Like a shooting star? Like a candle in the wind?
October 12, 2015 9:18 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for quotes and visual symbols for something that is beautiful but temporary. Whether it's about life, love, passion, or something physical, give me all your ideas. Bonus points if it's brief and elegant enough for a tattoo.
posted by keep it under cover to Grab Bag (41 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
A mayfly would be perfect. It's the classic symbol of the ephemeral and fleeting -- apparently it even belongs to the order Ephemeroptera. And it looks like a dragonfly. Durer used it in an engraving in the late 1400s; it would still look great in 2015 in a tattoo.
posted by flourpot at 9:24 PM on October 12, 2015 [6 favorites]

She left the web, she left the loom,
She made three paces thro' the room,
She saw the water-lily bloom,
She saw the helmet and the plume,
She look'd down to Camelot.
Out flew the web and floated wide;
The mirror crack'd from side to side;
"The curse is come upon me," cried
The Lady of Shalott.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 9:34 PM on October 12, 2015

You may be interested in the Japanese term mono no aware, which refers to an awareness of the impermanence of things. The prototypical example in Japanese literature would be the (mayfly-like) short lifespan of a spring cherry blossom.
posted by deludingmyself at 9:34 PM on October 12, 2015 [7 favorites]

Definitely a snowflake. Nothing more ephemeral or lovely. Even has special Metafilter connotations!
posted by ejs at 9:39 PM on October 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

'Truly do we live on Earth?' asked one of the leaders of Texcoco, one of the other two members of the Triple Alliance. His lyric, among the most famous in the Nahuatl canon, answers its own question:

Not forever on earth; only a little while here.
Be it jade, it shatters.
Be it gold, it breaks.
Be it a quetzal feather, it tears apart.
Not forever on earth; only a little while here.

Like a painting, we will be erased.
Like a flower, we will dry up here on earth.
Like plumed vestments of the precious bird,
That precious bird with the agile neck,
We will come to an end.
posted by bq at 9:44 PM on October 12, 2015 [6 favorites]

A cicada shell;
it sang itself
utterly away.

- Basho
posted by thetortoise at 9:57 PM on October 12, 2015 [5 favorites]

I'm currently spending part of my days looking outside for hummingbirds, knowing that at this time of year their visits are at best fleeting, at dawn and dusk, and that soon there will be no more days with hummingbirds until the spring. October has been mild and there are still visitors, but rare ones, with miles and miles to go.

Hummingbirds are magic, especially when they are feeding from blooms and not plastic feeders, and we only have them for a while, at their choice.
posted by holgate at 9:58 PM on October 12, 2015 [3 favorites]

From Bladerunner:

"I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I've watched C-Beams glitter in the dark near Tannhäuser Gate. All these moments will be lost in time, like tears in the rain. Time to die."
posted by aubilenon at 10:06 PM on October 12, 2015 [3 favorites]

A dandelion puffball. We used to call them milkwishes, because they were the color of milk and we made wishes on them then blew on them.
posted by the webmistress at 10:07 PM on October 12, 2015 [4 favorites]

The beauty of a moment is that it’s fleeting. By its very nature, it slips through our fingers, making it that much more precious
Ted Mosby
posted by Sassyfras at 10:23 PM on October 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Leonard Nimoy:

"A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory."
posted by un petit cadeau at 10:44 PM on October 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

Year still after year flows
down the Seven Rivers;
cloud passes, sunlight glows,
reed and willow quivers
at morn and eve, but never more
westward ships have waded
in mortal waters as before,
and their song has faded.

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Last Ship
posted by zadcat at 10:59 PM on October 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

There is a well-known passage in early Anglo-Saxon literature where the writer says that human life is like the flight of a bird which comes out of the night through the window of a brightly lighted banqueting hall and then flies out again into the darkness through a window at the other side of the hall. Where it comes from and where it goes we do not really know.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 12:02 AM on October 13, 2015 [4 favorites]

This seems something for the Cavalier Poets

Robert Herrick: 'To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time' [1648] - 'Gather ye rosebuds while ye may' is the famous line from that poem and a succinct tattoo idea.

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.

The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
The higher he’s a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he’s to setting.

That age is best which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times still succeed the former.

Then be not coy, but use your time,
And while ye may, go marry;
For having lost but once your prime,
You may forever tarry.

Or his 'To Daffodils" - again, the flowers as shorthand for time passing and ephemeral nature of beauty - 'fair daffodils, we weep to see/ you haste away so soon' is a nice tattoo idea and might work well with a 17th century visual image.

FAIR daffodils, we weep to see
You haste away so soon;
As yet the early-rising sun
Has not attain'd his noon.
Stay, stay
Until the hasting day
Has run
But to the evensong;
And, having pray'd together, we
Will go with you along.

