So, What is Love, Then?

Your voice, your eyes, your hands, your lips… Our silences, our words… Light that goes, light that returns. A single smile between us. In quest of knowledge, I watched night create day while we seemed unchanged. O beloved of all, beloved of one alone, your mouth silently promised to be happy. Away, away says hate; Closer, closer says love. A caress leads us from our infancy. Increasingly I see the human form as a lovers’ dialogue. The heart has but one mouth. Everything by chance. All words without thought. Sentiments adrift. Men roam the city. A glance, a word. Because I love you, everything moves. We must advance to live. Aim straight ahead towards those you love. I went toward you, endlessly toward the light. If you smile, it enfolds me all the better. The rays of your arms pierce the mist.

Paul Eluard

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True Prayer…

There is no true prayer without suffering. False prayer asks relief from suffering. True prayer asks the strength to bear it. True prayer is patient and persistent. False prayer is halting and impatient. The individual who prays truly is humble and finds the experience of prayer humbling. The individual who prays falsely bolsters his own self-esteem and is presumptuous in his prayer. True prayer accepts everything and refers everything to God. The one who prays falsely complains and then gives thanks only for what he himself thinks is good. The true man of prayer is totally committed. His opposite holds something back, or he prays only with a part of his being-his mind, his feelings, or his public self. In valid prayer man comes alone before God. In immature prayers the individual tries to maintain his dependencies on his fellow man and his social world as a kind of protective device. True prayer maintains the dialectical tension in man’s sense of distance and the nearness of God; false prayer either volatilizes the God-relationship in a fantastically elevated conception of God or so likens God to man that it treats God as a fellow human being. The man who prays truly strips himself of all cleverness, while false prayer is often an attempt at clever conversation. The man who truly prays listens to God; the man who prays falsely wants God to listen to him.

Kierkegaard, The Prayers of Kierkegaard

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What is a Poet?

What is a poet? A poet is an unhappy being whose heart is torn by secret sufferings, but whose lips are so strangely formed that when the sighs and the cries escape them, they sound like beautiful music. His fate is like that of the unfortunate victims whom the tyrant Phalaris imprisoned in a brazen bull and slowly tortured over a steady fire; their cries could not reach the tyrant’s ears so as to strike terror into his heart; when they reached his ears they sounded like sweet music. And men crowd about the poet and say to him: “Sing for us soon again”; that is as much as to say: “may new sufferings torment your soul, but may your lips be formed as before; for the cries would only frighten us, but the music is delicious.” And the critics come, too, and say: “quite correct, and so it ought to be according to the rules of aesthetics.” Now it is understood that a critic resembles a poet to a hair; he only lacks the suffering in his heart and the music upon his lips. Lo, therefore, I would rather be a swineherd from Amager, and be understood by the swine, then be a poet and be misunderstood by men.

Kierkegaard

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“What is Life?”

Not merely philosophy but also the fine arts work at bottom toward the solution of the problem of existence. For in every mind that once gives itself up to the purely objective contemplation of the world, a desire has been awakened, however concealed and unconscious, to comprehend the true nature of things, of life, and of existence. For this alone is of interest to the intellect as such, in other words, to the subject of knowing that has become free from the aims of the will and is therefore pure; just as for the subject, knowing as mere individual, only the aims and ends of the will have interest. For this reason the result of every purely objective, and so of every artistic, apprehension of things is an expression more of the true nature of life and of existence, more an answer to the question, “What is life?” Every genuine and successful work of art answers this question in its own way quite calmly and serenely. But all the arts speak only the naive and childlike language of perception, not the abstract and serious language of reflection; their answer is thus a fleeting image, not a permanent universal knowledge. Thus for perception, every work of art answers that question, every painting, every statue, every poem, every scene on the stage. Music also answers it, more profoundly indeed than do all the others, since in a language intelligible with absolute directness, yet not capable of translation into that of our faculty of reason, it expresses the innermost nature of all life and existence. Thus all the other arts together hold before the questioner an image or picture of perception and say: “Look here; this is life!” However correct their answer may be, it will yet always afford only a temporary, not a complete and final satisfaction. For they always give only a fragment, an example instead of the rule, not the whole that can be given only in the universality of the concept. Therefore it is the task of philosophy to give for the concept, and hence for reflection and in the abstract, a reply to that question, which on that very account is permanent and satisfactory for all time. Moreover we see here on what the relationship between philosophy and the fine arts rests, and can conclude from this to what extent the capacity for the two, though very different in its tendency and in secondary matters, is yet radically the same.

Arthur Schopenhauer, On the Inner Nature of Art

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A Veiled Stranger

Nothing can be sadder or more profound than to see a thousand things for the first and last time. To journey is to be born and die each minute. Perhaps somewhere in the vague recesses of his mind he perceived parallels between this series of dissolving views and our human life. All the elements of life are in constant flight from us, with darkness and clarity intermingled, the vision and the eclipse; we look and hasten, reaching out our hands to clutch; every happening is a bend in the road…and suddenly we have grown old. We have a sense of shock and gathering darkness; ahead is a black doorway; the life that bore us is a flagging horse, and a veiled stranger is waiting in the shadows to unharness it.

Victor Hugo, Les Miserables

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The Most Extravagant Possibilities

In this city they nonchalantly abandon themselves to the most extravagant possibilities. In their usual existence they constantly confuse what is extraordinary with what is forbidden, so that the expectation of something marvelous, which they now permit themselves, appears on their faces as an expression of coarse licentiousness.

