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All things must pass

Posted by Smokey Stover on October 02, 2007

In Reply to: All things must pass posted by Steph on October 02, 2007

: "All things must pass" - I'm not concerned with the meaning, I believe it's apparent: nothing lasts forever. I'm interested in the origin. I believe the one listed on the site which quotes the Bible as the source, is incorrect. The difference here is between 'pass' and 'come to pass'. Come to pass, of course, meaning 'to happen in the future'.
: You've got a fabulous site! We wordsmiths appreciate your dedication and tenacity in tackling such a huge task!
: Steph

Well, Steph, you are certainly right--"all things must pass" is nowhere near the same as "all these things must come to pass." On the other hand, the information about George Harrison's song is correct, and I imagine you'd like to know where Harrison got the phrase.

The meaning of "to pass" as to go by, to come to an end, to fail to last forever, is very old, as old as the language. The OED does not show the phrase, "All things must pass," but its illustrations include some that I like, including:
"1697 DRYDEN tr. Pastorals II, in Virgil Wks. 7 Beauty's a Charm, but soon the Charm will pass...1882 TENNYSON To Virgil vii, Kings and realms that pass to rise no more." And there is the very interesting prediction found in the New York Times: "1993 N.Y. Times 8 Jan. A25/6 Nationalism will pass, too--together with the imbecilic remnants and ideas of a worn-out century." If only!

So no luck on your phrase. I tried another, "This, too, shall pass," and found an essentially unsourced anecdote about King Solomon, and a very real speech by Abraham Lincoln, as well as some poetic quotations of the phrase. I've heard the phrase here and there as long as I can remember, so I imagine others have as well. I mention this phrase in particular, as it is similar in intent and somewhat in wording to George Harrison's phrase. Perhaps that phrase has been circulating for a long time as a sort of alternate for "This, too, shall pass."