The advantage of being useless


Mountain trees self-destruct,
Lamp tallow self-immolates.
Cinnamon is edible, so it is cleaved;
Varnish is useful, so it is cut.
All men know the advantage of being useful,
but none know the advantage of being useless.

— 莊子 [Zhuang Zi], Zhuang Zi, “Transactions in the World of Men” (“人間世”).

La Coccinelle (The Ladybird).


I’ve just finished reading Map of the Invisible World by Tash Aw.

I got it at a book swap on Sunday and it’s accompanied me since my operation on Tuesday.

There was a motif in the text which I thought was quite cool: the recurrent use of “La Coccinelle (The Ladybird)” by Victor Hugo to discuss the theme of love.

The poem, in French, as far as I know, as follows:

La Coccinelle

Elle me dit: “Quelque chose
“Me tourmente.” Et j’aperçus
Son cou de neige, et, dessus,
Un petit insecte rose.

J’aurais dû, – mais, sage ou fou,
A seize ans, on est farouche, –
Voir le baiser sur sa bouche
Plus que l’insecte à son cou.

On eût dit un coquillage;
Dos rose et taché de noir.
Les fauvettes pour nous voir
Se penchaient dans le feuillage.

Sa bouche fraîche était là;
Je me courbai sur la belle,
Et je pris la coccinelle;
Mais le baiser s’envola.

“Fils, apprends comme on me nomme,”
Dit l’insecte du ciel bleu,
“Les bêtes sont au bon Dieu;
“Mais la bêtise est à l’homme.”

— Victor Hugo

An English translation, culled together from other translations plus my own limited knowledge of French:

The Ladybird

She told me: “Something is
Bothering me.” And I saw
Her snow-white neck, and, on it,
A small rose-coloured insect.

I should have, – but, wise or foolish,
One is awkward at sixteen, –
Seen the kiss on her lips
More than the bug on her neck.

One would have called it a seashell;
Red-backed and spotted black.
To see us, the warblers
Leaned forward in the foilage.

There was her cool mouth;
I bent over the lovely girl,
And I caught the ladybird;
But away flew the kiss.

“Son, learn my name,”
Said the bug from the sky blue,
“The beasts belong to our good Lord;
“But beastly stupidity belongs to man.”

— Victor Hugo

Here’s a comic of the poem too, if you’re so inclined.