It’s been a long time since I last found myself awake writing at 4.30 in the morning. But here we are. As I was lying in bed something that I had been playing with in my head all night finally came clear. It was like random puzzle pieces from my past falling together to form a picture of a piece of writing that has played a very consistent part in my life, mostly unbeknown to myself until tonight.
As I worked a shift behind a bar tonight, a few lines started running through my head.
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, That struts and frets his hour upon the stage, And then is heard no more. It is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.
It’s from Macbeth (Act 5, scene 5 more precisely). The first time I heard these words, I was 10 years old. Out, out brief candle! My family had just picked up a new piece of software called Encarta 95. It was an encyclopaedia that had a video it would play on start up. You could skip past it, but I never did. I can still remember most of it to this day, such a weird thing to have such an impact. But in that introduction to Encarta 95, were contained these famous words of the Bard, and I knew them by heart.
Skip forward 6 or 7 years and Macbeth comes up at school. The class is divided up into groups to perform a section of the work for the rest of the class. My group was assigned Act 5, scene 5. And I was assigned Macbeth. The rest of my group were as glad to have dodged the part as I was to take it. Weird kids… Anyway, I learned the rest of the soliloquy that term.
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow, Creeps in this petty pace from day to day, To the last syllable of recorded time; And all our yesterdays have lighted fools The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, That struts and frets his hour upon the stage, And then is heard no more. It is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.
One of the most extraordinary things ever written. Another 10 years on and the words are back again, taking up residence in my mind, probably to provide insight into the current state of it. It can be so hard to articulate sometimes. Then my memory sends me little notes like this one. “Here it is,” she says “here are some words that express it.” And they’re comforting. These words. That words even exist to say things you could never express properly yourself is nice to know. They give you the same kind of catharsis to read as writing itself does. The weirdest (although least surprising) thing in all of this, is that each time I have heard these words, they have meant something new…