Prospero’s ‘every third thought’

Rev David Clarke.
Rev David Clarke.

A distinguished writer, with Ulster roots, has been making literary waves recently.

Robert McCrum has published a new book with the title, ‘Every third thought’. The strap-line explains that the book is about ‘Life, death and the end game.’

The title itself comes from Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ when sage old Prospero speaks of retiring to Malta where ‘every third thought shall be my grave.’ Aged 60, McCrum has had reason to be in that contemplative mood, having suffered a major stroke when only 42. Some recent medical issues have served ‘to concentrate the mind’, as Samuel Johnson would have said.

It is not the cheeriest of books, for the issues with which it deals are not cheery - cancer, stroke, dementia and death. When Browning pleaded, ‘grow old along with me, the best is yet to be’, he had perhaps not taken such things on board!

From interviews with colleagues, and from the reservoirs of his wide literary knowledge, McCrum has assembled much wise reflection on the ‘end game’.

Although McCrum himself has no faith in an afterlife, those of us convinced that after death we meet with God, either to receive his smile of his condemnation, can still benefit from the distilled advice he offers. He quotes Montaigne who warned that death may come ‘at the stumbling of a horse, at the falling of a tile, at the least prick of a pin’. In the light of that, he went on to urge, ‘let us deprive death of its strangeness; let us frequent it; let us get used to it; let us have nothing more in mind than death.’

McCrum has arrived at three simple principles for enjoying life. First, try to keep fit. Second, accept your fate/insignificance. Third, live in the moment. Those may not seem particularly novel ideas for the investment of £15 at Waterstone’s, but the hours perusing his book and focussing on his theme are beneficial in themselves.

After much reflection McCrum wrapped up his thoughts as follows; ‘Why not celebrate ‘Nowness’? Discover the joy of wisdom and experience. Cherish your family. Celebrate the human drama in all its variety.

Be happy to be old. Feast on the marrow of life while you can. Pass on to fellow-survivors, friends, and family a positive delight in the world’.

To which I would add, ‘Don’t forget the man Christ Jesus’.