memoirs, art and fragments by Thomas Milner

Posts tagged ‘hamlet’s dilemma’

The beauty of English

I have just been watching Kenneth Branagh’s majestic version of Hamlet and marvel once again at the beauty of our language.

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,

And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;

No more; and by a sleep to say we end

The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks

That flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation

Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep;

To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;

For in that sleep of death what dreams may come

When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,

Must give us pause:


And death shall have no dominion (2)

Living in an old people’s home, as I do and being still relatively young (still in my 60´s), I have strong intimations of mortality.

Regularly, at a rate of about six or seven a year, one of my old colleagues will clock off, sometimes at the hospital and sometimes here at the Home, usually in the small hours of the morning. During their last few days I guess, weakened by pain and discomfort and lulled by various opiates, they hardly speak. That’s one of the first things they abandon – language leaves them, (they’re too busy dying). Do they know that they’re dying? (Everyone else does).

In general they do go gentle into that dark night and the next day the old people will sigh fatalistically: oh well, that’s life they’ll muse philosophically – a uniquely inaccurate observation by the way. I mean it’s not life is it? It is the converse of life. It is death.

What will happen to me? As far as I’m concerned I’m the only being in the universe who can think and speak in the first person – everyone else is second or third person.

Does one spend eternity lolling about in the Elysium Fields, basking in the warmth of God’s goodness and listening to his musings consider the lilies of the field, they do not sew neither do they spin.

Or, rather more attractively in my opinion, does one inhabit a Korana paradise where one is served up delicious meals, (tenderly cooked lamb nestling in a soft bed of lightly-spiced yellow rice), waited on by a succession of beautiful young maidens with lustrous eyes.

I read somewhere about a remote island in the South Seas, cut off from the rest of the world, whose people speak a sub-variant of the Polynesian group of languages with a tiny vocabulary of around two hundred useful words, seven of which signify sweet potato – the sweet potato presumably forming their staple diet. Another of their eccentricities is that they all worship Prince Phillip, the consort of our queen Elisabeth. So one assumes that paradise for them will consist of being subjected to a stream of mild racist-driven gaffes muttered by His Royal Highness.

But, more seriously, I hover in a limbo of unknowing, poised between logic and faith, like a gambler uneasily hedging his bets or like Voltaire on his deathbed who, on being asked by the priest to renounce the Devil and all his works, murmured, this no time to be making new enemies.

To sum it all up, oh God (if there is a god) pray for my Soul (if I have a soul).


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