I wasted time, and now doth time waste me;
For now hath time made me his numbering clock:
My thoughts are minutes; and with sighs they jar
Their watches on unto mine eyes, the outward watch,
Whereto my finger, like a dial’s point,
Is pointing still, in cleansing them from tears.
Now sir, the sound that tells what hour it is
Are clamorous groans, which strike upon my heart,
Which is the bell: so sighs and tears and groans
Show minutes, times, and hours.
— William Shakespeare, Richard II, Act 5, Scene 5, c. 1595
Time and Nemesis will do that which I would not, were it in my power remote or immediate. You will smile at this piece of prophecy — do so, but recollect it: it is justified by all human experience. No one was ever even the involuntary cause of great evils to others, without a requital: I have paid and am paying for mine — so will you.
— Lord Byron’s letter to Lady Byron, March 5, 1817, quoted in Ethel Colburn Mayne, Byron, 1924
Letter to the Unborn
In a small town in Yugoslavia there lived a man named Peter. He read many books, dabbled in politics and married a girl named Maria.
When Maria was heavy with child, the Germans occupied Peter’s village and took over his home and his business. Peter left to fight in the woods with the Yugoslav Partisans. He was shot several weeks later but before he died he took a stub of pencil and wrote a letter to his unborn son.
Partisans found Peter’s body and the letter. While they waited for a chance to deliver it, the letter was passed from hand to hand and became in time a part of guerrilla folklore. By now it may have been sharpened by the literacy of other men and given added eloquence by the nobility of other men’s minds. But what it said was as true when it was scrawled on a scrap of paper in a great whispering forest as it was when last week it reached London and the outside world:
My child, sleeping now in the dark and gathering strength for the struggle of birth, I wish you well. At present you have no proper shape, and you do not breathe, and you are blind. Yet, when your time comes, your time and the time of your mother, whom I deeply love, there will be something in you that will give you power to fight for air and light. Such is your heritage, such is your destiny as a child born of woman – to fight for light and hold on without knowing why.
May the flame that tempers the bright steel of your youth never die, but burn always; so that when your work is done and your long day ended, you may still be like a watchman’s fire at the end of a lonely road – loved and cherished for your gracious glow by all good wayfarers who need light in their darkness and warmth for their comfort.
The spirit of wonder and adventure, the token of immortality, will be given to you as a child. May you keep it forever, with that in your heart which always seeks the gold beyond the rainbow, the pasture beyond the desert, the dawn beyond the sea, the light beyond the dark.
May you seek always and strive always in good faith and high courage, in this world where men grow so tired.
Keep your capacity for faith and belief, but let your judgment watch what you believe.
Keep your power to receive everything; only learn to select what your instinct tells you is right.
Keep your love of life, but throw away your fear of death. Life must be loved or it is lost; but it should never be loved too well.
Keep your delight in friendship; only learn to know your friends.
Keep your intolerance – only save it for what your heart tells you is bad.
Keep your wonder at great and noble things like sunlight and thunder, the rain and the stars, the wind and the sea, the growth of trees and the return of harvests, and the greatness of heroes.
Keep your heart hungry for new knowledge; keep your hatred of a lie; and keep your power of indignation.
Now I know I must die, and you must be born to stand upon the rubbish heap of my errors. Forgive me for this. I am ashamed to leave you an untidy, uncomfortable world. But so it must be.
In thought, as a last benediction, I kiss your forehead. Good night to you – and good morning and a clear dawn.
Here the letter ends. The day that the avenging Partisans swept back into Peter’s village they found that his widow had been murdered a few days before her child would have been born. The letter that his comrades could not deliver has become instead a letter to all the unborn children in the great, mad world.
— “Such Is Your Heritage”, Time Magazine, January 25, 1943