Sunday, March 11, 2007


For A.V.

Worlds rise and collapse under the weight of a Yes. Humanity falls with a Yes (Adam and Eve to the serpent) and is redeemed with another Yes (Christ and the Blessed Virgin to God). People fight wars over when and where who said Yes. An entire industry depends on women joyfully saying Yes. The survival of the human race depends on the Yes. Yes may be the most powerful word we have. It is forever open to possibilities.

There are all sorts of ways to say Yes: they can be playful, excited, joyous, full of sighs, resigned, angry – is there any other word indicating affirmation that can contain so much?

According to Evan Zimroth (Collusion, 1999), Yes please and Sorry, my fault are the only two phrases a ballet student should ever utter in the studio. A Yes allows someone else a measure of control over you; it allows them to know your needs and desires. This is what I want. That is what I think. It also carries with it grave responsibility, Yes what I've said is true.

People will hold back on saying Yes out of anger and spite, in order to maintain individual control. There’s nothing like a two-year-old child, learning that he can change the world around him, who refuses to say Yes. Out of anger towards Agamemnon, Achilles doesn’t say Yes soon enough to save the life of a beloved friend:

Look, a world away from his fatherland he’s perished,
Lacking me, my fighting strength, to defend him.
But now, since I shall not return to my fatherland…
nor did I bring one ray of hope to my Patroclus,
nor to the rest of all my steadfast comrades,
countless ranks struck down by mighty Hector-
…But now I’ll go and meet that murderer head-on,
that Hector who destroyed the dearest life I know.
…I’ll lie in peace, once I’ve gone down to death.
But now, for the moment, let me seize great glory! - The Illiad, Book XVIII

But when he finally does, the fall of a civilization and the mythical founding of a new one appear on the horizon.

People who cannot decide to say Yes live between worlds, tortured. See Hamlet. Indeed, the omitting of a Yes is the same as a No.

The Yes can also be unspoken – the heart and soul give the affirmation before the mouth can give the utterance. Juliet is so eager to say Yes she does so before it’s asked of her:

Juliet: What satisfaction canst thou have tonight?
Romeo: The exchange of thy love’s faithful vow for mine.
Juliet: I gave thee mine before thou didst request it,
And yet I would it were to give again. Romeo & Juliet, Act II

There is even a movie titled Yes (2004), written and directed by Sally Potter. Large parts of it are in iambic pentameter; the plot involves a man and woman from entirely different cultures learning how to say Yes because to say Yes opens up the possible:

In fact I think I'd guess
That "no" does not exist. There's only "yes.”

One author complained that the English Yes was insufficient for the pregnant weight of the word itself. Yes does sound too resigned, too lacking in responsibility; a sí or oui carries with it excitement, expectation, and a sharp demand for satisfaction. My own favorite is the Russian pronunciation da. It's pleasant and warm, but could also stab if spoken harshly.

Of course, there’s the whispered erotic Yes, the breathless Yes. a girl where I was a flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes. - James Joyce’s Ulysses (1934)
But the most important Yes is certainly that shared between lovers, whether man and woman ensuring the continuance of the human race, or God and person uniting in communion. The Yes that gives life and contains a promise:
He Who testifies to these things says, "Yes, I am coming soon." Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. - Revelation 22:20 (NIV).

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