Friday, June 21, 2013

Allegory And An Honorary Dinner

The Soul

For Shannon Yeats O'Brien

I have been asked, short notice, to say a few words about a past President of the Irish Association of Manitoba, whose board of directors I served on. The dinner honouring Shannon Yeats O'Brien is tonight at the Irish Club.

When you join a group like the IAM, you will find that it is a microcosm of the world, and you will have the opportunity to try yourself socially and politically, and you will find out what you are made of. Believe me when I tell you, if you enter with any illusions of grandeur, you will leave knowing the truth about yourself. In this way, it is a true test.

There are few things that the Irish love more than a good story, especially an allegory. All Irish mythology is allegorical. I am going to take advantage of the situation to practice some storytelling.

Allegory is a form of extended metaphor, in which objects, persons, and actions in a narrative, are equated with the meanings that lie outside the narrative itself. The underlying meaning has moral, social, religious, or political significance, and characters are often personifications of abstract ideas such as charity, greed, or envy. 

Thus an allegory is a story with two meanings, a literal meaning and a symbolic meaning.

 Human Vanity - Harmen Evertsz. Steenwyck

Once there was an old, old woman and she had been walking for a long, long time and her feet hurt. Finally she came to a little town and she went up to the very first door of the very first house. She knocked upon the door.
A young woman answered. 
Old woman: I was just passing through and I thought you might be able to spare a little bit of food or something to drink... 
Young woman: No, I have nothing for you, and she shut the door in her face.
So she tried the next house where the answer was the same, and the next, and the next... Finally she was so tired and hungry that she sat down on a little bench to gather up her energy and strength. 
She heard a noise then, the sound of a galloping horse - she looked and she saw coming up the road into the main square a huge, black horse and up on top of it was a handsome young man with a long, flowing cape. Then she heard the sound of all of the windows in all of the houses being flung open and women and men leaning out to see the young man approach. They ran from their houses carrying goblets of the finest wine and platters of their best cheese and meat. They fought with each other to feed him. 
The old woman was not amused. 
She waited until the crowd had gone away and she made her way up to the young man on the horse. She got his attention the best way she could - tugging on his trouser leg. 
He looked down - Yes? 
Old woman: Excuse me, are you the king? 
Young man: Me? No, I'm not the king. 
Old woman: Oh.
Young man: Why do you ask? 
Well, she says, when I got here I knocked on all these houses and not one person spared me a morsel of food - and you - when you got here sure they were fighting to give you the finest things they had - so I want to know: who are you? What's your name? 
Oh, he said, that - well my name is story. Everywhere I go, everyone wants to see me because everyone wants to hear what I have to say - and you being treated so terrible - who are you to be treated this way?
Old woman: Oh, that. Well, my name is truth. Everywhere I go no one wants to see me, no one wants to hear what I have to say, they all close the door in my face. 
The young man thought for a moment. 
Young man: Do you see my fine, big horse?  
I do, she says. 
Young man: And do you see my fine, long, flowing cape?  
I do, she says. 
Young man: Well, you could ride up here under my cape and we could travel the world together, and whenever I get food - you'll get food, and whenever I get wine - you'll get wine. 
That's great idea, she says.
And that is why, to this day, inside every story there's a little bit of truth.
This is a reworking of an archetypal allegory. 

The truth is, Shannon Yeats O'Brien, you have been tested - and your test was especially hard; and it has been witnessed that you never faltered in being good and true, loyal and brave, generous and kind-hearted. You gave it your all, and you did a fine job. 

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