Saturday, September 30, 2017

Robert Grudin: on watch shapes

Robert Grudin
Time and the Art of Living


For a while now I have kept, along with our more traditional timepieces, a digital watch which shows hours, minutes and seconds in illuminated Arabic numerals.  Such watches, my wife remarks, give their wearers a wholly different idea of time.  Looking at them we see a particular time, divorced from its context in the broader picture of the day.  The round faces of the older watches and clocks speak to us not only of the present but also of the past and the future--when we woke, when we will work or play or rest, where we have been, where we wish to be or must be.  Intricately and persistently they remind us of our existence in a continuum, which includes not only the social and natural world but also our own extending identity in time.  The new watches, like many other modern and businesslike thins, ignore such frivolities, demarcating only that particular island of time on which we happen to be stranded.

-- Robert Grudin --
Time and the Art of Living

What sayest thou?   Has his wife a valid point?

Do the  round faces of the older watches and clocks speak to us not only of the present but also of the past and the future?

Do they remind us of our existence in a continuum, which includes not only the social and natural world but also our own extending identity in time?

Does the sweep of the "seconds" hand convey a different picture of time passing than does the sight of numbers increasing one-by-one on a digital watch?.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Loren Eiseley: "The Innocent Fox"

This is an excerpt from an essay in Loren Eiseley's collection, The Star Thrower.  The essay is titled "The Innocent Fox."   Perhaps it could have been called "The Innocent Fox and the Innocent Human"?

The episode occurred upon an unengaging and unfrequented shore,  It began in the late afternoon of a day devoted at the start to ordinary scientific purposes.  There was the broken prow of a beached boat subsiding in heavy sand, left by the whim of ancient currents a long way distant from the shifting coast.  Somewhere on the horizon wavered the tenuous outlines of a misplaced building, growing increasingly insubstantial in the autumn light. 

A fog suddenly moved in, and he is trapped.  Rather than wander about, he decides to stay by the beached boat until the fog lifts or morning comes.

. . . It was then I saw the miracle.  I saw it because I was hunched at ground level smelling rank of fox, and no longer gazing with upright human arrogance upon the things of this world.  

I did not realize at first what it was that I looked upon.  As my wandering attention centered, I saw nothing but two small projecting ears lit by the morning sun.  Beneath them, a small neat face looked shyly up at me.  The ears moved at every sound, drank in a gull's cry and the far horn of a ship.  They crinkled, I began to realize, only with curiosity, they had not learned to fear.  The creature was very young.  He was alone in a dread universe.  I crept on my knees around the prow and crouched beside him  It was a small fox pup from a den under the timbers who looked up at me.  God knows what had become of his brothers and sisters.  His parent must not have been home fro hunting.

He innocently selected what I think was a chicken bone from an untidy pile of splintered rubbish and shook it at me invitingly.   There was a vast and playful humor in his face.  "If there was only one fox in the world and I could kill him. I would do."  The words of a British poacher in a pub rasped in my ears. I dropped even further and painfully away from human stature.  It has been said repeatedly that one can never, try as he will, get around to the front of the universe  Man is destined to see only its far side, to realize nature only in  retreat.

Yet here was the thing in the midst of the bones, the wide-eyed, innocent fox inviting me to play, with the innate courtesy of it two forepaws placed appealingly together, along with a mock shake of the head.  The universe was swinging in some fantastic fashion around to present its face, and the face was so small that the universe itself was laughing.

It was not a time for human dignity. It was a time only for the careful observance of amenities written behind the stars.  Gravely I arranged my forepaws while the puppy whimpered with ill-concealed excitement.  I drew the breath of a fox's den into my nostrils. On impulse, I picked up clumsily a whiter bone and shook it in teeth that had not entirely forgotten their original purpose.  Round and round we tumbled for one ecstatic moment.  We were the innocent thing in the midst of the bones, born in the egg, born in the den, born in the dark cave with the stone ax close to hand, born at last in human guise to grow coldly remote in the room with the rifle rack upon the wall.

