I received a lovely greeting card that had no preprinted text inside, but the front had drawings of four bird feathers drifting in the air and these words: “I am a feather for each wind that blows.” I wondered what the friend who sent it meant by the cryptic message, but she replied sheepishly that the card happened to be the only blank one in the store.
The author is William Shakespeare, and the play is The Winter’s Tale. There is a king of Sicily named Leontes whose friend Polixenes, king of Bohemia, has been visiting for nearly a year. When Leontes’ own appeals to Polixenes to tarry longer are of no avail, he sends his wife Hermione to do the pleading. The queen has more success and Polixenes remains—which unfortunately produces a spirit of jealousy in the Italian monarch, who goes from wondering why Polixenes was so easily persuaded to being certain that his wife has been unfaithful. The queen, by the way, is pregnant.
Leontes banishes the newborn baby to the wilderness, bringing grief and ultimately death to his young son Mamillius. The queen (who is, by the way, innocent) dies of a broken heart, and the king realizes, with the help of an oracle, that he was wrong. Meanwhile, the baby, Perdita, is picked up by a shepherd and grows up to marry Florizel, the son of Polixenes. This unfortunately results in Florizel fleeing with Perdita to Sicily, where (you guessed it) a now repentant king Leontes embraces his daughter, then reconciling with Polixenes, who had come in search for his son.
The Winter’s Tale has been variously classified as a comedy and a romance and a problem play, the happily ever after ending marred somewhat by the unredeemed death of the innocent son early on. My own thoughts are these: “Jealous is fierce as the grave” (Song of Solomon 8:6); “its desire is for you, but you must rule over it” (Genesis 4:7); “the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23); though sin has consequences (the son remains dead), repentance ushers in new life (2 Corinthians 7:10); and God hears the cry of a forlorn child in the wilderness (Genesis 21:14-17).
Every story is in some way about the story—the deceitfulness of sin, consequences, forgiveness, repentance, new life, and “better is the end of a thing than its beginning” (Ecclesiastes 7:8).
As for the meaning of “I’m a feather for each wind that blows,” you got me. Could be a good thing, I guess: I’m a free spirit. Could be a bad thing, I guess: I’m too easily influenced by every counselor that comes down the pike (Ephesians 4:14). My friend just said she thought it sounded pretty.