The Sage's Garden

Dear friends, there is a tale,

Once an austere philosopher left his home in search of the path to a sweeter life. He traveled through lands of great antiquity, and before long was told of a sage. Not only was this sage greatly respected, compared to gods and kings, and untroubled by the world, he was also said to maintain a happy disposition and tranquil nature. The source of the sage’s happiness rested in his garden, where he often dwelled.

The philosopher went to greet this sage, and found him at work in the garden. The sage had knife in hand, pruning each of the inhabitants, cutting here and training there, correcting nature. Nature in turn repaid him with great bounty.

“Now why this wounding?” asked the stranger. “What knowledge and judgement do you pass on these shrubs and trees, to lob the limbs from nature so? Is it not best to let nature and time do their work, and cease this gratuitous cutting?”

“I remove the superfluous,” replied the sage, “so that what remains may benefit and flourish.”

The austere philosopher did not linger, but returned to his home at once. Taking up his own pruning hook, he began cutting. He cut and trimmed at all hours, he lobbed the most beautiful branches from around his home, and cut his orchard down to stumps. He did not stop to observe time or season, young moons or old, but continued cutting unrestricted, until in his garden only he remained. His nature, thus stripped and parched, languished and wasted away.

~ ~ ~

Fools, all, who do not know how much better the half is than the whole, or what profit there is in mallow and asphodel. But it is another mistake to try and carve from life every passion and desire. To bear fruit, one must learn to weep and feast.


s s

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The paintings are Orchard and October, by Charles-François Daubigny, circa 1869 and 1860.

…Mallow and asphodel: from Hesiod, Works and Days

I have written at length against stoicism, here.