But, I had seen my miracle.  I had seen the universe as it begins for all things.  It was, in reality, a child's universe, a tiny and laughing universe.  I rolled the pup on his back and ran, literally ran for the neared ridge.  The sun was half out of the sea, and the world was swinging back to normal.  The adult foxes would be already trotting home.

A little farther on, I passed one on a ridge who knew well I had no gun, for it swung by quite close, stepping delicately with brush and head held high.  Its face was watchful but averted,  It did not matter.  It was what I had experienced and the fox had experienced, what we had all experienced in adulthood.   We passed carefully on our separate ways into the morning, eyes not meeting. 

.   .   .   .   .

For just a moment I had held the universe at bay by the simple expedient of sitting on my haunches before a fox den and tumbling about with a chicken bone.  It is the gravest, most meaningful act I shall ever accomplish, but, as  Thoreau once remarked of some peculiar errand of his own, there is no use reporting it to the Royal Society.

Perhaps we should, at times, forget our status as lords of creation.  I read somewhere the creativity is strongest in those who have never quite completely grown up.  Something to think about anyway.

I suppose this will be seen by many as just a cute story, of little consequence and to be quickly forgotten or ignored.  I think it's very significant in that it tells us a lot about the type of person Loren Eiseley was and much about the way he saw the world.   I wonder how many other scientists would act as he did and also reveal it to their fellow scientists.   Eiseley had mentioned once or twice that some of his colleagues actually reprimanded him for his non-scientific outlook as expressed in his essays and poetry.

I am reminded of many SF stories I had read in the past that pushed the idea that the world would be a better place, a more open and tolerant world if run by scientists and technologists, for they were free of prejudice and would be more willing to forgo past ways of thinking and rely on evidence.   I don't see much of that anymore in SF.  Perhaps SF writers have also read the accounts of the difficulties that new ideas, in spite of the evidence, had in being accepted.  As usual, it's a case of yesterday's heresies are today's truths and will be tomorrow's dogmatic barrier to new ideas.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

John Donne and Elizabeth Jennings: Bells

No man is an iland, intire of it selfe

No man is an iland, intire of it selfe;
Every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine;
If a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse,
As well as if a Promontorie were,
As well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine owne were;
Any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde;
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.
-- John Donne --
Devotions upon Emergent Occasion
Meditation XVII



"The bells renew the town, discover it
And give it back itself again, the man
Pulling the rope collects the houses as
Thoughts gather in the mind unscanned, he is
Crowding the town together from the night
And making bells the morning, in remote

Control of every life (for the bells shout 'Wake'
And shake out dreams, though it is he who pulls
The sleep aside.)  But not into his thought
Do men continue as in lives of power;

For when each bell is pulled sufficiently
He never sees himself as any cause
Or need; the sounds had left his hands to sing
A meaning for each listening separately,
A separate meaning for the single choice.

Yet bells retire to silence, need him when
Time must be shown a lucid interval
And men look up as if the air were full
Of birds descending, bells exclaiming in
His hands but shouting wider than his will."

-- Elizabeth Jennings --
Collected Poems

Several days ago I read Elizabeth Jennings' poem, and it has stayed with me, occasionally popping up in odd moments.   A day or so ago, early in the morning  "when Dawn's Left Hand was in the Sky" Donne's poem emerged from somewhere.

Both poems focus on the human community, but from a slightly different perspective, or so it seems to me.  Donne's poem asserts the close relationship of all humans, so much so that the death of one "diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde;"  However he just asserts it and gives no reason why this is so.  Conversely, I suppose that each birth has the opposite effect: it increases him.

Of course, it is the last two lines. " And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;/
It tolls for thee." that provides a link to Jennings poem.  Jennings' poem proposes that it is the sound of the bells that "collects the houses" and to some extent controls their lives.

The title, however, is "Bell-Ringer," not "Bells."  Jennings tells us that the bell-ringer is not aware of his power or role in the community.  His job is simply to ring the bells at a specified time, and that's all there is to it.

