Notes on Quotes: Taking the Tide That Leads to Fortune in 2014

Notes on Quotes: Taking the Tide That Leads to Fortune in 2014

By Gordon Mercer and Marcia Mercer


“There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood leads on to fortune; omitted, all the voyages of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries.” William Shakespeare, 1564-1616

   From William Shakespeare’s play “Julius Caesar,” these words, were spoken by Brutus.  The quote is Brutus’s attempt to persuade Cassius to advance and attack instead of waiting. The words are eloquent and haunting.        

   William Shakespeare never attended a university. He was educated at Kings Academy, a prestigious grammar school, where he studied Latin as well as ancient History and philosophy. Taking the tide of his vision and talents, he became an actor, poet, playwright, and shareowner in the Globe Theater. He authored 37 plays and 154 Sonnets; however, some of his contemporaries thought him an upstart and alluded to his lack of education.

    Shakespeare’s plays were vastly popular and attended by the public as well as by Queen Elizabeth and King James. Community life in Elizabethan England evidently involved the excitement of waiting for William Shakespeare to finish writing his next play. It is a measure of his thinking that he did not always sign his work.  His plays were published in his name after his death by fellow actors who wanted William Shakespeare remembered for his literary genius. He would emerge as one of the greatest and most quoted literary figures of all time.

   Do we experience internal and external tides in our own lives?   On a recent trip to Missouri, we stopped in Corbin, Kentucky and were excited to find ourselves at the site of the first Kentucky Fried Chicken Restaurant. The restaurant had a small museum dedicated to the life of Colonel Harland Sanders and his famous fried chicken. It was at age 65, we learned, with money from his Social Security check that he took the tide of opportunity and began a franchise with a chicken recipe.  Today we benefit not only from his chicken but also his many charitable trusts.

    Another example where talent and need met the tide of fortune was Steve Wozniak and the late Steve Jobs. With only a garage as a workshop, they built one of the earliest personal computers.  Demand was so great Apple Computers was formed and history was made.  With personal computers at affordable prices, the world would never be the same.

   How do we meet with our own tide when we are not Shakespeare, Steve Jobs or Colonel Sanders?  Most of us feel bound…..stuck in our current situations. But should we look closer to see what is in our lives, both internally and externally, that we can use?  Where is the match for us between the internal tide in our mind and external tide of human need and interest?  We all have talents and gifts.  To paraphrase Will Rogers, we all have wisdom, just about different things.

   How do we view ourselves? In researching Shakespeare, it was apparent that he did not think of himself as the great bard and playwright but rather as a man with a deadline. He needed to finish writing his latest play, so that he and his fellow actors would have a job and could get on with the show!  Sometimes we don’t know when great deeds are being done by us.

   Perhaps we have taken our tide; or perhaps, we are preparing for a tide yet to come.  We think the tide is always there for us, maybe not in the same form every time, but therewaiting, when we are ready. Take it!


Gordon Mercer is professor emeritus at Western Carolina University and a published author. Marcia Mercer is a writer, jewelry designer and published author.  They were married in Charleston.