Saturday, 5 December 2020

'This Too Shall Pass' - An Adage and an Opening.

I attended Juliette Burton's online gig the other day and she mentioned how important, the adage 'This too shall pass' is to her in her daily life.  The adage has resonated with me for years too and I cannot remember the context in which I first encountered it.  It may have been on one of the occasions, I have been undergoing therapy as it is a very useful philosophy to adopt when things seem utterly bleak and despairing.  Having said that, it is not a wishy washy concept as for me it implies impermanence and change.  As we all know change isn't always positive but it tends to be temporary, so what you are experiencing at this moment is not likely to be the same emotion that you may be exploring in an hour's time.

As I sit typing, I am looking out of the window gazing at the rising sun and listening to squirrels communicating in the distance.  Both aspects of nature are relevant to me now and I guess at a very profound level that I am overly simplifying, I am part of the same natural order.  The aeroplane that just disrupted my thoughts and melodic internal symphony is also part of that order, but only because humanity has created the metal tube with artificial wings to become like the birds.  To travel beyond the realms of possibility and experience the sensation of elevation, at the expense of the beautiful symmetry and coherence that birds adhere to.  They have their flight patterns, tactile needs and paths to follow but don't need packaged food and hot towels.

Oddly, I have never chosen to explore where the adage, 'This too shall pass' came from before today.  It is a statement of intent that remains mystical, profound and inspiring to me.  Also it feels intrinsically spiritual.  Using Google, the modern equivalent of those archaic repositories of knowledge that have largely been closed down, i.e. libraries, I am able to find lots of sources, articles and possible origins for the phrase.  The American president, Abraham Lincoln once mentioned it in a speech:

“It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words, "And this too, shall pass away." How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! How consoling in the depths of affliction!”

Abraham Lincoln - Address before the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society - 30th September 1859

There are other variations of the story but as there is no definitive origin, it is empowering to think of how universal this phrase is and how much it has influenced and continues to influence people.  

Conceptually, this has sent my mind off on a tangent, the sentiment imbued within the phrase is similar to the lyrics to the song, 'Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is A Season)', which was written by Pete Seeger and probably more popularly known as a song by The Byrds, the so-called 'folk rock' band consisting of Jim (Roger) McGuinn, Gene Clark, David Crosby, Chris Hillman and Michael Clarke at the time the song was recorded.  Importantly, the song basically uses sections from the Book of Ecclesiastes from the Old Testament of the Bible.  I am not particularly religious.  I would define myself as agnostic.  I am searching for something but I remain disillusioned by the regularly overtly patriarchal doctrines espoused by various churches.  But every so often, if you read a section of the Bible, it offers a uniquely clarifying view of the world even if you choose to neuter the references to an unknowable and at times, quite frankly, sadistic God (I offer these opinions as my own and respect everyone's religious beliefs).  The Book of Ecclesiastes is one such place of moral comfort:

The Book of Ecclesiastes 

3 For everything its season, and for every activity under heaven its time:

 a time to be born and a time to die;

a time to plant and a time to uproot;

a time to kill and a time to heal;

a time to pull down and a time to build up;

a time to weep and a time to laugh;

a time for mourning and a time for dancing;

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them;

a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing;

a time to seek and a time to lose;

a time to keep and a time to throw away;

a time to tear and a time to mend;

a time for silence and a time for speech;

a time to love and a time to hate;

a time for war and a time for peace.

(Ecclesiastes 3 - The New English Bible (University Press, Oxford 1974))

The song, 'Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is A Season')' uses the chorus (which also effectively forms the first verse):

To everything turn, turn, turn

There is a season turn, turn, turn

And a time to every purpose

Under Heaven.

(Pete Seeger)

The only other new line, which is not derived from the original Biblical text is the final line of the song:

I swear it's not too late.

(Pete Seeger)

This follows the line 'a time for peace'.

Within the song's historical context; it was written in the 60s when the Cold War was escalating, the Vietnam War was still going on and the threat of nuclear war permeated the lives of people of all ages, it becomes blatantly apparent why Pete Seeger chose to write the final line.  He was scared of the possibility of imminent destruction.  But to return to the subject of the blog, both Ecclesiastes 3 and the song powerfully personify the sentiment behind the adage 'this too shall pass'.  Nothing is permanent.  Good and bad things are transient.  You may love at one instance and hate on other occasions.  I think from the perspective of someone who suffers from depression at times and feels a bit alienated from the world on other occasions (i.e. me and lots of other people too), it also goes some way to removing the fear attached to the concept of change.

Change has always terrified me.  Giving things up, moving on, changing jobs, seeing relationships fade and/or disappear.  But ultimately, if our control over such matters is limited, surely, our focus should be on the day to day matters that confront us.  We can look forward to things or fear them but either way, they will come and go as will we.  At the moment, I am typing this blog, which will ultimately be read by a group of people who will choose to read it or not depending on their plans and inclinations,  I write during a pandemic with one of several vaccines, potentially available in the near future.  This time last year, people were looking forward to a new decade.  Now, most people are happy to be done with 2020 with the loss of loved ones, serious illness and a gradually reducing faith in the rules and leaders who guide us.

Maybe, it's time to appreciate the moment more, to love those around us but importantly, it's a time to stand up and to be heard.  Everyone matters and wherever you are now, 'This too shall pass'. 

                                                                                  Barry Watt - 5th December 2020


'This Too Shall Pass' is the adage that keeps on giving.  A phrase out of any discernable time period:

Juliette Burton gets a salute here from me as she is very inspirational to the people around her.  Please take a look at her website and work:

Google is basically a multinational company that provides a search engine you may find it hard to ignore if you are online (Also Google helps me to access and write my blogs, so thanks to them for that!)

Abraham Lincoln's entire speech to the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society on 30th September 1859 can be read on the following website:,.%22%20How%20much%20it%20expresses!

The Byrds were an American band that were formed in 1964.  You can spot a Byrds' song from a mile away, thanks to the distinctive sound of McGuinn's Rickenbacker 12 string guitar.  Probably best known for their cover of Bob Dylan's 'Mr Tambourine Man'.  Below is a fan site for the band:

'Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is A Season)' was written by Pete Seeger and has been covered by many artists including the folk singer Judy Collins and also as you have read, The Byrds.  The below Wikipedia entry gives you a fairly comprehensive overview of the song and its use of the Book of Ecclesiastes:!_Turn!_Turn!

The Book of Ecclesiastes appears in the Old Testament of the Bible.  I have quoted from Ecclesiastes 3 - The New English Bible (Page 493) (University Press, Oxford, 1974).

I have used the quotations without the express permission of the copyright holders to illustrate my blog and recommend that you all listen to versions of the song and read bits from the Bible if you so choose.

'Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is A Season' should be the Christmas Number One in my opinion, so get downloading and recommend it to your friends, family and loved ones!



Like plants and shadows, change is inevitable.

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