Are there others who possess and exercise similar powers but are unaware of it?  

One last point:  I wonder, though, is it the sound of the bells, or  something signified by the bells.   I have a block, I fear, for I can hardly think of bells without thinking of church and church bells.  I have a problem considering bells in a non-religious setting, so I can't go beyond thinking that the sound of the bells may symbolize a faith that unites the human community.

Are there other possibilities? Could it be language or culture?

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Cordwainer Smith: "War No. 81-Q"

Cordwainer Smith
"War No. 81-Q"
from The Rediscovery of Man

In the future, humanity has progressed to the point that, while they can not completely eliminate war, they have restrained it sufficiently, at least in most cases, so that it has become harmless and a game telecast on TV, a spectator sport.  War No. 81-Q is an example of this new type of war.

America believes that it has a valid complaint against Tibet and has applied for  a license to conduct a limited or "safe" war.

"The Universal War Board granted a war permit, subject to strict and clear conditions.

1.  The war was to be fought only at the times and places specified.

2.  No human being was to be killed or injured, directly or indirectly, by any performance of the machines of war.  Emotional injury was not be be considered.

3.  An  appropriate territory was to be leased and cleared.  Provisions should be made for the maximum removal of wildlife,  particularly birds, which might be hurt by the battle.

4.  The weapons were to be winged dirigibles with a maximum weight of 22,000 tons, propelled by non-nuclear engines.

5.  All radio channels were to be strictly monitored by the U. W. B. and by both parties.  At any complaint of jamming or interference the war was to be brought to a halt.

6.   Each dirigible should have six non-explosive missiles and thirty non-explosive countermissiles.

7.  The U. W. B. was to intercept and to destroy all stray missiles and real weapons before the missiles left the war zone, and each party, regardless of the outcome of  the war, was to pay he U. W. B. directly for the interception and destruction of stray missiles.

8.  No living human beings were to be allowed on the ships, in the war zone, or on the communications equipment which relayed the war to the world's television.

9.  The 'stipulated territory' was to be the War Territory of Kerguelen,  to be leased by both parties from the Fourteenth French Republic, as agent for Federated Europe, at the price of four million gold livres the hour.

10.  Seating for the war, apart from video rights belonging to the combatants, should remain the sole property of the lessor of the War Territory of Kerguelen.

With these arrangements, the French off-lifted their sheep from the island ranges of Kerguelen--the weary sheep were getting thoroughly used to being lifted from their grazing land to Antarctic lighters every time a war occurred. . . "

As you probably guessed from the list of limitations, no humans were placed in jeopardy.  The actual fighting was confined to remote radio-controlled dirigibles, the drones of their day, I guess.  Dirigibles were chosen because they moved slowly enough to be visible on TV screens (always an important issue) but complex enough to require real skill to operate.   The war was fought in a confined space with spectators.  Non-explosive missiles were used for obvious reasons.   I am reminded of the games in the Roman Coliseum, only less bloody.

Each side had five dirigibles.  The limited number of ships reduced the advantages that large and prosperous countries had over smaller and possibly poorer countries.  That a country with a large population would have a greater pool from which to find skillful pilots was still an advantage, although mitigated by the rules which allowed for the hiring of mercenaries.  

.The Americans, confident in their pilot, elected for the one-pilot rule.  Therefore, Jack Reardon, a very skillful pilot, would control all five dirigibles in the contest against the five pilots controlling the Tibetan ships.  It was a risk, but the advantage was this:  in this type of contest, all the one pilot had to do was down only two of the enemy ships to be victorious, regardless of the number of ships he had left. 

A brief introduction indicates that this situation lasted for a few centuries only.  When the population reached thirty billion, war stopped being a game and once again became real--an interesting commentary on the role of war, I think.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Lawrence Durrell: The Black Book

Lawrence Durrell
The Black Book

The Black Book is the novel that gained Lawrence Durrell notice in the literary world.   T. S. Eliot called it "the first piece of work by a new English writer to give me any hope for the future of prose fiction."  Henry Miller worked to get a private edition printed in Paris when Durrell had difficulty finding a publisher.

