Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Romans 12:12

The Quest for Perfection


Not so long ago there lived a good and kindly count. His rulings were always fair and impartial so he was well loved by all the people. Now as the count grew older it came to his mind that his image should be displayed for his subjects as a testament to all he had done for them. (This was a common practice among the nobility of the time.)

And so it was that in the prime of his reign the count set forth to find an artisan capable of the challenge. You see, the count though loved by all in the land was not of comeliness well endowed. He loved his people dearly, was quick to laugh always ready to help, and had (in his own meager sort of way) a warm and unforced smile. Unfortunately none of this could be conveyed in carved stone as readily as his short, stooped stature, his heavily-browed face, or his abundantly portly build. And thus he spent the next few years looking for just the right person to carve his statue.

Until at last in a small secluded village he found the very man he had been looking for. Just like the count this man had no striking countenance but simply by looking at him, the keenness of his eye, the sureness of his hands, the count knew beyond all doubts that this was the artist who could do the perfect job.

The count approached the small, weathered sculptor and told him of what he was looking to have done. The artisan was deeply flattered but replied “Surely there are better sculptors than me. As count you could have your choice of the best!”

“Yes, I most certainly can,” countered the lord, “And you sir are the man for this job.”

“I am nothing but a solitary young man with a watery eye and none-to-steady hand.” The count could see that this was an obvious lie. He had his royal coffers brought forward. To the little man he offered gold, jewels, riches beyond all measure. Nothing could sway his decision. The count offered him land, a new home, titles, servants. These were of no more success. Finally the count was able to wear the man down by sheer persistence.

“I will do what I will do for the sake of artistic truth” the sculptor told the count. He took only a small bag of gold up front. Less than a week later a large block of the finest marble was brought to the sculptor’s workshop just outside the village.

The count himself came soon afterward and took up residence in the village’s one tiny inn. He would be needed for the first while so the artist could make sketches and do studies from which to do his finished work. Right from the beginning the count knew that he had chosen well. He had never seen anyone spend so much time or give so much attention to every single minute detail as this young man did. The count would sit for as long as he could every day while the sculptor patiently studied and drew every detail of his face from every possible angle. When this was finally done the count took up a striking pose befitting any lord and the whole process began again.

The posing and the careful study went on for weeks and weeks. The count was beginning to wonder if having a statue, like the other nobles, was really worth all the bother. Unexpectedly the sculptor looked up from his paper and said “I am now ready to begin. Your statue should be finished within the year.” He was young but he knew the business well.

The count was so overjoyed that he gathered up all his people and left the village that same day, promising to send someone round to check in on the young man in one month’s time. The young sculptor, not wasting a moment put down his paper and picked up the hammer and other tools. The sound of the chisel striking stone could be heard well into the night.

From sun up to sun down the sculptor worked every day. As his work progressed he used his many near-perfect sketches to form a perfect image of the count in his head. It was this that he then went about letting loose from the marble ever so slowly. Tap by tap. Piece by piece. Flake by tiny flake.

Shortly there came a visitor to the door. It was a servant of the count. A month had already passed. At this point there was little more than the outline of a human form visible in the stone but the servant was wonderfully pleased.

“I can already tell who it is to be!” he exclaimed. “The count will be happy indeed!” The servant left that same day to take the good news back to the count. Time passed swiftly by. The young artist continued to work on the statue of the count every single day from sun up to sun down, and sometimes even longer. People had always said he was too particular in his work but no one could argue that this piece was shaping up to be one of the very best in the whole world.

Another rap on the door heralded the second servant of the count. By this time the specific details of the count were beginning to take shape. The servant laughed out loud for joy when he saw the statue.

“Surely that is the count himself I see being born before my very eyes!” he exclaimed “The count will be very pleased indeed!” With that the second servant left to return to the count.

And so the pattern continued month after month for the better part of the year the sculptor had promised. The statue continued to take shape and the servants seemed to be more and more speechless each time they came. The last servant to come was so immediately overwhelmed by the statue’s likeness that without a single word he fell to one knee then got up to personally fetch the count.

For all that time the sculptor had put up with the showings for the servants but now the count would be coming himself and the statue still wasn’t finished, it still wasn’t perfect.

