Friday, February 12, 2010

Friday Quotation: The Strumpet Wind

I am starting something new today. I'm finding that I have neither the time nor, to be honest, the will to write three longish posts a week, the way I used to. But I would still like to think of a way to keep the blog going--so my new plan is to write one long post, like the one I did on Wednesday, and a couple short ones that just deal with one passage or speech from the play I'm reading. These short ones will look at Will's lines out of context and muse about their possible relevance, their aesthetic allure, or whatever. Sort of like one of those "quote of the day" calendars. As of now I'm thinking Fridays and Mondays for these, and one long post on Wednesday.

It's worth a try, anyhow. I've given up on a lot of the goals I had for this blog, and right now I'm just trying to sustain my own interest. If what I write catches someone else's interest, too, great. But I am trying to divest myself of expectations here. It's a better, happier way to live, I think.

Today's passage is a pretty appropriate one for me, because it's about losing interest in things. Or rather, about how desire and excitement fades in love, in careers, in blogs, in household maintenance, in nearly everything! It's from Act 2, scene 6, when Graziano and Salerio are waiting for Lorenzo to meet them under Jessica's window.  Lorenzo is late, which prompts Graziano, ever the cynic, to assume that his friend has lost interest in Shylock's pretty daughter.  Here, he muses about how quickly desire wanes:

...Who riseth from a feast
With that keen appetite that he sits down?
Where is the horse that doth untread again
His tedious measures with the unbated fire
That he did pace them first? All things that are
Are with more spirit chas-ed than enjoyed .
How like a younker or a prodigal
The scarf-ed barque puts from her native bay
Hugged and embrac-ed by the strumpet wind!
How like the prodigal doth she return,
With over-weathered ribs and ragg-ed sails,
Lean, rent, and beggared by the strumpet wind!

I've hyphenated those words that should have an accent on the "ed" for the meter.  Basically, he's saying that no one sustains desire for very long. Once you've had your fill of something--implicitly, a woman, but it could be anything--you lose interest. "All things...are with more spirit chased than enjoyed."  The ship that leaves port amid fanfare, bedecked with flags and fancy decorations, soon returns bedraggled and looking like hell. "Lean, rent, and beggared by the strumpet wind."

Isn't that a great image for a relationship gone bad? You blow out of port on a high wind, all shiny and full of hope, and return all wrecked and broken.  The same high passion that whirled you out into the sea of love blows you back in pieces.

Hmm. Not a good image for Valentine's Day, I guess. But you know what I'm talking about.

Youthful relationships--and immature ones--are more likely to be rent by the wind. They're more fun at the outset, but they run their course pretty fast. After limping into port all wrecked and broken a few times, most of us come to prefer a soft breeze to a high wind.

There's a biblical allusion in there, too--the story of the Prodigal Son. This is from the Gospel of Luke, 15: 11-32. The younger son of a wealthy man takes his inheritance while his father is still living, and wastes it "in riotous living."  He loses everything and eventually has to take work as a swineherd, which is pretty low in Jewish culture, since swine are considered unclean. Eventually he returns home, just hoping for a job as a servant. His father welcomes him and kills the fatted calf and all that. The older brother gets mad, since he's been good and no one is killing a fatted calf for him. The father explains that the older brother has "always been with him," but the younger brother had been "dead" and is now again "alive," and this is a cause for celebration.

Obviously Will meant this to refer back to the wasteful habits of Bassanio and the Christians of Venice. But I think it relates to this question of desire, too.We all have trouble waiting for things--that's why there are credit cards. There are emotional credit cards, too--but the fees are pretty high. It's really better to pay up front.

Reading this passage, I thought of other things besides romance--careers, blogs, and just aging in general. How to find contentment when the strumpet wind isn't behind you anymore, pushing you forward. When inspiration--which is etymologically related to wind--is in somewhat shorter supply, and the flags and banners on your ship are somewhat tattered.

I also thought about mountain climbers. Do you know that most climbing fatalities happen on the way back down the mountain? For real. Like the horse in the passage--climbers ascend with "unabated fire," but have trouble with the "tedious measures" of the return trip. They reach the top, experience the rush of attaining a hard-won goal, and then they just...lose focus.

One of the reasons for this blog is to make sure I keep mine. If I were really an optimist, I'd insist that I haven't peaked yet. I'm willing to concede that there may be a summit of sorts ahead. But until I figure out whether I'm ascending or descending, I guess I'll just keep writing.

Have a good weekend.


  1. Good plan, great strategy, sort of like the liturgy of the word. Talented writers like yourself, can give too many words (remeber Antoinio Salieri or was it Frederick II, allegedly complained that Mozart's compositions had "too many notes")for your readers to savor in a blog post. You might find a better rhythm in this proposed pattern. Which will allow, we your faithful readers, to savor passages like "the strumpet wind,"--by the way, the metaphor strikes me as perfect for my career path.

  2. Yes, I also thought of the career analogy when reading this--sometimes the way things turn out seems just that arbitrary and capricious...a strumpet wind indeed.

    I'll have to see how the blog goes in the new format. I'm in a very emotionally low energy zone just now. But I would like to keep it going--maybe a wind of inspiration will blow me out of the doldrums.