I find some interesting parallels between The Black Book and the Alexandria Quartet  (AQ).  It's almost as if this was a first attempt which gave him the experience to produce the much larger work, four novels in the Alexandria Quartet, instead of one. 

Both novels are 1st person narratives,  and the narrators of both are now on islands in the Mediterranean, writing of  their experiences of the past year or two.   While the narrator in the AQ writes of his experiences in Alexandria just before WWII, the narrator of The Black Book tells the reader in the past year he has spent in a tired, rundown  hotel in London.  Both narrators struggle as they are in the process of learning their craft.

We don't find out the narrator's name in the AQ until the second novel, Balthazar.  And then, it's only his last name, Darley.  However we do get a clue in the first novel when Darley is told that he's referred to as Lineaments of Gratified Desire.  These are his initials, which coincidentally happen to be the same as the author's: Lawrence George Durrell.   The narrator in The Black Book jokingly refers to himself several times as Lawrence Lucifer. 
Those are not the only parallels.   As in the AQ, various forms of love or lust are portrayed in The Black Book, although limited in comparison to the AQ. Another is that at least one other writer is featured prominently in both works.  Journals and diaries also play an important role in both works.  One last commonality is the broken narrative structure in both works wherein the time line is fractured.  Characters are brought into the narrative, and we learn that they are dead or have left before we find out anything about them, including their relationship to the narrator.  It is only later that we learn their significance

Of course, differences exist.  Aside from the size of the two works, one major difference is tone.  The AQ seems to be, to me anyway, a celebration of Alexandria, with all its marvelous characters, its romantic and tragic tales, and its history.  On the other hand, The Black Book is a bitter, biting satire on England between the two world wars.  The narrator refers to "the English death" frequently when speaking of the England of the 1930's.  In the AQ, the golden, if sometimes harsh, light of the sun is an important characteristic of the natural world, while England is usually portrayed as dark, gloomy, and rainy. 

I had first read The Black Book only after reading The Alexandria Quartet, so it is difficult, if not impossible, to judge it on its own merits.  How much of my interest in the work is the result of having read it after The Alexandria Quartet and, therefore, seeing the relationship of this work to the larger work is debatable. I just don't know.  What my feelings toward this work would be if I had read it first is difficult to say right now.

Friday, September 15, 2017

W. H. Auden: "Their Lonely Betters"


As I listened from a beach-chair in the shade
To all the noises that my garden made,
It seemed to me only proper that words
Should be withheld from vegetables and birds.

A robin with no Christian name ran through
The Robin-Anthem which was all it knew,
And rustling flowers for some third party waited
To say which pairs, if any, should get mated.

No one of them was capable of lying,
There was not one which knew that it was dying
Or could have with a rhythm or a rhyme
Assumed responsibility for time.

Let them leave language to their lonely betters
Who count some days and long for certain letters;
We, too, make noises when we laugh or weep:
Words are for those with promises to keep.

-- W. H. Auden --
from Art and Nature: An Illustrated Anthology of Nature Poetry

And miles to go before we sleep.
And miles to go before we sleep.

Does being able to create poetry make up for this loneliness?  

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

An History of India: a series of lectures presented by the Teaching Company

An History of India
A Great Courses Set on DVD
The Teaching Company
6 DVDs, 18 hours of lectures

I've long been impressed by the lecture sets produced by the Teaching Company, called The Great Courses.  They are a series of lectures, four or six to a DVD, each lecture being 30 or 45 minutes in length.  The sets range from 2 to 8 DVDs, and each DVD contains three hours of lectures.  The format is that of the ordinary classroom lecture, supplemented by appropriate visual and auditory aids.    Discussions of the arts will include photographs of the paintings  or sculptures under discussion while excerpts of music are presented during lectures on the work being discussed.

The topics covered include the sciences, mathematics, literature, religion, economics and finance, history, music, the fine arts, meditation, gardening, cooking, home decoration, various self-help topics, and a number of subjects I've forgotten to mention.  I think there's something here for just about everybody.

