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Saturday, October 8, 2016

The Painted Veil

continue viewing the full movie right through to part 12

 

Somerset W. Maugham is one of my favourite writers and he was as great a reader as he was a writer and his stories are peppered with literary allusions. Even the title of his story "The Painted Veil" is a very apt literary allusion.

Sonnet:" Lift not the painted veil . . ."
by Percy Shelley, 1818

Lift not the painted veil which those who live
Call Life: though unreal shapes be pictured there,
And it but mimic all we would believe
With colours idly spread, --- behind, lurk Fear
And Hope, twin Destinies; who ever weave
Their shadows, o'er the chasm, sightless and drear.
I knew one who had lifted it --- he sought,
For his lost heart was tender, things to love,
But found them not, alas ! nor was there aught
The world contains, the which he could approve.
Through the unheeding many he did move,
A splendour among shadows, a bright blot
Upon this gloomy scene, a Spirit that strove
For truth, and like the Preacher found it not.

This story was made into a beautiful film, shot on location in China where the story is set. It has some of the most breathtaking scenery. Unfortunately, the most fitting literary allusion - indeed the "punchline" of the whole story - spoken by one of the protagonists, "The dog it was that died", has been left out of the film.

An Elegy on the Death of a Mad Dog

Good people all, of every sort,
Give ear unto my song;
And if you find it wondrous short,
It cannot hold you long.

In Islington there was a man,
Of whom the world might say
That still a godly race he ran,
Whene'er he went to pray.

A kind and gentle heart he had,
To comfort friends and foes;
The naked every day he clad,
When he put on his clothes.

And in that town a dog was found,
As many dogs there be,
Both mongrel, puppy, whelp and hound,
And curs of low degree.

This dog and man at first were friends;
But when a pique began,
The dog, to gain some private ends,
Went mad and bit the man.

Around from all the neighbouring streets
The wondering neighbours ran,
And swore the dog had lost his wits,
To bite so good a man.

The wound it seemed both sore and sad
To every Christian eye;
And while they swore the dog was mad,
They swore the man would die.

But soon a wonder came to light,
That showed the rogues they lied:
The man recovered of the bite,
The dog it was that died.

-- Oliver Goldsmith

However, the film adds a tagline of its own: "Sometimes the greatest journey is the distance between two people." And it does a good job of describing this journey. Read the story and the veil shall be lifted!