All the goodliness thereof

grass

The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry?
All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field.
–Isaiah 40:6 (King James Bible)

The other day, my brother mentioned that when he’d gotten home from visiting some friends the evening before, he found that his two-year-old daughter had gotten a little carried away with the washable magic markers while her mother was distracted in the other room. “She was wearing nothing but diapers, and had painted herself almost completely green,” he said. “It reminded me of Lorca’s Romance Sonambulo!”

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My maternal grandfather, when pressed to eat more at a family gathering, would often say with an impish grin, “I have had an elegant sufficiency, and any more would be a superfluous indulgence.” A Google search reveals several variants on this phrase, all apparently dating back to the Victorian era, but I like Pop-pop’s the best. Stopping short of satiety is indeed the soul of elegance — or goodliness, as they used to say back in the 16th and 17th centuries (Her goodliness was full of harmony to his eyes. –Sir Philip Sidney, Arcadia).

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Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave's writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the "share alike" provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).

9 Comments


  1. My grandfather used to say “I have had an elegant sufficiency… (pause, grin) and if I eat any more I shall bust”. Not just a passed down form of words, but a passed down subversion of the original form.

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  2. That’s so funny. My maternal grandmother would say that she had had “the greatest sufficiency.” Not sure how a superlative suffices for a sufficiency, but there you go.

    I never heard her say it; she died when I was two. But my parents quote her often with amusement when refusing a second portion.

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  3. I don’t know if it’s because I’m in a green mood today (my world is very green and lush from too much rain), but Lorca’s poem swept me up, captivated and enthralled, like a fantastic fairy tale. Thank you.

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  4. When Roger’s oldest daughter (she’s almost 37 now) was in a weird private high school in the hills very near Michael Jackson’s Neverland, the students were told not to turn their noses up at anything the dining room offered. They were instructed that they should take, at the very least, “a delicious minimum.” I have not thought of that in years.

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  5. Love the vision of the little imp all painted green, good thing they were washable markers. Painting on your own body is one of those really strong primal instincts, it seems, and one that we are strongly discouraged from!

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  6. Jean – I’m interested to hear that this bit of Victorianese was current on both sides of the Atlantic!

    Peter – Yeah, “greatest sufficiency” sounds, well, inelegant. But evidently proper breeding used to require a superfluity of adjectives.

    marja-leena – Oh, cool. William Logan’s translation isn’t the best, but it’s adequate.

    robina andrea – The Delicious Minimum sounds like a good name for good name for a girl band.

    Lucy – Well, this kid is unusually fortunate in the tolerance of parents.

    I don’t think that washable markers existed when I was a kid. We did have fingerpaints, but only in school.

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  7. Sounds like one of Buck’s “Buckisms” — when refusing a second helping, he’s been heard to say, “Thank you, but I already have an embarrassment of riches.”

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  8. My maternal grandmother said, “an ample sufficiency is enough. Anything else is flippus floppus.”

    However, she told a story with somewhat the opposite message, about the little boy who had been taught to answer, when offered food at someone’s table, “half that, if you please.” At a very fancy dinner party, he kept sending away the waiter to remove half the food, til there was nothing left but a grain of rice, half a pea, and no meat at all. I believe she wanted us to avoid false modesty (or its gustatory equivalent) as well as gluttony.

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  9. Mine is a bit different and it was taught to me by a woman who use to work in the Rectory of a Catholic community to which I belonged in my youth. It goes like this:
    I have had an elegant sufficiency. More would be superfluous to my diabolical system. If my words are too copious for your dominion of apprehension, I shall endeavor to elucidate more explicitly.

    That is what I remember and although I probably cannot recall what I had for dinner yesterday-I remember this from about 45 years ago! Imagine that…………………. thank you Alma.

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