The lectures are geared for the average student who may know a little about the subject, but those who know nothing about the subject will have little or no difficulty understanding the lectures.   For example, I've viewed a number of lecture sets on astronomy and have found that most, if not all, begin with an introductory lecture on the beginning of the universe, the Big Bang theory or its variants.

This set of lectures on the history of India, presented by Professor Michael H. Fisher of Oberlin College,  begins with what is known about the earliest inhabitants of the subcontinent.  Most agree that they were there at least 35,000 years ago and some argue for a date of 70,000 years.  It appears as though, later, that there were three distinct cultural threads forming the early population, and DNA tests suggests that the survivors are still present today, though mixed and interspersed among the general population today.

Subsequent lectures include the various attempts to unify India, the development of  various religions (Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, and Sikhism), and the effects of the interactions with other cultures and religions, including Islam and Christianity.  The last set of lectures include the results of the 1947 partition of the subcontinent into India,  Pakistan, and eventually Bangladesh and the violence that resulted.  The set came out in 2016, so it is quite up-to-date to that point.  However, it appeared prior to recent events in Pakistan, so the effects of the attempted coup are not covered. 

Viewing the lectures will not make me an expert on India, and they are not designed to do that.  They do provide an excellent overview of the subject, though, much like an introductory course on any subject.   One of the topics covered was Hinduism, of which I know little.   Another was Sikhism.  So, in the future, I will be looking for more information on those subjects.  I have already viewed its set of lectures on Buddhism and have some ideas about further research on that topic.  That's one of the benefits of courses such as this: it provides areas for further investigation.

I get these sets from the local library which has a wide variety of the Teaching Company offerings.  I have probably viewed around 50 of the sets over the past ten to fifteen years.  At present I have the following sets awaiting me:  The Nature of Earth: An Introduction to Geology,  How to Read and Understand Shakespeare, and The Great Tours:  Experiencing Medieval Europe.

The following is a link to the Teaching Company's web page where you can peruse its extensive collection.  The sets are for sale and can be purchased in a variety of formats, including downloads.

I hope some of you are interested sufficiently to browse through the Teaching Company's offerings.  It's free.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

A Minute Meditation

Outwardly the enlightened seem the same as everybody else.  Inwardly, however, their distinctive trait is that they have no goal, but simply allow life to enfold with no concern for where it is going.  For them, effort, cunning, and purpose are the results of having forgotten one's true nature.

-- Zi Gong --
from Taoist Wisdom
Timothy Freke, editor

No goal?  No plans for the future?  Just drift with what is happening at that time?   It seems to go against everything we in the West are taught, or so it seems to me.

This sounds strange to me.   But, then again, when people asked me long ago what I was going to be when I grew up, I never had an answer.  I can look back and see how one thing led to another; however, I never imagined my life would go as it did. 

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Loren Eiseley and Robert Silverberg: a strange pairing?

Robert Silverberg
Downward to the Earth
an SF novel

Loren Eiseley
The Star Thrower

I found the following conversation in Downward to the Earth,  a science fiction novel by Robert Silverberg.  It is set on an alien planet which Earth had colonized and then had to leave because it was discovered that there was a sentient/intelligent race native to the planet, something that should have been obvious from the beginning.  Why it wasn't is explained in the discussion between Gunderson, once head of the Company's operation on the planet and a tourist. 

"Watson asked, 'Why don't they have a civilization, then?'

'I've just told you that they do.'

'I mean cities, machines, books--'

'They're not physically equipped for writing, for building things, for any small manipulations,' Gunderson said.  'Don't you see, they have no hands?  A race with hands makes one kind of society.  A race built like elephants makes another.'''

At about the same time I read  Downward to the Earth, I also read a collection of essays, The Star Thrower,  by Loren Eiseley--anthropologist, poet, essayist.  In one of the essays, he brought up the research findings by Dr. John Lilly about the intelligence of the porpoise.  Eiseley asked an interesting question. 

