Saturday, October 27

The Dark Night of the Abyss

What is man? I might begin; how does it happen that there is such a thing in the world, something that ferments like a chaos and moulders like a rotten tree and never thrives to ripeness? How does nature tolerate this sour grape amidst its sweet ones?
To the plants, he says, i, too, was once like you! and to the pure stars, i will become like you in another world! Meanwhile he breaks asunder and now and again performs his arts on himself as if, when a living thing falls apart, he could put it together again like masonry; but it does not disconcert him when nothing is bettered through all his deeds; what he performs remains, after all, an artifice.
O you poor men who feel this, who, like me, do not like to speak of human purpose, who, like me, are so completely seized by the nothing that reigns over us and so thoroughly recognize that we are born for nothing, that we love a nothing, slave away for nothing, so as to cross over gradually into nothing – how can i help if your knees break when you reflect seriously on it? I, too, have at times sunk into these thought and have cried, why do you put the axe to my root, cruel spirit? and am still here.
O once, you dark brothers! it was different. Then it was so beautiful above us, so beautiful and joyous before us; these hearts, too, overflowed before the distant, blessed phantoms, and our spirits, too, penetrated boldly, exultantly, upward and broke through the confines, and when they looked about, alas, there was infinite emptiness.
O! I can cast myself on my knees and wring my hands and beg – but it do not know whom – for other thoughts. But i would not overcome it, the screaming truth. Have i not convinced myself two times over? When i gaze into life, what is the last of all? Nothing. When i rise in spirit, what is the highest of all? Nothing.
But be still, my heart! It is your last strength that you waste! Your last strength? and you, you will storm heaven? Where, then, are your hundred arms, Titan, where are your Pelion and Ossa, your stairs that you climb to the palace of the father of the gods, so as to hurl down the god and the table of the gods and all the immortal peaks of Olympus and preach to the mortals: Remain below, children of the moment! Do not strive here upward into these heights, for there is nothing here above.
You, my heart can cease to see what rules over others. Your new doctrine holds sway for you. It is undoubtedly empty and desolate above you and before you because it is empty and desolate within you.
Certainly, if you others are richer than i, you could help a little.
If your garden is so full of flowers, why does their breath not delight me too? – If you are so full of divinity, then offer it to me to drink. No one starves at feasts, not even the poorest. But only one has his feast among you; that is death.
Need and fear and night are your masters. They separate you, they drive you together with blows. You name hunger love, and where you see nothing more, there dwell your gods! Gods and love!
O the poets are right, there is nothing so small and meager that men could not be inspired by it.
So i thought. How all this came into me, i still do not grasp.
(Hyperion. Holderlin.)

Friday, October 26

The Gods Envy Us

What is it, then, that man wants so much? I often asked; what is the meaning of the infinity in his breast? Infinity? Where is it? Who has perceived it? He wants more than he is capable of! that might be true! O! you have experienced it often enough. And it is necessary as it is. What gives strength its sweet, rapturous feeling is that it does not pour out as it will; precisely this creates the beautiful dreams of immortality and all the lovely and colossal phantoms that enchant man a thousand times over, this creates for man his Elysium and his gods, that the line of his life does not run straight, that he does not travel toward his destination like an arrow and that an alien power throws itself in the way of this fleeing creature.
The heart’s wave would not foam up so beautifully and become spirit, if the ancient, mute rock, fate, did not stand opposed to it.
(Hyperion. Holderlin.)

