Thursday, March 10, 2011

    "As for that," the Captain put in, "what matter if a man lives seven years or seventy? His years are not an eyeblink to eternity, and de'il the way he spends 'em - whether steering ships or scribbling verse, or building towns or burning 'em - he dies like a May fly when his day is done, and the stars go round their courses just the same. Where's the profit and loss o' his labors? He'd as well have stayed abed, or sat his bum on a bench."
    Although Ebenezer stirred uneasily at these words, remembering his state of mind at Magdalene College and in his room in Pudding Lane, he nevertheless reaffirmed his belief in the value of human time, arguing from the analogy of precious stones and metals that the value of commodities increases inversely with their supply where demand is constant, and with demand where supply is constant, so that mortal time, being infinitesimal in supply and virtually infinite in demand, was therefore infinitely precious to mortal men.
    "Marry come up!" McEvoy cried impatiently. "Ye twain remind me of children I saw once at St. Bartholomew's Fair, queued up to ride a little red pony cart..."
    He did not bother to explain his figure, but Ebenezer understood it immediately, or thought he understood it, for he said, "Thou'rt right, McEvoy; there is no argument 'twixt the Captain and myself. I recall the day my sister and I turned five and were allowed an extra hour 'twixt bath and bed. Mrs. Twigg would set her hourglass running there in the nursery; we could do whate'er we wished with the time, but when the sand had run 'twas off to bed and no lingering. I'faith, what a treasure that hour seemed: time for any of a hundred pleasures! We fetched out the cards, to play some game or other - but what silly game was worth such a wondrous hour? I vowed I'd build a castle out of blocks, and Anna set to drawing three soldiers upon a paper - but neither of us could pursue his sport for long, for thinking the other had chosen more wisely, so that anon we made exchange and were no more pleased. We cast about more desperately among our toys and games - whereof any one had sufficed for an hour's diversion earlier in the day - but none would do, and still the glass ran on! Any hour save this most prime and measured we had been pleased enough to do no more than talk, or watch the world at work outside our nursery window, but when I cried 'Heavy, heavy hangs over thy head,' to commence a guessing game, Anna fell straightway to weeping, and I soon joined her. yet e'en our tears did naught to ease our desperation; indeed, they but heightened it the more, for all the while we wept, our hour was slipping by. Now bedtime, mind, we'd ne'er before looked on as evil, but that sand was like our lifeblood draining from some wound; we sat and wept, and watched it flow, and the upshot of't was, we both fell ill and took to heaving, and Mrs. Twigg fetched us off to bed with our last quarter hour still in the glass."

- John Barth
The Sot-Weed Factor


  1. oh, hello. i just stole this page of the blog and tucked it into my notebook. sorry. carry on.

  2. Loverly! Gawd, I love that novel! It lacks nothing. Exalting and hilarious and life on paper! Delicious to find another acolyte. Or electrolyte or whatever.