Like milk when once gone sour,
Love lost is lost forever.
I just made that proverb up.
I don't even believe it, but what if that were a common saying? What I'm thinking about right now is the power of comparisons. We all have lots of comparisons at hand that we use to figure out what's going on in our lives, and it seems to me that whatever is in that arsenal of comparisons that come to your mind, carries a lot of power in your life.
Of course we don't just reference similes from nature (like milk going sour) to understand our lives; we all have a library of songs, movies, books, t.v. shows and all manner of stories that we reference. Every culture and every individual has a unique set. These tell us how things work and tell us how to behave.
I tend to think there’s no such a thing as a story without a moral. Authors lead their readers to want the narrative to go a certain way for the characters, and certain outcomes are shown as more appealing than others. Really clever authors can make us want the plot to go one way, and then later show us how foolish we were to want that, convincing us that another path (whether happily taken or tragically missed forever) is much better.
We discover the moral as we relate the stories that we read to our own lives — we find points of similarity and compare the characters and situations with the people and situations in our lives, and what was made appealing in the story then seems like a good idea for our lives.
Marrying Mr. Darcy looks like a good idea in Pride & Prejudice, so if a young lady wants to apply in her own life what was presented as positive in Pride and Prejudice, she must figure out who in her life is Mr. Darcy (assuming she’s Elizabeth.)
We all do some of this kind of thing, but it’s pretty hard.
There are so many stories and and there are so many aspects to the different characters and situations. Say you’re a girl trying to figure out if you should marry the local boy (your childhood friend) or if you should go out into the world and find a somewhat older man of experience — the Anne of Green Gables series and Little Women give opposite answers to that question!
^Strong feelings bode well for future romance. (If you click on the picture, don't close it but click back)
Of course you can look into the particular traits of the characters (for example an Austen reader who wants to make a comparison to understand a clergyman in her life, must determine whether he’s a silly Mr. Collins, charming Mr. Tilney, mean Mr. Elton, or steady Edmund Bertram,) but even underlying all that is the question: what if you get it right but the author was wrong about life!
In a way more basic than the moral of the story is just how it presents
"THE WAY THINGS ARE"
A book can be a bad reference point for your life just because life doesn't work the way it's shown in the story.
I should mention that we have much to be thankful for to good authors who have made real folly appear foolish and true nobility look noble. But authors and readers must be careful; stories falsely told or wrongly understood can give one a sense of things being fated to fall out a particular way in one's life when they needn't and shouldn't "Well, I guess that's just the way it goes. Just like in that novel, there are no second chances, love lost is lost forever."
I wasn't actually thinking of a book, but a song when I made up my little desponding love proverb — If You Could Read my Mind by Gordon Lightfoot, sung in 1970:
I never thought I could feel this way
And I've got to say that I just don't get it.
I don't know where we went wrong,
But the feeling's gone
And I just can't get it back.
^Gordon Lightfoot, looking slightly sad
Is this the way things have to be? This song was written from the sorrow of a divorce, and interestingly (I bring this up at the risk of infinite regress) has in it the idea of referencing his experience to a novel:
When you reach the part where the heartaches come,
The hero would be me.
But heroes often fail,
And you won't read that book again
Because the ending's just too hard to take.
That hurts! But what if you didn't want this to be your only point of reference when you encounter love gone cold in your own life? What if you don't want to believe that it's just like in that sad novel, or that song that says "the feeling's gone and I just can't get it back."
Well, eleven years before that song came out, Jaques Brel gave us a metaphor arguing for hope when love has grown cold. In his famous 1959 song Ne Me Quitte Pas (Don't Leave Me) he sang:
On a vu souvent
Rejaillir le feu
D'un ancien volcan
Qu'on croyait trop vieux
Il est, paraît-il
Des terres brûlées
Donnant plus de blé
Qu'un meilleur avril
Which paraphrased is: We've often seen come forth again the fire of an ancient volcano, thought too old; the burnt land gives more wheat than the best April.
^A farmer in Indonesia watches Mt Sinabung erupt. Before 2010 the volcano had lain dormant for 400 years. Photo credit: AP/BINSAR BAKKARA
“April" represents the springtime of love and the ancient volcano represents old love rekindled. The metaphor lends credence to the point in a powerful way, because volcanic soil does in fact produce the best wheat. If it works that way with wheat, maybe it's a principle that applies to other things in this world, like relationships? This is the strength of nature metaphors. The comparison to a novel or movie can be very powerful in how you understand your life, but if you think about it consciously that question will come up "What if the story is wrong about how things works?"
This isn't so much the case with nature metaphors; I'd say M. Brel’s volcano/wheat metaphor is definitely one you'll want to keep in your quiver of metaphors. It’s a good counter to my sour milk one — when someone tells you “The feeling's gone and I just can't get it back -- love lost is gone forever” you can fire back with “What about the wheat that grows from volcanic soil!"