A mere couple of days later the count arrived to a feverishly working artist. It looked as if he hadn’t eaten or slept in days, but the count quickly forgot his concern when he looked upon the statue before him.

Absolute perfection!” the count bellowed, his warm smile beaming forth. The sculptor had indeed captured the very heart of the dear count. Anyone who looked upon the statue could not help but smile and feel warmth for the man it portrayed, and who felt so much warmth for them in return.

“Verily I say to you, young man, that you have surpassed even my most glorious dreams! You shall be rewarded greatly for this work of most beautiful art. Money, servants … anything you ask for I will gladly give it to you!”

The sculptor seemed greatly distressed. “I would ask for but a little more time to finish the work before you my Lord” came his haggard reply.

The count was taken aback for he had not expected this at all. “But come now, why, young fellow? This is without a doubt exactly what I wanted, and even more if possible.’

“But, my Lord, it is not yet perfect! An that is why I ask for but a little more time. Give me yet one more month and I will give you absolute perfection!”

The count could not see how this was possible but consented to the man anyway. ‘What could it hurt?’ he thought to himself. It was already more than he had hoped for. As he began for home his mind began to dream of what more could be done.

The thirty days passed quickly for the driven sculptor. He worked feverishly, taking little time out to eat and even less to sleep. He would contemplate a single tap of the hammer and chisel sometimes for hours before committing it to the stone.

Fleck by tiny fleck he did the seemingly impossible. He took that statue and made it unquestionably, undoubtedly, and inescapably perfect. At long last he could sit back and look at his work with a craftsman’s pride!

The same day he finished was the day that the cont and his retinue came back. The sculptor was nervous, but excited and very proud as he prepared to unveil his final work.

“My Lord, I give you perfection” he said, pulling away the covering.

The count’s expectant look turned to one of confusion and then to anger.

“What is the meaning of this? Is this some sort of cruel joke?” he bellowed, “I’ll have none of it, and you will be lucky to ever work again. Mark my words!” And with that the nobleman stormed off, never once looking back.

The weathered young sculptor was in a daze. He looked at the statue. It was perfect, down to the last hair, down to the finest wrinkle. Nothing but the colour of the stone could distinguish the statue from the man!

Then the answer hit him like a thunderbolt. He reeled back from his work of perfection. The statue was dead. There was no glimmer of life in it whatsoever. He had been so busy for so long making it physically perfect that he had failed to see that in dong so he ha destroyed everything that made the piece (and the man) beautiful to behold.

The young man looked at his handiwork in the harsh afternoon sun and bitterly recognized that all that had mattered about the statue lay in dust about his feet.


Author: kenmaher

When I'm not working I enjoy Astronomy, Camping, Comic Books, Epic Fantasy Novels, Games (both playing and designing), Hiking, Juggling, Sci-fi, and building strange things out of pvc pipe. I also enjoy being an honorary pre-schooler with my four great children ... much to their mother's dismay.

4 thoughts on “The Quest for Perfection

  1. I was lamenting with two of my literary friends this past weekend that very few people seem to care for fairy tales in our day and age. Of those few that do enjoy such stories, there are still not many who would write new tales themselves. And yet, in the words of an essay title by C.S. Lewis, “sometimes fairy stories say best what’s to be said.”

    So thank you for your thoughts on the quest for perfection. Now, I’m going to go pull out my copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales and get reading.

  2. Thanks Matthew

    I suppose that if I took the time to think about it I probably wouldn’t have the nerve to put pen to paper (digits to keys?) Fairy tales/modern-day parables can be powerful vehicles for thought and commentary (But fools will venture and all that…) Right now I’m enjoying a series of Folk tales from Ethiopia and Eritrea that’s just priceless. (eg. “The Donkey that Sinned” – wonderful!!!)

  3. I really enjoyed your tale on the quest for perfection. Now I’m wondering where you found the folk tales from Ethiopia and Eritrea. They sound intriguing, too.

  4. Thanks Tracey, The particular collection I’m reading is called “The Fire on the Mountain” by Henry Holt and Company ISBN –0-8050 3652-0


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