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Thursday, February 9, 2012

"Not one death but many"

One of the central lines to Charles Olson's "The Kingfishers" owes much to this passage from Plutarch:

But we have a ridiculous fear of one death, we who have already died so many deaths, and still are dying! For not only is it true, as Heracleitus used to say, that the death of heat is birth for steam, and the death of steam is birth for water, for the case is even more clearly to be seen in our own selves; the man in his prime passes away when an old man comes into existence, the young man passes away into the man in his prime, the child into the young man, and the babe into the child. Dead is the man of yesterday, for he is passed into the man of today; and the man of today is dying as he passes into the man of tomorrow. Nobody remains one person, nor is one person; but we become many persons, even as matter is drawn about some one semblance and common mould with imperceptible movement. Else how is it that, if we remain the same persons, we take delight in some things now, whereas earlier we took delight in different things; that we love or hate opposite things, and so too with our admirations and disapprovals, and that we use other words and feel other emotions and have no longer the same personal appearance, the same external form, or the same purposes in mind?

-from "The E at Delphi", Putarch, trans. Frank Cole Babbitt


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