takes you
another day won’t break you.