Thursday, October 25

You Know Not My Pain

Dear friend! there was a time when my breast, too, basked in great hopes, when the joy of immortality throbbed in all my pulses, when i strolled among glorious projects as in the wild forest night, when, happy as the fish of the ocean in my boundless future, i pressed farther, ever farther onward.
How boldly, blessed nature! the youth sprang from your cradle! how he delighted in his untested weapons! His bow was taut, and his arrows rattled in his quiver, and the immortals, the high priests of antiquity, led him, and his Adamas was in their midst.
Wherever i went and stood, these glorious figures accompanied me; in my mind the deeds of all times became lost in one another like flames; and as the gigantic forms, the clouds of the heavens, unite in one rejoicing storm, so the hundredfold triumphs of the Olympiads united in me, and became one, infinite triumph.
Who withstands it, who is not felled like the young woods by a hurricane when the frightening glory of antiquity seizes him like it seized me, and when, like me, he lacks the element in which he might attain a strengthening self-possession?
O, like a storm, the greatness of the ancients bowed my head, snatched the blood from my face; and often i lay where no eye observed me, amidst a thousand tears, like a toppled fir that lies by the stream and hides its wilted crown in the current. How gladly would have i purchased with blood an instant from a great man’s life!
But what was the use? No one wanted me.
O it is pitiful to see oneself thus reduced to nothing; and he for whom this is incomprehensible, may he not ask about it, and thank nature, which created him, like the butterflies, for joy, and go and never again in his life speak of pain and unhappiness.
I loved my heroes as a fly loves the light; i sought their dangerous nearness and fled and sought it again.
As a bleeding deer plunges into the river, i often plunged into the whirlpool of joy to cool my burning breast and to bathe away my raging, glorious dream of fame and greatness, but what was the use?
And when often at midnight my hot heart drove me down into the garden under the dewy trees, and the lullaby of the wellspring and the lovely air and the moonlight soothed my mind, and the silver clouds so freely and peacefully stirred above me, and from the distance the fading voice of the tide sounded – how amiably they then played with my heart, all the great phantoms of its love!
Farewell, you heavenly beings! I often said in thought, when the melody of the morning light began to sound softly above me, you glorious dead, farewell! I would like to follow you, would like to shake off what my century gave me and set out into the freer realm of the shades!
But i languish on the chain and snatch with bitter joy the measly cup that is handed to my thirst.
(Hyperion. Holderlin.)

Thursday, October 18

God si Love

Making sudden changes of gear, the heat accelerated its advance after Mrs. Moore's departure until existence had to be endured and crime punished with the thermometer at a hundred and twelve. Electric fans hummed and spat, water splashed on to screens, ice clinked, and outside these defenses  between a greyish sky and a yellowish earth, clouds of dust moved hesitatingly. In Europe life retreats out of the cold, and exquisite fireside myths have resulted--Balder, Persephone--but here the retreat is from the source of life, the treacherous sun, and no poetry adorns it because disillusionment cannot be beautiful. Men yearn for poetry though they may not confess it; they desire that joy shall be graceful and sorrow august and infinity have a form, and India fails to accommodate them. The annual helter-skelter of April, when irritability and lust spread like a canker, is one of her comments on the orderly hopes of humanity. Fish manage better; fish, as the tanks dry, wriggle into the mud and wait for the rains to uncake them. But men try to be harmonious all the year round, and the results are occasionally disastrous. The triumphant machine of civilization may suddenly hitch and be immobilized into a car of stone, and at such moments the destiny of the English seems to resemble their predecessors' (the Moguls), who also entered the country with intent to refashion it, but were in the end worked into its pattern and covered with its dust.
(A  Passage to India. E. M. Forster.)

Wednesday, October 17

Her Loving Memory!

...he desired to remember his wife and could not. Why could he remember people whom he did not love? They were always so vivid to him, whereas the more he looked at this photograph, the less he saw. She had eluded him thus, ever since they had carried her to her tomb. He had known that she would pass from his hands and eyes, but had thought she could live in his mind, not realizing that the very fact that we have loved the dead increases their unreality, and that the more passionately we invoke them the further they recede. A piece of brown cardboard and three children—that was all that was left of his wife. It was unbearable, and he thought again, "How unhappy I am! " and became happier. He had breathed for an instant the mortal air that surrounds Orientals and all men, and he drew back from it with a gasp, for he was young. "Never, never shall I get over this," he told himself "Most certainly my career is a failure, and my sons will be badly brought up." Since it was certain, he strove to avert it, and looked at some notes he had made on a case at the hospital. Perhaps some day a rich person might require this particular operation, and he gain a large sum. The notes interesting him on their own account, he locked the photograph up again. Its moment was over, and he did not think about his wife any more.
 (A Passage to India. E.M. Forster.)

Even at that hour when the grey sky of St. Petersburg is shrouded in total darkness and all its race of officials have dined and sated the...