The awareness that I knew this city overcame me among all these self-deluding people and filled me with such a sense of opposition that I looked up, wondering how I could communicate what I was feeling. Was it possible that in these rooms there was not one person who was unconsciously waiting to be enlightened about the nature of his surrounding? Some young person who would immediately understand that what was being offered here wasn’t an enjoyment, but rather an example of willpower, more demanding and more severe than could be found anywhere else? I walked around; this truth of mine made me restless. Since it had seized me here among so many people, it brought with it the desire to be expressed, defended, proved.

Rilke, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge

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Among Sufferers Deluded by Fancy

There he stands in the midst of all the noisy summonses and importunities of the day, of the necessities of life, of society, of the state – as what? Perhaps as though he were the only one awake, the only one aware of the real and true, among confused and tormented sleepers, among sufferers deluded by fancy; sometimes no doubt he even feels as though a victim of a protracted sleeplessness, as though condemned to pass a clear and conscious life in the company of sleepwalkers and creatures of a spectral earnestness: so that all that seems everyday to others to him appears uncanny, and he feels tempted to counter the impression produced by this phenomenon with exuberant mockery. But this sensation becomes a peculiar hybrid, when to the brightness of this exuberance there is joined a quite different impulse, the longing to descend from the heights into the depths, the living desire for the earth, for the joy of communion – then, when he recalls all he is deprived of as a solitary creator, the longing at once to take all that is weak, human and lost and, like a god come to earth, ‘raise it to Heaven in fiery arms’, so as at last to find love and no longer only worship, and in love to relinquish himself utterly!

Nietzsche, Untimely Meditations – Richard Wagner in Bayreuth

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Immortal Sense of Beauty

It is this admirable, this immortal sense of Beauty which makes us regard the Earth and its sights as a glimpse, a correspondence of Heaven. Our insatiable thirst for everything which is beyond and which is revealed by life is the most living proof of our immortality. It is at once by and through poetry, by and through music that the soul catches a glimpse of the splendors which lie on the other side of the grave; and when an exquisite poem brings tears to our eyes, these tears are not the proof of excessive enjoyment; they are much more the sign of an irritated melancholy, a nervous postulation, a nature exiled in an imperfect world which would like to take possession at once on this very earth of a revealed paradise. Thus the principle of poetry is strictly and simply human aspirations towards a higher beauty and this principle appears in an enthusiasm which is completely independent of passion, which is the intoxication of the heart, and of truth which is the field of reason. For passion is a natural thing, too natural, indeed, not to introduce a painful, discordant note into the realm of pure beauty; too familiar not to scandalize the pure Desires, the gracious Melancholy, the noble Despair which dwell in the supernatural regions of poetry.

Charles Baudelaire

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The Task of Modern Art

And the task of modern art, too, suddenly becomes clear: stupefaction or delirium! To put to sleep or to intoxicate! To silence the conscience, by one means or the other! To help the modern soul to forget its feeling of guilt, not to help it to return to innocence! And this at least for moments at a time! To defend man against himself by compelling him to silence and to an inability to hear! – the few who have felt what this most shameful of tasks, this dreadful degradation of art, really means will find their souls filling to the brim with regret and pity: but also with a new mighty longing. he who desired to liberate art, to restore its desecrated sanctity, would first have to have liberated himself from the modern souls; only when innocent himself could he discover the innocence of art, and he thus has two tremendous acts of purification and consecration to accomplish. If he were victorious, if he spoke to men out of his liberated soul in the language of his liberated art, only then would he encounter his greatest danger and his most tremendous battle; men would rather tear him and his art to pieces than admit they must perish for shame in the face of them. It is possible that the redemption of art, the only gleam of light to be hoped for in the modern age, will be an event reserved to only a couple of solitary souls, while the many continue to gaze into the flickering and smoky fire of their art: for they do not want light, they want bedazzlement; they hate light – when it is thrown upon themselves.

Thus they avoid the new bringer of light; but, constrained by the love out of which he was born, he pursues them and wants to constrain them. ‘You shall pass through my mysteries’, he cries to them, ‘you need their purifications and convulsions. Risk it for the sake of your salvation and desert for once the dimly lit piece of nature and life which is all you seem to know; I lead you into a realm that is just as real, you yourselves shall say when you emerge out of my cave into our daylight which life is more real, which is really daylight and which cave. Nature is in its depths much richer, mightier, happier, more dreadful; in the way you usually live you do not know it: learn to become nature again yourselves and then with and in nature let yourselves be transformed by the magic of my love and fire.

Nietzsche, Untimely Meditations – Richard Wagner in Bayreuth

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The Dancing Serpent

How I love to look, dear indolent one, at your beautiful body and see, like a shot silk, the changing gleam of your skin!

On your deep hair, with its bitter perfumes, a scented and wandering sea of blue and brown waves,

Like a ship stirring with the wind of morning my dreamy soul sets sail for a distant sky.

Your eyes, in which nothing is revealed, sweet or bitter, are two cold jewels in which gold mingles with iron.

Seeing your rhythmic walk, beautiful in its abandon, one thinks of a serpent dancing at the end of a stick.

Under the weight of your laziness, your child’s head hangs with the soft looseness of a young elephant’s.

And your body sways and stretches like an elephant ship rolling from side to side and pitching its yards in the water.

Like a stream swollen by the melting of grinding glaciers, when the water of your mouth rises to the edge of your teeth,

I feel I am drinking a Bohemian wine, bitter and overpowering, a liquid sky which scatters my heart with stars.

Charles Baudelaire

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