Don Quixote de la Mancha, the amusing, crazily crusading hero and title character of Miguel de Cervantes’ early 17th century literary classic, was a caricatured figure of mingled fun and pathos. This gallivanting knight out of time with his generation was so demented he thought he was still living in the days of ancient chivalry. He rode around gallantly on his old nag, in a patchwork suit of armor, with a pot for a helmet, followed by his fat and fuming faithful “squire,” Sancho Panza, riding on a donkey.
Sancho was gravely concerned for his odd master’s safety during such ridiculous exploits as challenging windmills (which Don Quixote thought to be giants) to battle, rescuing fair ladies whom he supposed to be in distress, and residing in an old inn he imagined to be a castle. Dear Quixote was really very noble, goodhearted and well_meaning, though somewhat misguided by his dementia and delusions of grandeur.
The book is now considered a masterpiece and the world’s first novel. It has been translated into more languages than any other book in the world except the Bible. Its first English translation was published in 1612, only one year after the world_famed King James Bible. Set in Cervantes’ native Spain long after the Crusades were over, Don Quixote revives the crusading spirit, the search for meaning and purpose in life, the nature and reality of truth, the relativity of judgment, and values and depth of character. It constantly delves beneath the surface of appearances and experience for a deeper significance and conveys an all_pervading sense of the frailties of humanity.
Don Quixote has even inspired movies, such as The Man of La Mancha and The Adventures of Don Quixote. While viewing the end of the latter on TV, I was suddenly struck by the reaction of Quixote’s followers to his return to sanity on his deathbed. A poor young girl asks him sadly, “But how could you have been insane when you were so beautiful, so good and so poetic?”—To which he wanly replies, “I suppose wise madness is better than foolish sanity!” At that, the first few stanzas of the following poem came to me. The rest came later that same night.
He lived in a world of fantasy
Where all were mad but he.
He lived in a world of madness
Where he alone was free!
He lived in a world of madness
Where only he was sane.
He brought them joy and gladness;
They only brought him pain.
Where happiness is madness,
‘Tis wisdom in disguise.
Where sanity is sadness,
‘Tis folly to be wise.
Oh, give me a world of madness,
If madness is to be glad!
I’d rather be happy in madness,
Than only be sane and sad.
They tell me my goodness is madness;
I should seek after worldly gain!
But I tell them their saneness is sadness,
And it brings to so many such pain.
It’s their whole world that’s in madness!
‘Tis their whole world that’s insane!
I’d rather have joy in my gladness
Than their sanity, sorrow and pain.
They live in a world full of madness,
It was he that was really sane.
For our Don Quixote had gladness
In spite of their sorrow and pain.
This world full of violence and madness,
So violent and mad and insane—
Would you rather his joy, or their sadness?
Would you rather his bliss, or their pain?
They like to be rich and be churchy
And wage their cruel wars without end.
Don’t let their pollution besmirch me!
I’d far rather heal and to mend.
Their world may be sane but temporal,
While mine is unseen but more real!
They call me insane and immoral
In this madness of gladness I feel.
But I say it is they who are crazy,
And it’s I who have reality!
It is they who are mad and amaze me,
For mine’s for eternity!
It’s they who are living in madness!
It’s they who are really insane!
It’s I who have Jesus and gladness,
And I’ll have it again and again!
Give me trips in the spirit that thrill me,
And a mind that with visions God blows!
Their world of killing just chills me!
I like living where anything goes!
For only in realms of the spirit
Can you enjoy heavenly scenes.
That heavenly sound, can you hear it?
Do you know what such ecstasy means?
So wee words of wisdom have come from my pen,
Though you think my madness be full to the brim!
For the foolishness of God is wiser than men!
And this world’s wisdom is foolishness to Him!