Tarry Scant…Part One


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March on. Do not tarry. To go forward is to move toward perfection. March on, and fear not the thorns, or the sharp stones on life’s path. 

Khalil Gibran


So I thought I’d try and look at one of the phrases Forrest wrote in his poem which seems to be a source of confusion for some searchers…”tarry scant”.
This is found in the fourth stanza of the six stanza poem.
If you’ve been wise and found the blaze,
Look quickly down, your quest to cease,
tarry scant with marvel gaze,
Just take the chest and go in peace.

The entire stanza appears to be a set of directions based upon the searcher having found the blaze…

“Tarry” could be either a noun, adjective or verb, depending on it’s use in the sentence.
As an adjective, tarry is spelled the same but pronounced differently and has a completely different meaning. We’ll explore that meaning a little further on. I believe Forrest is using the word as either a noun or a verb and it wouldn’t matter much which it is because the meaning of the line would not change.

To me, in non-poetic English, the stanza reads one of two ways:

Once you’ve found the blaze,
Look directly down and you’ll see what you’ve been searching for,
Don’t be tempted to linger there and stare at the marvelous chest,
Just take it and go with my blessings.


Once you’ve found the blaze,
Look directly down and you’ll see what you’ve been searching for,
Don’t be tempted to linger there and stare at the marvelous view,
Just take it and go with my blessings.

In either case the basic message is the same:
Don’t be mesmerized by what you see. Just grab the chest and go.

So for me, “tarry scant” simply means to “move on quickly”.

But to others it has meant different things. This is particularly true when Tarry is used as an adjective. In this case it is pronounced differently and comes from the root, “tar”…that thick, black sticky stuff. If you google “tarry” you will find a number of interesting and occasionally disgusting uses for the word. “Tarry”, is a physicians term for blood in your stool. As in. “You have a tarry stool.” In this case “tarry” comes from the root “tar” and means “black colored”, as a stool might be if it had dark blood in it. Which, of course brings to mind “tarry scat”…looking a great deal like “tarry scant”…But enough of the word’s use as an adjective.

For me, the words “tarry scant” were not unusual principally because of my parent’s influence…or more precisely, my mother’s. I was born of parents only a very few years younger than Forrest’s. My mother, being my main influence through childhood, was a native midwesterner and had a vocabulary of words that included “tarry” and “scant”. She would often tell me things like “don’t tarry after school today”, or “you can stay there til four o’clock but don’t tarry on your way home. I never had to look that word up. I knew what it meant and I knew I better go home directly after school or I’d be punished. My mother was not a great collaborator. Her parents were German and Pennsylvania Dutch and mediation was a word probably not in her vocabulary.

Scant was also a word she used often enough and that I felt immediately comfortable with when I read it in Forrest’s poem. My mother would say things to me like, “There will be scant dessert for you  young man until you eat all those beets.” There was little room for negotiation in a warning like that. Scant meant small…as in “next to none”. With dessert it meant exactly “none”.

A few years later I would learn about “scanties”. They being the scandalous, brief underwear a brave catholic schoolgirl would occasionally “show off” to a small admiring society of altar boys after Sister Mary Linus’s 7th grade class.

But I tarry…

“Move on quickly”, it’s just my interpretation..or taking after my mother I might say..”the only correct interpretation” 🙂

Would anyone care to comment with a counter-argument?