"We are forced to ask ourselves whether native intelligence in another form than man's might be as high as or even higher than his own, yet be marked by no such material monuments as man has placed on the earth."

Eiseley then proposes a thought  experiment.   We will trade in our hands for flippers and the land for the ocean, bringing with us only our intelligence.

"The result is immediately evident and quite clear.  No matter how well we communicate with our fellows through the water medium we will never build drowned empires in the coral .  .  .  Over all that region of wondrous beauty we will exercise no more control than the simplest mollusk.  Even the octopus with flexible arms will build little shelters that we cannot imitate.  Without hands we will have only the freedom to follow the untrammeled sea winds across the planet."

And later, Eiseley paraphrases Melville's commentary about the sperm whale and in which he substitutes the porpoise: "'Genius in the porpoise? Has the porpoise ever written a book, spoken  speech?  No, his great genius is declared in his doing nothing particular to prove it.  It is proved in his pyramidal silence.' "

"If man had sacrificed his hands for flukes, the moral might run, he would still be a philosopher, but there would have been taken from him the devastating power to wreak his thought upon the body of the  world.  Instead he would have lived and wandered, like the porpoise, homeless across currents and wind and oceans, intelligent, but forever the lonely and curious observer of unknown wreckage falling the through the blue light of eternity.   This would now be a deserved penitence for man.  Perhaps such a transformation would bring him once more into that mood of childhood innocence in which he talked successfully to all things living but had no power and no urge to harm.  It is worth at last a wistful thought that someday the porpoise may talk to us and we to him.  It would break, perhaps, the long loneliness that has made man a frequent terror and abomination even to himself."

It is coincidence, of course, to find a similar topic in an SF novel and in a collection of essays.   But, finding the same topic in both made me think about it in a way that wouldn't have happened if I hadn't encountered it in two such different works.

It is a fascinating question; what would my life be if I had flippers instead of hands and feet and if I lived in the sea? 

Monday, September 4, 2017

Thomas Mann: "Disillusionment" Part 2

Thomas Mann
a short story

After rereading the post, I realized that I had focused on the relationship between the story and the song and had ignored some interesting points in the story, or at least, they seemed interesting to me.
I wondered about  the source of his disillusionment.    He apparently believes that the problem lies in the situations themselves rather than in any deficiency in himself:  the problem is external rather than internal.  I think it is an internal problem: it is inside him.  Either he has excessive expectations or he is deficient in some way.  

Another of those ignored points is that the disillusioned man brought forth both types of disappointments:  he recognized that he was disappointed not only in those situations where the joy did not reach the hoped for expected levels, but also in those situations where the grief or sadness also did not achieve those heights.  It is almost as if he recognized that both had to be necessary: the great joy as well as the great sadness or grief.  Is this true:  one must be able to experience both? 

I think there may be those who would have regretted missing out on the great joys of life while being happy to have escaped those situations of grief or sadness.   Could there be those who never missed feeling even the great joys of life?  In other words, are there people who would envy the disillusioned man?

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Thomas Mann and Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller and Peggy Lee?

Thomas Mann
a short story included in Stories of Three Decades
H. T.  Lowe-Porter, translator 

I, after a few decades of my own, dug out my copy of Thomas Mann's Stories of Three Decades, a collection of twenty-four short stories.  It was while reading the second story in the collection, "Disillusionment," that something strange happened.

It's not a complicated tale at all.  The first person narrator is sitting in a sidewalk cafe in Venice, enjoying the evening, when a man seated at the next table, begins to talk to him.  After a few opening pleasantries, the stranger suddenly  becomes quite serious.

"Do you know, my dear sir, what disillusionment is?"  he low, urgent tones, both hands leaning on his stick.  "Not a miscarriage in small, unimportant matters, but the great and general disappointment which everything, all of life, has in store?  No, of course, you do not know.  But from my youth up I have carried it about with me; it has made me lonely, unhappy, and a bit queer, I do not deny that." 

