Another of God’s Aphorisms, and More…

Google Vs GodThe billboards outside churches continue to be popular locations for thoughts for the day, many of which center around the theme of searching (for meaning, perhaps?) and Google.

I posted some of these earlier in God’s Aphorisms and More of God’s Aphorisms but there seems no end to them. To the right is yet another spotted by one eagle-eyed online aphorism scout.

I’ve also received some aphorisms from mere mortals, including this from John Alejandro King, a.k.a. the Covert Comic:

It’s not the illusion of reality that need persist, only the illusion of persistence.

And this, from David Batchelor:

True wisdom is knowing when to compromise your principles.

Proverbs via W.S. Merwin

Strictly speaking, proverbs are not aphorisms. The only difference, really, is that aphorisms have an identifiable author, while proverbs have been around so long that the identity of the author has been lost. Still, proverbs and aphorisms pack so much meaning into so few words by the same mechanism: metaphor. Take the great Chinese proverb:

It’s hard to dismount from a tiger.

How do we know what that saying means? I, for one, have never mounted a tiger, nor have I dismounted one, and I am not inclined to try either operation. Yet I know exactly what this saying means, even though I know nothing about tigers and the saying itself has nothing whatsoever to do with mounting or dismounting actual tigers. I know what this saying means because I know what the metaphor means—getting out of a wild, uncontrollable situation can often be more dangerous than the situation itself.

It took me 16 words to paraphrase the meaning of this proverb, but the proverb itself is only seven words long. Proverbs and aphorisms can be so short, and so meaningful, because the metaphor does all the work. It’s like those foam dinosaurs that come in little capsules; drop one into your child’s (or your own) bath and it unfolds into a good-sized stegosaurus. Drop a metaphor into your stream of consciousness and it expands into manifold meanings. Good, clean fun for the whole family.

Here are some more metaphorical proverbs, taken from W.S. Merwin’s East Window: The Asian Translations.

Burnt tortoise: the pain stays inside.

Rat runs off with a squash holding it by the little end.

The fish line goes out and out but one end is in my hand.

Sleeves touch because they were going to since the world began.

One dog barks at nothing, ten thousands others pass it on.

Chase two hares, both get away.

On Light Bulbs

Stacked like logs in the supermarket, next to the paper towels and the laundry detergent, they await burning. Nestled like eggs, each in its own cardboard box, they clasp tiny brittle buds inside fragile translucent shells. Patient and inconspicuous, these wildest of creatures have been easily domesticated. In homes and offices, they take root on desktops, sprout from bedside tables, thriving in the darkest corners. Hanging from ceilings, they are flowering stalactites—one flick of a switch drives the sap through their veins, through pistil and stamen, and they burst into flame. Then there is no controlling them. They immediately speed away, leaving a trail of fire in their wakes. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, one appears above your head. It glows there in the air for a moment, like some startled bird, before splitting open, spilling its brightness everywhere.

A version of this abbreviated essay appeared in the June issue of Ode, on newsstands now.

Aphorisms via the German Aphorism Contest

The moment we’ve all been waiting for has arrived! In fact, it arrived on May 15, when the names of the ten winning aphorists in the German Aphorism Association (DAphA) contest were announced at Germany’s Stadtmuseum Hattingen, home of DAphA. The German aphorism competition is the only one I know of in the world and, though it may sound like an obscure endeavor, this year the jury had to select its favorite aphorisms from more than 1,500 entries penned by more than 300 contributors from all parts of Germany as well as some neighboring countries. That is an astonishing result, and surely makes Hattingen the Cannes of aphorism competitions. For the full story, check out Jurgen Wilbert’s blog on the World Aphorism Association site. For now, here is a selection of the some of the winning sayings (and don’t forget the German Aphorism Association conference from Nov 6–8 in Hattingen):

An aphorist is not stingy with thoughts but with words. —Marita Bagdahn, Bonn

You are working on your weaknesses until they dominate you perfectly. —Helwig Brunner, Graz, Austria

Accidents happen on which the fingerprints of God are still visible. —Nikolaus Cybinski, Lörrach

In a good dialogue, half-truths will not be added together but shared. —Jacques Wirion, Luxemburg

In the long run, no one can live with just one lie; he will certainly need some more. —Wolfgang Mocker, Berlin

Who has not been held up, does not go far. —Frank Rawel, Michendorf

Aphorisms by Rifkah Goldberg

Rifkah Goldberg was born in London in 1950, but has been living in Jerusalem since 1975. A biochemist and a painter, she started writing poetry and presenting it at Jerusalem Poetry Slams in the late 1990s after going through the trauma of a divorce. Her work has appeared in the U.S., England and Israel. In common with many other aphorists, personal trauma led her to an interest in aphorisms, which she has collected in Therapy through Aphorisms. Her aphorisms are refreshingly bleak, offering no quick therapeutic fix for life’s many blemishes and bruises.

The main problem with people is that they are human.

Children inherit their parents’ unfinished business.

You can never have a second first marriage.

There is no end to divorce.

Life is a losing battle.