Poor Will's Almanack: March 8-14, 2011

Mar 8, 2011

Poor Will’s Almanack for the Fourth Week of Early Spring, the Fifteenth Week of the Natural Year

I went back to studying a little ancient Greek the other day. I got out my books and my notes and I started reading though the exercises I had translated and the phrases I had memorized.

I was a little surprised to see that my last lesson had been completed in 2001 and that I hadn't returned since then.

I took a semester of Greek back in 1959, but then I got sidetracked for a while and didn't pick up the language again until 1988. Over the past five decades, I've learned and relearned the Greek alphabet and 47 different phrases by famous authors, several hundred vocabulary words, the major pronouns and articles, and a number of verb tenses. At my current rate of progress, I might be able to read the Odyssey by Homer by the year 2340 when I am 400 years old.

In addition to fueling rationalization and excuses, my persistent return to Greek has brought something to my attention that I hadn't recognized so clearly before. Over time, the lengthy space between certain kinds of events becomes less important. As moments multiply and accumulate, they are transformed, winnowed and sifted, the chaff blown away, only the whole grain left behind.

This speeding time edits with an ulterior motive. It favors the underlying ties, favors the intent over the visible, obvious action. For good or ill, it reveals the undercurrent. Repetition takes on new meaning.

The assorted beginnings of my study remind me of so many other threads that weave through my life, surfacing every month or year or decade like porpoises in a psychic sea. Touchstones, they tell me, are not static souvenirs. The periodic tides of the years wash studies, loves, and habits to their kernel, compress and bond energy and space into the sleek, uncluttered center of their meaning.

Next week on Poor Will's Almanack: notes for the fifth week of early spring. In the meantime, watch and listen to the winnowing tides of early spring.