One night, when he was a small child, his parents' house caught on fire, and it was only with some difficulty that the entire family was saved.  After it was over, he thought:

"So this,' I thought, 'is a fire.   This is what it is like to have the house on fire.  Is this all there is to it?"

Later, the inevitable happens: romance enters his life.

"'Years ago I fell in love with a girl, a charming, gentle creature, whom it would have been my joy to protect and cherish.  But she loved me not. . .and she married another. . .Many a night I lay wide-eyed and wakeful; yet my greatest torture resided in the thought: 'So this is the greatest pain we can suffer.  Well, and what then--is this all?'"

Even the sea and a vast gorge disappoints him.  And the last disappointment hasn't occurred yet, but when it does:

"'So I dream and wait for death.  Ah, how well I know it already, death, that last disappointment!  At my last moment I shall be saying to myself: 'So this is the great experience--well, and what of it? What is it after all?'"

It was a sad story, and I felt sorry for the disillusioned man to some extent.  However, it seemed to me, though, that he had suffered from an exaggerated or excessive expectations about the upcoming events.  He was much like a child, or so it seemed to me.

As I read the story, it not only seemed familiar to me (very possible as I had read it a long time ago), but I also associated a tune with it.  Finally, at the end of the story, I remembered a hit song from the late '60s.   The song, of course, is "Is That All There is?" sung by Peggy Lee.

Some of the lyrics:

I remember when I was a very little girl, our house caught on fire
I'll never forget the look on my father's face as he gathered me up
In his arms and raced through the burning building out to the pavement
And I stood there shivering in my pajamas and watched the whole world go up in flames
And when it was all over I said to myself, is that all there is to a fire?

And then I fell in love with the most wonderful boy in the world
We'd take take long walks down by the river or just sit for hours gazing into each other's eyes
We were so very much in love
And then one day he went away and I thought I'd die, but I didn't
And when I didn't I said to myself, is that all there is to love?

I know what you must be saying to yourselves
If that's the way she feels about it why doesn't she just end it all?
Oh, no, not me I'm not ready for that final disappointment
'Cause I know just as well as I'm standing here talking to you
When that final moment comes and I'm breathing my last breath, I'll be saying to myself

Is that all there is, is that all there is?
If that's all there is my friends, then let's keep dancing
Let's break out the booze and have a ball
If that's all there is

I went a bit further and found the following in a Wikipedia article titled "Is That All There Is?"  The following is an excerpt from that article.

"The song was inspired by the 1896 story Disillusionment (Enttäuschung) by  Thomas Mann.   Jerry Leiber's wife Gaby Rodgers (née Gabrielle Rosenberg) was born in Germany, lived in the Netherlands. She escaped ahead of the Nazis, and settled in Hollywood where she had a brief film career in films noir.  Gaby introduced Leiber to the works of  Thomas Mann. The narrator in Mann's story tells the same stories of when he was a child. A dramatic adaptation of Mann's story was recorded by Erik Bauserfeld and Bernard Mayes; it was broadcast on San Francisco radio station  KPFA in 1964."

The three events mentioned in both, of course, are the house fire, the unrequited love, and death.   Of course, not all of the incidents in the story were included in the song, and the visit  to the circus in the song was not in Mann's story.  Two disappointments in the story that are not included in the song are visits to a magnificent river gorge scene in the mountains and a visit to the seashore.   The river gorge scene could have become a trip to the Grand Canyon wherein Peggy Lee remarks that it's just a big hole in the ground and "Is that all there is?"

Rereading for me is positive pleasure.  Of course, after all these years, it will almost be like reading them for the first time--one of the advantages of a slowly decaying memory.   I wonder what else I shall find in the remaining 20+ stories.  If you are looking for a collection of literate and intriguing short stories, I would like to recommend  Stories  of  Three Decades  by Thomas Mann.

I know there have been many poems that were adapted for songs, but this is the first short story that I have found that has been turned into a song.  There probably are others, but so far I haven't come across them.

Do you know of any stories that became songs?