We have short time to stay, as you,
We have as short a spring;
As quick a growth to meet decay,
As you, or anything.
We die
As your hours do, and dry
Like to the summer's rain;
Or as the pearls of morning's dew,
Ne'er to be found again.
posted by honey-barbara at 12:16 AM on October 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

Nothing gold can stay

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

Robert Frost

As for the tattoo—perhaps a forsythia branch?
posted by she's not there at 12:25 AM on October 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

"The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough." - Rabindranath Tagore
posted by oh pollo! at 1:31 AM on October 13, 2015 [3 favorites]

A ripe pear.
posted by three blind mice at 2:25 AM on October 13, 2015

Since you mention shooting stars:
“the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.”
― Jack Kerouac, On the Road
Also lots of love songs. For example Ae Fond Kiss by Robert Burns.
posted by rongorongo at 3:49 AM on October 13, 2015

[Human life is] as evanescent as the morning dew or a flash of lightning - Samuel Butler

Nothing, however, is lost with less discomfort than that which, when lost, cannot be missed - Seneca
posted by andrewcooke at 5:28 AM on October 13, 2015

All meetings end in separation
All accumulation ends in dispersion
All life ends in death
-- the Buddha

Every hundred years, all new people
-- ancient folk wisdom
posted by janey47 at 6:57 AM on October 13, 2015

Flowers. The reason real flowers are more beautiful and touching than fake ones is because they don't last long.
posted by Cygnet at 7:05 AM on October 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Consider ephemeral art forms: Japan has ikebana, flower arranging. Tibetan monks (and other cultures) have sand paintings. We have sandcastles.
posted by adamrice at 7:14 AM on October 13, 2015

I am a leaf on the wind.*

* I already have this tattooed on me, so I figure it's brief enough for a tattoo.
posted by divined by radio at 7:15 AM on October 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

There's a lovely little poem about ephemerality in a Finnish children's book by Jukka Parkkinen. I don't think it's ever been translated, so here's my attempt:

The leap of a fish in the water,
the trace of a mussel in the sand.
The scenery is beautiful
but brief.

Other suggestions: an autumn leaf falling, a droplet of water on a blade of grass, a wave breaking.
posted by sively at 7:27 AM on October 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

from the packaging of Crayola "SuperTips" Washable Markers:

Washability you can trust!
Crayola Washable Markers are formulated to easily wash from skin and most children's clothing.
FOR BEST RESULTS: Crayola Washable Markers wash from skin and most washable children's clothing. Wash promptly in hot wash cycle. Do not use prewash or chlorine bleach. Repeat laundering may be required.
STAIN ADVISEMENT: Keep away from wallpaper, painted walls, finished and unfinished wood, vinyl, carpeting and other materials that cannot be laundered.

posted by Greg Nog at 7:40 AM on October 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles to-day
To-morrow will be dying.
-Robert Herrick
posted by Wretch729 at 8:01 AM on October 13, 2015

Chalk/sand/rice flour drawings of various cultures/religions. I think they represent the temporary aspect of life and are extreme beautiful and varied.
posted by beccaj at 8:04 AM on October 13, 2015

There's a beautiful fragment from Ursula K. Le Guin's "Earthsea" books:
Only in silence the word,
only in dark the light,
only in dying life:
bright the hawk's flight
on the empty sky.
- The Creation of Ea

This motif runs throughout the books and they are well-worth a read if this is the sort of thing you enjoy.
posted by spelunkingplato at 8:32 AM on October 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

So many lines from "Ulysses" by Tennyson. Maybe not exactly what you're looking for but maybe worth a read.
posted by nakedmolerats at 8:43 AM on October 13, 2015

'Tis all a Chequer-board of Nights and Days
Where Destiny with Men for Pieces plays:
Hither and thither moves, and mates, and slays,
And one by one back in the Closet lays.
From a Edward FitzGerald translation of the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám; Wikimedia Commons has an illustration that was paired with this quatrain and if you dug you'd probably find many others as the English translations were very popular for a while and ornate illustrated gift volumes were a thing. Also perhaps calligraphy versions in the original Persian.
posted by XMLicious at 10:06 AM on October 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

"I've... seen things... you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion; I watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate... All those... moments... will be lost, in time, like tears... in... rain."
posted by Annika Cicada at 10:36 AM on October 13, 2015

If you go Blade Runner, I would get an origami unicorn.
posted by Kafkaesque at 10:55 AM on October 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

A few more stanzas from FitzGerald's Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám:

Look to the Rose that blows about us---"Lo,

"Laughing," she says, "into the World I blow:

"At once the silken Tassel of my Purse

"Tear, and its Treasure on the Garden throw."

The Worldly Hope men set their Hearts upon

Turns Ashes---or it prospers; and anon,

Like Snow upon the Desert's dusty Face

Lighting a little Hour or two---is gone.

And those who husbanded the Golden Grain,

And those who flung it to the Winds like Rain,

Alike to no such aureate Earth are turn'd

As, buried once, Men want dug up again.
posted by Pallas Athena at 12:17 PM on October 13, 2015

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man.”
-- Heraclitus

“You are the sky. Everything else – it’s just the weather.”
― Pema Chödrön

“The timeless in you is aware of life's timelessness. And knows that yesterday is but today's memory and tomorrow is today's dream.”
― Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet
posted by sevenofspades at 1:09 PM on October 13, 2015

'The stars are beautiful because of a flower you don't see...'
The Little Prince
posted by forforf at 3:36 PM on October 13, 2015

The world of dew
Is the world of dew,
And yet, and yet...

haiku by Kobayashi Issa
posted by y2karl at 4:44 PM on October 13, 2015

The most precious thing in life is its uncertainty.

Yoshido Kenko
posted by y2karl at 4:53 PM on October 13, 2015

Ars longa, vita brevis
posted by MinPin at 11:47 AM on October 14, 2015

Since you mention candles...

First Fig
Edna St. Vincent Millay

My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
It gives a lovely light!
posted by waxlight at 3:43 AM on October 18, 2015

I don't know if you got your tattoo already, but -

from what we cannot hold the stars are made

posted by pretentious illiterate at 3:27 PM on January 4, 2016

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