This too shall pass

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"This too shall pass" (Persian: این نیز بگذرد‎, translit. īn nīz bogzarad, Hebrew: גַּם זֶה יַעֲבֹר‏‎, translit. gam zeh yaʻavor, Turkish: bu da geçer ya hu) is an adage reflecting on the temporary nature, or ephemerality, of the human condition. The general sentiment is often expressed in wisdom literature throughout history and across cultures, although the specific phrase seems to have originated in the writings of the medieval Persian Sufi poets.

It is known in the Western world primarily due to a 19th century retelling of Persian fable by the English poet Edward FitzGerald. It was also notably employed in a speech by Abraham Lincoln before he became the sixteenth President of the United States.

History[edit]

A 10th century Anglo Saxon wrote a poem known as "Deor's Lament". Each stanza of the elegy ends in the repetition of the refrain "Þæs ofereode, þisses swa mæg" translated variously as "That passed away; this also may" or "That was overcome, so may this be" [1]. Another English reference to the adage may be found in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice (Vol. III, Ch. 6), published in 1813. The "philosophic composure" of Mr. Bennet leads him to reply to his daughter, Elizabeth, who has counseled him not to become inconsolable after a recent family misfortune, that "You may well warn me against such an evil. Human nature is so prone to fall into it! ...I am not afraid of being overpowered by the impression. It will pass away soon enough."

Another early English citation of "this too shall pass" appears in 1848:

When an Eastern sage was desired by his sultan to inscribe on a ring the sentiment which, amidst the perpetual change of human affairs, was most descriptive of their real tendency, he engraved on it the words : — "And this, too, shall pass away." It is impossible to imagine a thought more truly and universally applicable to human affairs than that expressed in these memorable words, or more descriptive of that perpetual oscillation from good to evil, and from evil to good, which from the beginning of the world has been the invariable characteristic of the annals of man, and so evidently flows from the strange mixture of noble and generous with base and selfish inclinations, which is constantly found in the children of Adam.[1]

It was also used in 1852, in a retelling of fable, entitled "Solomon's Seal", by the English poet Edward Fitzgerald.[2] In it, a sultan requests of King Solomon a sentence that would always be true in good times or bad; Solomon responds, "This too will pass away".[3] On September 30, 1859, Abraham Lincoln recounted a similar story:

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![4][5]

Origin of the fable[edit]

The fable retold by Fitzgerald can be traced to the first half of the 19th century, appearing in American papers by at least as early as 1839.[3] It usually involved a nameless "Eastern monarch". Its origin has been traced to the works of Persian Sufi poets, such as Sanai and Attar of Nishapur.[3] Attar records the fable of a powerful king who asks assembled wise men to create a ring that will make him happy when he is sad. After deliberation the sages hand him a simple ring with the words "This too will pass" etched on it, which has the desired effect to make him happy when he is sad. It also, however, became a curse for whenever he is happy.[3]

This story also appears in the Jewish folklore.[6] Many versions of the story have been recorded by the Israel Folklore Archive at the University of Haifa.[7] Jewish folklore often casts Solomon as either the king humbled by the adage, or as the one who delivers it to another.

In some versions the phrase is simplified even further, appearing as only the Hebrew letters gimel, zayin, and yodh, which begin the words "Gam zeh ya'avor" (Hebrew: גַּם זֶה יַעֲבֹר‏‎, gam zeh yaavor), "this too shall pass."

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "The Revolutions in Europe", Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, May, 1848, p. 638
  2. ^ in Polonius: A Collection of Wise Saws and Modern Instances
  3. ^ a b c d Keyes, Ralph (2006). The quote Verifier: Who Said What, Where, and When. Macmillan. pp. 159–160. ISBN 0-312-34004-4.
  4. ^ "Address before the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society". Abraham Lincoln Online. Milwaukee, Wisconsin. September 30, 1859.
  5. ^ "The Advantages of "Thorough Cultivation", and the Fallacies of the "Mud-sill" Theory of Labor's Subjection to Capital". Life and Works of Abraham Lincoln. 5. 1907. p. 293.
  6. ^ Leiman, Shnayer Z. (Spring 2008). "Judith Ish-Kishor: This Too Shall Pass". Tradition: A Journal of Orthodox Jewish Thought. 41 (1): 71–77. JSTOR 23263507.
  7. ^ Taylor, Archer (1968). "This Too Will Pass". In Harkort, Fritz; Peeters, Karel Constant; Wildhaber, Robert. Volksüberlieferung: Festschrift für Kurt Ranke. Göttingen: Otto Schwartz. pp. 345–350.