What is the meaning of the following quote?: "There is a tide in the affairs of mean, Which taken at the flood, leads on the fortune; Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and...

What is the meaning of the following quote?: "There is a tide in the affairs of mean, Which taken at the flood, leads on the fortune; Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries."

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William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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This is a metaphor. It means literally that there is an occasion in each man's life when he can commit himself to a course of action that will lead to his success; but if he fails to take the opportunity when it presents itself, for the rest of his life he will be a mediocrity or a failure. Brutus uses this very famous metaphor in Act 4, Scene 3 in order to justify his insistence that he and Cassius fight with Antony and Octavius at Philippi. Brutus concludes his metaphor with these words:

On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.

The metaphor is famous because it has so often shown itself to be true. People have to make choices in life. They don't have an infinite number of opportunities, and as they grow older their choices become fewer and fewer. Robert Frost touches on this concept in his poem "The Road Not Taken." The speaker of that poem is looking back at a particular point in his life where he might have taken a different "road." He will never know whether or not he made the right choice. In Arthur Miller's play Death of a Salesman, we learn that Willy Loman had an opportunity to go to Alaska with his brother Ben but decided to remain a traveling salesman covering New England. Ben became rich. Willy is an excellent example of a man whose life "is bound in shallows and in misery." 

Unfortunately, many men do not realize that they had a golden opportunity at one time until that opportunity is only a memory of the past.

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