Tuesday, 27 July 2010

The Tail of the Sphinx

by Ambrose Bierce

A dog of a taciturn disposition said to his Tail:

"Whenever I am angry you rise and bristle; when I am pleased you wag; when I am alarmed you tuck yourself in out of danger. You are too mercurial -- you disclose all my emotions. My notion is that tails are given to conceal thought. It is my dearest ambition to be as impassive as the Sphinx."

"My friend, you must recognise the laws and limitations of your being," replied the Tail, with flexions appropriate to the sentiments uttered, "and try to be great some other way. The Sphinx has one hundred and fifty qualifications for impassiveness which you lack."

"What are they?" the Dog asked.

"One hundred and forty-nine tons of sand on its tail."

"And --?"

"A stone tail."

Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce (1842–1914) was an American writer perhaps best known for his satirical lexicon, The Devil's Dictionary, which seeks to redfine common words on a mischievously cynical basis. His nihilism, best exemplified by his personal motto "Nothing Matters", was partly for show. He encouraged younger writers and his wit was often as wry as it was dark. Sometime in 1914, while reporting on the Mexican Revolution, he disappeared without trace.