See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil

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The Three Monkeys – From right to left – ‘See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil’   (Photo – WHB)

A fuller description of the story of ‘The Three Monkeys’ and of the various interpretations of the maxim ‘See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil‘ is given following the poem below.  The idea for my verses was prompted by my acquisition of the above figurine, and are an attempt to get inside the mind of someone with secrets to keep.  I deny any relationship between my versified thoughts and my own reality.


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SECRETS

“Ask no secrets, please”;
“Tell no lies indeed”;
For if you break these rules,
Then hearts will blanch and bleed.

“Never tell a secret”
Or so the saying goes.
So hold on to that rule.
Never the facts disclose. 

“Your secret’s safe with me”
I’ve heard that said before.
It never is the case;
They always ask for more.

“I won’t tell if you won’t”
I said that as a child,
But what I had to hide then
Was relatively mild.

# # #

But now life is more complex;
I have more sins to hide.
Such damning indiscretions
I never could confide.

My secrets, now I’m older,
Are surely on the rise.
‘T would border on disaster;
To tell would not be wise.

The priest in all his wisdom
Receives confession now.
I cannot dare to tell him
Of  lapses in my vows.

# # #

But then, again, I wonder
What life would mean to me,
If all my peccadilloes
Were there for all to see.

Perhaps they’d view my sins
As Walter Mitty copies.
As venial casual slip-ups,
As minor paltry follies.

As commonplace as foibles;
As lethal as a pin.
Hardly ‘mea culpa’
And not Original Sin.

# # #

If others think them simple,
Not worthy of reflection,
Still to me they’re weighty
And threaten with detection.

I ask these questions blithely;
I truly want to know.
Do you have secret longings
That you will never show?

That you will never tell;
And let no one discover;
Let no one even guess
You’ve got a secret lover?

I would tempt fate and listen
To what you say and feel,
But I really fear the outcome
Of what your heart conceals.

Such secrets are forbidden
To all but you and me;
Unknown to friend or rival,
 And that’s how it should be.

# # #

Please keep your secrets from me;
We say we’ll never lie.
We tried to keep that promise,
To keep it till we die.

But when  with life we’re parting
We’ll lay them at our feet.
Our secrets are the same now –
No more, no more, deceit.

So only at the end
When all regrets must cease,
Perhaps we’ll be permitted
To find a kind of Peace.

# # #

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“The Three Monkeys” embody, in a proverb, the maxims  “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil”.  In the Japanese representation of the story, the three monkeys are Mizaru, covering his eyes, Kikazaru, covering his ears, and Iwazaru, covering his mouth.

The story has origins in both China and in Japan.  Both cultures have versions of the story, although its history is particularly significant in Japan.  The photograph immediately below is of one of the original depictions  of ‘The Three Monkeys’ at the Toshogu Shrine at Nikko, Honshu. Japan.

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There are many different interpretations of the story of the Three Monkeys and of the maxims which they embody.

It can be read as offering maxims by which the young should be taught to deal with the world – in innocence, not giving prominence to hearsay, tittle-tattle, rumour or obloquy.  Do not dwell on evil thoughts.

For others, the story proposes the turning of a blind eye to wrong-doings and misdemeanours.  It can encourage the keeping of secrets to oneself, the denying of moral responsibility, and even withdrawing from reality.

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6 thoughts on “See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil

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