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Commonplace Book

Isaac Bashevis Singer on literature that lasts

Herman, left alone, sat with his head bowed. He had noticed a copy of the Bible on the shelf near his chair and he leaned over and took it out. He leafed through the pages and found Psalms: ‘Be gracious unto me, O Lord, for I am in distress. Mine eye wasteth away with vexation, yea, my soul and my body. For my life is spent in sorrow, and my years in sighing. My strength faileth because of mine iniquity and my bones are wasted away. Because of mine adversaries, I am become a reproach, yea, unto my neighbours exceedingly, and a dread to mine acquaintances.’

Herman read the words. How was it that these sentences fitted all circumstances, all ages, all moods, while secular literature, no matter how well written, in time lost its pertinence.