Something I’m beginning to learn in English Literature is how simple language can be just as, or even more effective than complex language. As I started to understand this and try to work on fixing the clarity of my expressions, Candide by Voltaire was assigned for our class to read. The shift from reading The Odyssey by Homer to Candide was jarring. Despite Candide being written in much easier vocabulary, both texts provided me with a thoughtful and insightful message to digest.
Candide‘s language is simple, but that does not take away from the lessons it teaches. One of the first instances that clearly showed this to me was when the old lady was telling her story,
A hundred times I wanted to kill myself, but I was still in love with life. This ridiculous weakness is perhaps one of our most sinister tendencies. For is there anything more foolish than to insist on carrying a burden that one can drop at any moment? To live in constant fear, and yet still hold on to life? To caress the serpent that is devouring you until it has eaten your heart (pg. 38).
This passage is so beautiful and almost feels indescribable. It’s presenting this image of being engulfed by something horrid, the serpent, but loving it endlessly as it does so. To me, this comparison fits my current outlook on life. Even though I hate myself sometimes, and just wish I could just die, there is something wonderful about the serpent devouring me. Another incredible line from Voltaire happens to be the last, “That is well said’ Candide replied, “but we must cultivate our garden'” (pg. 119). Candide realizes that it does not matter whether they are in the best of all possible worlds, or even if they are in the worst of all possible worlds, what matters is that they live life. Martin puts it quite well, “‘ Let us work without reasoning, it is the only way to make life bearable'” (pg. 119).
I find too many people trying to find meaning of life, and they search and search for any reason that life is worth living except for looking at themselves, and what they want to do, what they wish to achieve. Voltaire tells us that we must cultivate our garden, metaphorically, to work on something we enjoy. Gardening may be it but what if writing is your garden, or singing, or reading. No matter what your garden is, it needs cultivating, and you need to be there to tend to it. A beautiful message from Voltaire that did not need any exhaustive decrepit language that is practically incomprehensible to modern audiences. I hope to learn how to emulate Voltaire’s simplicity someday.