Plagues do not come very often. But when they do, they cause a great deal of fear and consternation. The present coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has disrupted supply chains, wreaked havoc on stock markets, and sent people panic-buying in the supermarkets. The following quotes should provide some food for thought and perhaps even solace in this terrifying time.
On human life
This life of ours is a wild æolian harp of many a joyous strain,
But under them all there runs a loud perpetual wail, as of souls in pain.
~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Christus, The Golden Legend
I came like Water, and like Wind I go. ~ Omar Khayyam, Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam
The terrible events of life are great eye-openers. They force us to learn that which it is wholesome for us to know, but which habitually we try to ignore — namely, that really we have no claim on a long life; that we are each of us liable to be called off at any moment, and that the main point is not how long we live, but with what meaning we fill the short allotted span — for short it is at best. ~ Felix Adler, Life and Destiny, Section 8: Suffering and Consolation
Fisherman and Reeds, Album-Leaf Painting (Qing dynasty, 19th century)
Photo credit: Brooklyn Museum
Man is but a reed, the most feeble thing in nature, but he is a thinking reed. The entire universe need not arm itself to crush him. A vapor, a drop of water suffices to kill him. But, if the universe were to crush him, man would still be more noble than that which killed him, because he knows that he dies and the advantage which the universe has over him; the universe knows nothing of this. ~ Blaise Pascal, Pensées
Like bubbles on the sea of matter borne,
They rise, they break, and to that sea return.
~ Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man
On sickness and suffering
Oh, I have suffered
With those that I saw suffer.
~ William Shakespeare, The Tempest
But what does it mean, the plague? It’s life, that’s all. ~ Albert Camus, The Plague
The suspense: the fearful, acute suspense: of standing idly by while the life of one we dearly love, is trembling in the balance; the racking thoughts that crowd upon the mind, and make the heart beat violently, and the breath come thick, by the force of the images they conjure up before it; the desperate anxiety to be doing something to relieve the pain, or lessen the danger, which we have no power to alleviate; the sinking of soul and spirit, which the sad remembrance of our helplessness produces; what tortures can equal these; what reflections of endeavours can, in the full tide and fever of the time, allay them! ~ Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist
A sick thought can devour the body’s flesh more than fever or consumption. ~ Guy de Maupassant, Le Horla et autres contes fantastiques
Calamity is virtue’s opportunity. ~ Seneca the Younger, De Providentia, IV
On fear and hope
Even the bravest men are frightened by sudden terrors. ~ Tacitus, Annales (AD 117)
No passion so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear. ~ Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful
Fear always springs from ignorance. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson, The American Scholar
Bear and be firm: this unhappiness will one day be beneficial. ~ Ovid, Amorum
Moonrise, circa 1835–1837
Caspar David Friedrich (German, 1774–840)
Photo credit: The State Hermitage Museum, Russia
Did you like this article? Share it with your friends!