Wherein lies the truth of ages? In laws and commands or in proverbs and fairy tales?" In the first the will is intensified and in the second is the imprint of wisdom.
The shortest proverb is permeated with reverberations of place and age. And in the fairy tale, as in a buried treasure, is hidden faith and the strivings of people. The proverb may be sad, but it will not be destructive, and likewise one will not find distasteful fairy tales or repulsive folk songs. The proverb, and the fairy tale as well, are for the good. But the sources of the commands are different. How many commands become obsolete and quickly evaporate! Yet try to eradicate a proverb or legend. They may go underground, but they will persistently emerge again.
"Know how to catch the smallest devil by the tail and he will show you where his superior hides." This old Chinese proverb points out the significance of the smallest details for revealing the most important. Truly, the minute detail will be the best key to a great achievement. It is wrong to think that details are unimportant for the path of ascent. Even some most excellent heroic acts have rested upon details that were foreseen in time. How carefully he who follows the Teacher notices all the stones! He will miss nothing extraneous. Only a poor disciple will say, "Guru, in my exaltation I broke my nose." Such incommensurate-ness will only show how far the disciple is from being observant. This Chinese proverb means, furthermore, that the greatest criminal is more easily detected by the smallest details of his conduct.
It is wonderful to observe the subtlety and correctness of all details in proverbs, legends, and fairy tales. Of course, sometimes in an inaccurate translation something may appear superfluous and clumsy, but one need only turn to the original to find that the old proverb "One cannot omit a word in a song" has a deep meaning. And not only can a word not be omitted, it even cannot be transposed. And from this point of view it is instructive to observe the chiseled conciseness of folk language. As the best seeds are separated by repeated winnowing, so in the furnace of the ages the tongue of folk wisdom is forged.
In all ages and nations there will always be short periods during which all these accumulation? will be haughtily rejected. Like buried treasure they will go underground for the time being. As in forbidden catacombs there will remain only the whisper of prayers. Thus somewhere, and yet in full care, will be safeguarded the signs of people's observations, and later on they will be unearthed from their hiding places. Again, with renewed fervor they will be studied. And again, precisely from these inexhaustible sources will the founts of culture be renewed.
Some thoughtful explorers will again go deep into the unraveling of the sense as well as the forms of ancient heritages. Again they will admire the refined details of these forms, so well forged, so well chiseled, born of long patience in bygone rhythms of life.
Precisely, one wishes to emphasize that in these ancient heritages the meaning and the structural form can give equal joy to the explorer. Perhaps superficial people will speak of an "old-fashioned" language; but a true revealer of the runes, an inquisitive scientist, will recognize how remarkable, how simple and fitting are the definitions and in what combinations the greatest emphasis is brought out, correctly drawing the attention, just where it is needed.
Take any ancient proverb and try to change the sequence of words in it. You will see as a result that much of the sense will be lost. We have seen many distortions of sense due to poor translation. Only recently have languages begun to be studied without prejudice, and therefore in certain well-known monuments of the past, modern translations reveal new and significant details. The historical names themselves have undergone in the various translations such a multitude of changes that at times it is difficult to realize that one and the same person or place was meant. Especially guilty of this have been the textbooks of -the secondary schools. A great number of children in a hurried course of study, at times learn terms which later, in mature years, are met again, but with an entirely different connotation, giving rise to unnecessary complications. But now, in many branches of science, we turn inquiringly to the original sources, with an open mind. Thoughtful study will help again to appreciate the most characteristic, the most minute details and definitions.
And what could be more profound and all-embracing than the observation of thought itself and its structure? People speak, not without reason, about the art of thinking. Precisely in the structure of thought is expressed the same general concept of creativeness. Lovers of art for art's sake always will emphasize especially not only that which is said but also how it is said. The way things are said, the way they are done, the way they are thought — all this is a source of delight for every true observer; and now, when so much must be spoken about the loss of quality in all of life, precisely the quality of all that is created is especially significant.
All problems requiring a quick solution are in need of a high quality of expression. The famous "somehow or other" is more than out of place. Everyone must realize his responsibility for his way of thinking and acting. Let us not imagine that the mode of thinking is unimportant; as in all creativeness, the manner of expression, of technique, have an enormous significance. A painting is convincing only when it has been executed in such a way that it cannot be changed, when the observer feels that it could never have been otherwise and that what is presented to him. has been composed as was necessary. What great observation of all details is necessary for this convincingness!
What a wonderful school of convincingness is contained in the true creativeness of peoples — anonymous, full of character, and ever living.
January 3, 1935