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I found this sentence in a sample letter, from a brother to a sister:

Since Mother's passing I have yearned for nothing more than the acknowledgment of my own kin, to be treated as human again, to breathe the air of human spirit once more. By grace even a wretch like me could be saved, but I do not expect it. If not response is received, I shall henceforth accept my sentence, and one day simply cease to be.
(Source)

I'm having trouble understanding “to breathe the air of human spirit once more.” How can we “breathe the air of human spirit”? Could the speaker have also said something like “drink the wine of human spirit”?

Can someone paraphase that part in plain English, so I can get the gist of what it's saying?

  • Why do you want this paraphrased? Are you wanting to rewrite it? Or do you not understand its meaning, and are looking for clarification? (Also, if you found this somewhere, please tell us where the quote is from.) – J.R. Sep 16 '13 at 10:47
  • I do not understand the meaning of this sentence, the full letter is here gist.github.com/gogainda/6579381 – Igor V. Novokshonov Sep 16 '13 at 11:16
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    It looks like just (somewhat clunky and wishy-washy) evocative language in a personal letter/email from a brother to his estranged sister, following the death of their mother. Essentially, he's saying he wants (but doesn't expect) to be accepted back into the family, and to have the "life-giving air" of [familial] acceptance, companionship, affection, etc. But I think it's Off Topic Lit Crit. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Sep 16 '13 at 13:15
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Here is the full text of the letter:

Dear sister,

I write what shall be my last appeal to go unanswered, one way or the other.

I feel a prisoner, as on an island, with no jailor, no human soul for commune-- only my one mind, examing itself, endlessly, endlessly, searching for relief.

In the years since transgression I have sought no absolution, only bare forgiveness. In good faith I have removed myself from all temptation, sacrificed to prove my commitment however I can imagine.

Since Mother's passing I have yearned for nothing more than the acknowledgment of my own kin, to be treated as human again, to breathe the air of human spirit once more. By grace even a wretch like me could be saved, but I do not expect it. If not response is received, I shall henceforth accept my sentence, and one day simply cease to be.

With a brother's love always,
Oscar Masan

The phrase in question, to breathe the air of human spirit once more, could be rewritten to say that the author wishes, once again, to do all of the things that make us human.

Friends, family, companionship, love, loss, joy, sorrow... it could be argued that it is the sum of these things that constitute the human spirit, and the writer wishes to experience them all once again. To savor them as you would savor the smell of a feast at a gathering of loved ones.

From the context of the letter, we can deduce that the author has done something which has rendered him an outcast, and he now feels less than human. The phrase "to breathe the air of...", in English, is commonly used as a metaphor for freedom, or escape, or of breaking free of a bond.

The prisoner yearned for nothing but to breathe the air of freedom once more.

To answer the second part of your question, could it be rephrased as "to drink the wine of human spirit", I would argue that it does not work as well, since the spirit is an intangible thing, like the wind, and is more appropriately represented by the breathing metaphor.

Oddly, and to complicate the matter even further, the phrase "to drink the milk of human kindness" (Macbeth, Shakespeare, 1605) is well established in English.

Hope that helps.

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He means he wants to feel human again either by acknowledgement by his kin, or by being treated as a human once more. Possibly (since I do not know the rest of the letter), they (the mother and son) were exiled and have lived their life bereft of humanity for some time now, and now that the mother has passed, he finds himself alone, and misses feeling like a human. Since humans are social creatures, alone he feels less like a human, and more animalistic (think Tom Hanks from Castaway).

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