Sunday, October 15, 2006


This post is about loss and the passage of time.

Some months ago, I remembered the world known as Moonsweep. From the same universe comes the world named Eventide. Again, like Moonsweep, the name is somewhat ambiguous - is it the time of evening, is it the regularity of the tide, is it something else?

And like Moonsweep, the name is somewhat melancholic. It has always brought to mind one of my favourite hymns, the first line of which reads, "Abide with me, fast falls the eventide..." As the darkness deepens, what indeed abides? "All flesh is as grass, and the glory of man is as the flower of grass; the grass fades and the flower falls away..." says the good book.

Which brings us to the idea of fading. All the strength and glory and pageant of mankind fades away. The Romans used the word vanus to connote the emptiness of a vessel that once was filled. "It has vanished," one can imagine a mournful Roman child saying, as she looks into the honeypot to find it bare. The translators of the Septuagint were similarly cognizant when they used the phrase vanity of vanities in the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes - an emptiness, a vainglory, where once we might have expected wisdom and success and the marks of a better age.

It is all about evanescence - the quality of something which fades as you look at it, becomes less tangible until it is gone without you quite seeing how it went. This is like the life of a mayfly, one of those curious insects which is born, lives, and dies within a day. Senescence and obsolescence within hours of adolescence. Does it make sense? Is it science? They are all one - in one day. So a human might seem to an elf, in a Tolkienesque world.

This is why there is a genus of butterflies named Vanessa. Butterflies are the most evanescent of glories in the field - they are of the order Lepidoptera, "charming wings". But the Painted Ladies of genus Vanessa are larger than life, vibrant, cosmopolitan. Across the world, they will tip their eyespotted wings at you, as if to say, "I see everything, and I am cheerful!"

It somewhat belies the fact that when Jonathan Swift invented the name to describe a friend of his, he almost certainly knew that it meant 'the essence of that which fades.' Perhaps, that is what the butterfly does. As the evening, the eventide, falls around it, it is the last light of the darkening field. If and when the sun rises, it is there to catch the light of the morning on its wings - and it tells us that although the grass fades and the flower falls away, there are things that abide forever. And there are things that are signs of this abiding hope.

Even then.


Anonymous xinhui said...

so pretty, the charming wings.

thanks for re-arousing my interest in biology again after that awful draining exam. =)

Monday, October 16, 2006 2:37:00 am  
Anonymous me said...

thank you :)

Tuesday, October 17, 2006 5:16:00 am  
Blogger noseonastick said...

Saturday, November 04, 2006 11:19:00 am  
Blogger noseonastick said...


I like your play on words:

even then - the inherently Chinese wordplay.

evangelist. =)

do not avenge.
a terrible revenge.

Saturday, November 04, 2006 11:23:00 am  

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