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The Story Of My Life, Part 5

From: The Story Of My Life Series
Creator: Helen Keller (author)
Date: August 1902
Publication: The Ladies' Home Journal
Source: Available at selected libraries

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Page 5:


A Summing-up of Virgil and Homer


MY ADMIRATION for the "├ćneid" is less justifiable, perhaps, but none the less real. I read it as much as possible without the help of notes or dictionary, and I always liked to translate the episodes that pleased me especially. The word-painting of Virgil is wonderful sometimes; but his gods and men move through the scenes of passion and strife and pity and love like the graceful figures in an Elizabethan masque, whereas in the "Iliad" they give three leaps and go on singing. Virgil is serene and lovely, like a marble Venus in the moonlight; Homer is a beautiful animated youth in the full sunlight with the wind in his hair.


How easy it is to fly on paper wings! From "Greek Heroes" to the "Iliad" was no day's journey, nor was it altogether pleasant. One could have traveled around the world many times while I trudged my weary way through the labyrinthine mazes of grammars and dictionaries or fell into those dreadful pitfalls, called examinations, set by schools and colleges for the confusion of those who seek after knowledge. I suppose this sort of Pilgrim's Progress was justified by the end; but it seemed interminable to me.


I began to read the Bible long before I could understand it. Now it seems strange to me that there should have been a time when my spirit was deaf to its wondrous harmonies; but I remember well a rainy Sunday morning when, having nothing else to do, I begged my cousin to read me a story out of the Bible. Although she did not think I should understand, she began to spell into my hand the story of Joseph and his brothers. Somehow it failed to interest me. The unusual language and repetition made the story seem unreal and far away in the land of Canaan, and I actually fell asleep before the brothers came with the coat of many colors unto the tent of Jacob and told their wicked lie! I cannot understand why the stories of the Greeks should have been so full of charm for me and those of the Bible so devoid of interest, unless it was that I had made the acquaintance of several Greeks in Boston and been inspired by their enthusiasm for the stories of their country; whereas I had not met a single Hebrew or Egyptian, and therefore concluded that they were nothing more than barbarians, and the stories about them were probably all "made up," which hypothesis explained the repetitions and the queer names. Curiously enough, it never occurred to me to call Greek patronymics "queer."


Joy Over the Glories of the Bible


BUT how shall I speak of the glories I have since discovered in the Bible? For years I have read it with an ever-broadening sense of joy and inspiration; and I love it as I love no other book. Still there is much in the Bible so hateful to every instinct of my being that I regret the necessity which has compelled me to read it through from beginning to end. I do not think that the knowledge which I have gained of its history and sources compensates me for the odious details it has forced upon my attention. For my part, I wish, with Mr. Howells, that the literature of the past might be purged of all that is ugly and noxious in it, although I should object as much as any one to having these great works weakened or falsified.


There is something impressive, awful, in the simplicity and terrible directness of the book of Esther. Could there be anything more dramatic than the scene in which Esther stands before her wicked lord? She knows her life is in his hand; there is no one to protect her from his wrath. Yet, conquering her woman's fear, she approaches him, animated by the noblest patriotism, having but one thought: "If I perish, I perish; but if I live, my people shall live."


The story of Ruth, too -- how Oriental it is! Yet how different is the life of these simple country folk from that of the Persian capital! Ruth is so loyal and gentle-hearted, we cannot help loving her, as she stands with the reapers amid the waving corn. Her beautiful, unselfish spirit shines out like a bright star in the night of a dark, faithless and cruel age. Love like Ruth's, love which can rise above conflicting creeds and deep-seated racial prejudices, is as rare now as it was then.


But I cannot say all I wish to about the Bible in the space I have left. I shall add only that it gives me a deep, comforting sense that "things seen are temporal, and things unseen are eternal."


Loved Shakespeare on First Acquaintance


I DO not remember a time since I have been capable of loving books that I have not loved Shakespeare. I cannot tell exactly when I began Lamb's "Tales from Shakespeare"; but I know that I read them at first with a child's understanding and a child's wonder. "Macbeth" seems to have impressed me most. One reading was sufficient to stamp every detail upon my memory forever. For a long time the ghosts and witches pursued me even into Dreamland. I could see, absolutely see, the dagger, and Lady Macbeth's little white hand -- the dreadful stain was as real to me as to the grief-stricken Queen.

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