Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Meaning of Life

What is life? What is its meaning?

I'll compile here a collection of quotable quotes that try to address the matter. You'll notice that the collective musings of literary worthies on the matter tend toward the nihilist and pessimistic end of the spectrum. That's alright. After I've presented them, in no particular order, I'll offer my own meager thoughts on the topic, which will tend more to a brighter view.

Literary Quotes

Life is a jest; and all things show it.
I thought so once, but now I know it.
       John Gay (1685-1732), English poet

Life is as tedious as a twice-told tale,
Vexing the dull ear of a drowsy man.
       King John  III. iv. 108

We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.
       The Tempest IV.i.148

       Shakespeare (1564-1616), English playwright

God, though this life is but a wraith,
Although we know not what we use,
Although we grope with little faith,
Give me the heart to fight--and lose.
       Louis Untermeyer (1885-1977), US author

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.
Life is real! Life is earnest!

And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken to the soul.
       Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)
       US poet, A Psalm of Life

Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that's the stuff life is made of.
       Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)

The best of life is but intoxication.
       Lord Byron (1788-1824), Don Juan II.179

When all is done, human life is, at the greatest and the best, but like a froward child, that must be played with and humoured a little to keep it quiet till it falls asleep, and then the care is over.
       Sir William Temple (1628-1699), English author

Life is just one damned thing after another.
       Elbert Hubbard (1856-1915), US author

Life is made up of marble and mud.
       Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864), US author

Life is mostly froth and bubble,
Two things stand like stone,
Kindness in another's trouble,
Courage in your own.
       Adam Gordon (1833-1870), Australian poet

Life is one long process of getting tired.
Life is the art of drawing sufficient conclusions from insufficient premises.
       Samuel Butler (1835-1902)
       Lord, What is Man? Life., English author.

Life is short and art is long.
(Greek original is  Ὁ βίος βραχύς, ἡ δὲ τέχνη μακρή. Commonly quoted from the Latin translation Ars longa, vita brevis)
       Hippocrates (460-357BC), Greek doctor

There's night and day, brother, both sweet things; sun, moon, and stars, brother, all sweet thing; there's likewise a wind on the heat. Life is very sweet, brother; who would wish to die?
       George Borrow (1803-1861), English author

Life isn't all beer and skittles; but beer and skittles, or something better of the same sort, must form a good part of every Englishman's education.
       Thomas Hughes (1822-1896), English novelist

Unattributed Proverbs

Life is half spent before we know what it is.

Life is made up of little things.

Life lies not in living but in liking.

Life without a friend is death without a witness.


Life and Death and Finding Meaning

When our ancestors 100,000 years ago began burying their dead, covering their bodies in red ochre, they were already displaying a search for meaning in the great mystery of life and death. And the aim of religious systems that evolved out of the paleolithic era was to somehow systematize beliefs about how humans could orient themselves and their lives to some ultimate meaning their hearts told existed beyond this realm.

The very fact that we search for the meaning of life is at least evidence that such meaning does exist. I didn't say it proved it. For those who want to believe no meaning exists, no proof would suffice.

Gilbert Chesterton noted that humans have hunger and thirst for food built into their being, and these things exist. The fact that humans seem universally to have a hunger and a thirst for the divine shows an innate sense of the existence of a supernatural realm.

A good summary of life can be found in the book of Ecclesiastes:

Vanity of vanities! All things are vanity! (1:2)

It is well for someone to eat and drink and enjoy all the fruits of their labor under the sun during the limited days of the life which God gives them, for this is their lot. (5:17)

The last word, when all is heard: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is all of humankind. (12:13)

Note also:
Red Wine, by Diane Leonard, click to buy.

Wine is very life to humans, if taken in moderation. Does he really live who lacks the wine which was created for his joy? (Sirach 31:27)

And so, I raise a glass of wine and say, Lichayim! To Life.

And I'll leave you with the beautiful musings of George Harrison on the topic, who sings to God "You are the breath of Life Itself, You are the Love of Life Itself."




You are the one, You are my love
You send the rain and bring the sun
You stand alone and speak the truth
You are the breath of life itself
Oh yes, You are, 

You are the one
You're in my dream
I hold you there in high esteem
I need you more each step I take
You are the love in life itself
Oh yes, You are, 

You are the One
You are the one that I'd die for
And you're all that is real
You are the essence of that
Which we taste, touch and feel
You are the one, no matter what
You are the real love that I've got
You are my friend and when life's through
You are the light in death itself
Oh yes, are, 

You are the One
They call you Christ, Vishnu
Buddha, Jehovah, our Lord
You are, Govindam, Bismillah
Creator of all

You are the one, no matter what
You are the real love that I've got
You are my friend and when life's through
You are the light in death itself
Oh yes, are, You are the One

You are my love
You send the rain and bring the sun
You stand alone and speak the truth
You are the breath of life itself, oh yes, You are
You are the breath of life itself
Oh yes, You are, You are the one

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