Monday, September 05, 2016

Every Jot and Tittle: John Bunyan's 'The Pilgrim's Progress,' Part the First (1678)

John Bunyan: The Pilgrim's Progress in the Similitude of a Dream (i.e. Part the First, 1678). 

Fun book, sort of like a Protestant Christian version of Dante's Divine Comedy, particularly The Purgatorio and Paradiso (1320). 

Even though the stakes are high (The Lady or the Tiger? Heaven or Hell?), we're so accustomed to apocalyptic stories (super heroes, politics, conspiracy theories, zombies), the plot is less interesting than it must have been in 1678. There are some cool touches such as a river that must be crossed in faith, or you will drown; and, outside the gates to the City Upon the Hill (The Celestial City), a trap-door that could drop you straight to Hell just when you think you're about to enter Paradise. However, what makes this particularly enduring and fun is the language. 

From my notes, some examples that impressed me, via The Pilgrim's Progress from This World to That Which Is to Come; Delivered under the Similitude of a Dream. (Wordsworth's Classics of World Literature). Ware, Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions Limited, 1996 edition. 

Let's start with "the apology," (page 2):

And some said, Let them live; some, Let them die;
Some said, John, print it; others said, Not so;
Some said, it might do good; others said, No.

Anther little ditty (page 38):

Difficulty is behind, Fear is before,
Though he's got on the hill, the lions roar;
A Christian man is never long at ease,
When one fright's gone, another doth him seize.

"Then said Hopeful, Where are we now?"(page 91) ~ a very existential question, often worth asking regardless of station or circumstance. 

Ditto: "Then I thought that it is easier going out of the way, when we are in, than going in when we are out." (pages 91-92).

"Now, Giant Despair had a wife, and her name was Diffidence." (page 92).

Memorable discussion of suicide (see Albert Camus): "My soul chooseth strangling rather than life, and the grave is more easy for me than the dungeon." (page 93). The peregrines opt against suicide, however: "The time may come that may give us a happy release; but let us not be our own murderers." (page 94).
Christian with the Shield of Faith -- William Blake, 1820s
"Is the way safe or dangerous?"
"Safe for those for whom it is to be safe; but the transgressors shall fall within." (page 97).

"And did you think yourself well then?"
"Yes, for a while; but at the last, my trouble came tumbling upon me again, and that over the neck of all my reformations." (page 112). Applicable to an endless number of things -- human nature.

"Concerning that book, that every jot and tittle thereof stood firmer than heaven and earth." (page 114).

And that, my friends, is every jot and tittle of what I have to say for this post. Adieu, and ciao for now.

Today's Rune: Breakthrough.


Charles Gramlich said...

I should reread this. the first time through I was such a young fellow, so naive and full of myself. I tended to think it all trash. Hopefully I have learned a thing or two.

t said...

It was popular when I was a kid (in Nigeria) but I think I didn't understand any of it, I just heard the title a lot.

Been trying very hard to find some of the first poetry I knew, in two books - the bookcovers were plain, I think they were a book one and book three so probably school poetry readers, i think there was a ship/boat (like a Longman or Heinemann logo) on the cover, and it must have had hymns, rhymes, and poems from England. Around the same time I read from "Songs of Praise" a wildly popular simple little book of hymns.

the walking man said...

I picked this up decades ago and saw some of the cloistered speeches within. I did NOT finish it, as to me it appeared to want to be just another pulpit inspired rewrite of The Sermon on the Mount. *meh* It is hard enough navigating the realm of faith and understanding without piling on by pulpit pimps.(from any century)