Of Deferred Proverbial Wisdom

The Hebrew word for what we translate as "proverb" is masal (or so I am told; scholars of the Hebrew feel free to correct my limited research), and this derives from a word akin to "camparison." Concordantly and fittingly, we are presented with a bevy of "proverbs" that function as a basic compare-and-contrast object lesson in virtue and wisdom: 'The fool is thus, and the wise man is as such;' 'the good son lives by these maxims, while the bad son makes choices as follows...'

Now all of that does sound a little boring if you're not in the mood for jargon-laden analysis, but it makes the proverbs themselves very nicely compact and readable:
Wealth gained hastily will dwindle,
   but whoever gathers little by little will increase it.
There; nothing sleepy-eyed or boring about that, is there? It's a simple message, and straight to the point: "this is not a good way to grow wealthy—that is."

The trouble with proverbs isn't in the format itself, but in the subjects which they are written about. A proverb I've often been perplexed by is found in the "big book of Hebrew proverbs" chapter 13, verse 12: 
Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
   but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.
There are a lot of things assumed by this comparison that make any real application of it, or even a deep understanding of it, quite complex indeed. Who, for example, is doing the deferring? Who is doing the fulfilling? What's the difference between hope and desire? 

One way to approach these questions would be to assume that the desire and the hope are the same thing; making the real comparison an issue of "deferral" versus "fulfillment." Next, the question of agency: who's doing what to whom? Based on the patterns we can see in the rest of the chapter,  I think it's worth pursuing the possibility that the "fulfilling agent" is the reader himself. We get a break-down of the proverb as follows:
If you put off doing the things you hope for, you'll be hateful and bitter; a happy life comes from fulfilling your desires.
Now that's a little bit easier to read as an instruction, isn't it? You could even try applying it as a maxim: "Always follow your heart's desire."

But we're "begging the question" here—who ever said that a proverb has to be an instruction?More importantly, why does it have to be something that we can apply in step-by-step fashion to our daily decisions? Couldn't this work simply as a comparison between two different situations, one happy and one tragic? For example:
The man who has his hopes defeated will feel no pleasure, but when you get what you want you'll always see the brighter side of life.
Who says that a "tree of life" is something we're supposed to pursue? Maybe the message here isn't that you need to have your hopes fulfilled, but that you need to set more realistic goals. Maybe the proverb offers no instruction at all, but instead acts as a kind of reality check for the blissfully and ignorantly hopeful (like me, I must admit) who are sure to eventually turn sour from the inevitable deflation of long-pursued dreams. 

What do you folks think? I've got my own answer, based on what I think the rest of the chapter is saying, but I'd like to hear some other interpretations...

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