In search of something fresh to sample while perusing the poetry shelf at a local used book store, I happened across a well-worn hardcover titled “Words From The Wise: Centuries of Proverbs to Live By.” Intrigued by its archaic quality and the charming illustrations on the front cover, I brought it home – a decision that I’d regard as one of my best (which is at most a slight exaggeration). With multiple one sentence proverbs and a paired illustration per 8×11 page, Arthur Wortman’s collection of time-honored morsels of truth makes for a quick and visually-appealing read, which I took to be a refreshing breather from my usual densely-packed, prose laden book-buys.
Though the proverbs were written decades, even centuries, prior, they stand true to the present (albeit with a few exceptions: i.e. “Having a good wife and rich cabbage soup, seek not other things.”) – their validity and relevance unimpressed by the passage of time.
Beyond their eternal importance and enduring applicability, proverbs (from the book, but in general too) wield language in a powerful way, possessing the ability to speak and chide and energize in as few words as possible. Their brevity, however, is not indicative of simplicity; each proverb deserves not to be skimmed, but carefully thought through with meaningful consideration to fully access and grasp its meaning, and take to heart its timeless truth. While the language is often figurative, even abstract, it presents valuable advice and profound wisdom in a manner that is accessible to all.
To supplement pages of proverbs both playful and heavy in tone, the book includes lightly colored illustrations by Fritz Kredel, a German-American wood-cutter and book illustrator whose work has appeared in numerous works, including Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and Eleanor Roosevelt’s little-known children’s book, “Christmas.” Kredel’s attractive additions do the proverbs justice by bringing the pithy sayings to life, with a touch of good-natured humor.
A whimsical, thought-provoking read, Arthur Wortman’s selection of “Words From The Wise” pays proper tribute to timeless tokens of wisdom that deserve to be preserved, remembered, and shared.