Salman Rushdie turns a marvelous phrase in Haroun and the Sea of Stories, as Rashid the genius-storyteller (whose nickname is The Shah of Blah, and who resembles Rushdie not a little) dips into magical "Oceans of Notions" to come up with his fantastic tales. When his story-ocean runs dry he loses his creativity ... and that's a central theme of the novel.

What grabs me and pins me down about that image is Ocean itself — such a marvelous, overwhelming, incontrovertible fact — unchanged and ever-changing, bounded and semi-infinite — like life. Oceanic metaphors are among the most powerful I know. Among my favorites:

Charles Dickens's comment in A Christmas Carol, about human duty:

"Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!"

Beethoven's words about Johann Sebastian Bach (punning on JSB's surname):

"This is not a brook, this is an ocean!" ("Das ist nicht ein Bach, das ist ein Meer!")

Albert Schweitzer's thoughts on humanitarianism:

"Of all the will toward the ideal in mankind only a small part can manifest itself in public action. All the rest of this force must be content with small and obscure deeds. The sum of these, however, is a thousand times stronger than the acts of those who receive wide public recognition. The latter, compared to the former, are like the foam on the waves of a deep ocean."

Isaac Newton's modest self-description:

"I do not know what I may appear to the world; but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me."

(see also My Business, FoamOnTheOcean, and AbsurdJuxtaposition)

TopicPoetry - TopicLiterature - 2001-12-10

(correlates: My Business, FoamOnTheOcean, InFoamation, ...)