Beauty Is a Fearful and Terrible Thing!

But enough poetry! I shed tears; well, then, let me cry. Maybe everyone will laugh at this foolishness, but you won’t. Your eyes are shining, too. Enough poetry. I want to tell you now about the ‘insects,’ about those to whom God gave sensuality:

To insects—sensuality!

I am that very insect, brother, and those words are precisely about me. And all of us Karamazovs are like that, and in you, an angel, the same insect lives and stirs up storms in your blood. Storms, because sensuality is a storm, more than a storm! Beauty is a fearful and terrible thing! Fearful because it’s undefinable, and it cannot be defined, because here God gave us only riddles. Here the shores converge, here all contradictions live together. I’m a very uneducated man, brother, but I’ve thought about it a lot. So terribly many mysteries! Too many riddles oppress man on earth. Solve them if you can without getting your feet wet. Beauty! Besides, I can’t bear it that some man, even with a lofty heart and the highest mind, should start from the ideal of the Madonna and end with the ideal of Sodom. It’s even more fearful when someone who already has the ideal of Sodom in his soul does not deny the ideal of the Madonna either, and his heart burns with it, verily, verily burns, as in his young, blameless years. No, man is broad, even too broad, I would narrow him down. Devil knows even what to make of him, that’s the thing! What’s shame for the mind is beauty all over for the heart. Can there be beauty in Sodom? Believe me, for the vast majority of people, that’s just where beauty lies—did you know that secret? The terrible thing is that beauty is not only fearful but also mysterious. Here the devil is struggling with God, and the battlefield is the human heart. But, anyway, why kick against the pricks? Listen, now to real business.

The Brothers Karamazov

Miracles and Faith

It is not miracles that bring a realist to faith. A true realist, if he is not a believer, will always find in himself the strength and ability not to believe in miracles as well, and if a miracle stands before him as an irrefutable fact, he will sooner doubt his own senses than admit the fact. And even if he does admit it, he will admit it as a fact of nature that was previously unknown to him. In the realist, faith is not born from miracles, but miracles from faith. Once the realist comes to believe, then, precisely because of his realism, he must also allow for miracles. The Apostle Thomas declared that he would not believe until he saw, and when he saw, he said: “My Lord and my God!” Was it the miracle that made him believe? Most likely not, but he believed first and foremost because he wished to believe, and maybe already fully believed in his secret heart even as he was saying: “I will not believe until I see.”

Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

And I Worshiped Them in Silence

In the evening before going to sleep they liked singing in musical and harmonious chorus. In those songs they expressed all the sensations that the parting day had given them, sang its glories and took leave of it. They sang the praises of nature, of the sea, of the woods. They liked making songs about one another, and praised each other like children; they were the simplest songs, but they sprang from their hearts and went to one’s heart. And not only in their songs but in all their lives they seemed to do nothing but admire one another. It was like being in love with each other, but an all-embracing, universal feeling.

Some of their songs, solemn and rapturous, I scarcely understood at all. Though I understood the words I could never fathom their full significance. It remained, as it were, beyond the grasp of my mind, yet my heart unconsciously absorbed it more and more. I often told them that I had had a presentiment of it long before, that this joy and glory had come to me on our earth in the form of a yearning melancholy that at times approached insufferable sorrow; that I had had a foreknowledge of them all and of their glory in the dreams of my heart and the visions of my mind; that often on our earth I could not look at the setting sun without tears. . . that in my hatred for the men of our earth there was always a yearning anguish: why could I not hate them without loving them? why could I not help forgiving them? and in my love for them there was a yearning grief: why could I not love them without hating them? They listened to me, and I saw they could not conceive what I was saying, but I did not regret that I had spoken to them of it: I knew that they understood the intensity of my yearning anguish over those whom I had left. But when they looked at me with their sweet eyes full of love, when I felt that in their presence my heart, too, became as innocent and just as theirs, the feeling of the fullness of life took my breath away, and I worshipped them in silence.

Dostoevsky, The Dream of a Ridiculous Man
translated by constance garnett

People Are Alone in the World

Insensibility. oh, nature! people are alone in the world. that’s what is so dreadful. “Is there a living man on the plain?” cries the russian legendary hero. I, too, echo the same cry, but no one answers. They say the sun brings life to the universe. The sun will rise and—look at it. Isn’t it dead? Everything is dead. Dead men are everywhere. There are only people in the world, and all around them is silence—that’s what the earth is! “Men love one another!”—who said that? Whose commandment is it? The pendulum is ticking away unfeelingly, dismally. Two o’clock in the morning. Her dear little boots stand by her little bed, as though waiting for her. . . . No, seriously, when they take her away tomorrow, what’s to become of me?

Dostoevsky, A Gently Creature

The Essence of Religious Feeling

The essence of religious feeling doesn’t fit in with any reasoning, with any crimes and trespasses, or with any atheisms; there’s something else here that’s not that, and it will eternally be not that; there’s something in it that atheisms will eternally glance off, and they will eternally be talking not about that.

Dostoevsky, The Idiot

And It’s a Very Good Thing, Literature

And it’s a very good thing, literature, a very good thing…a profound thing! A thing that strengthens people’s heart, instructs….Literature is a picture, that is in a certain way a picture and a mirror; the expression of passion, a kind of subtle criticism, an exhortation to edification and a document.

You perhaps would like to know how i occupy myself when i am not writing? I read. I read an awful lot, and reading has a strange effect on me. I will read through something I read a long time ago and it is as though I am wound up with new powers. I pay attention to everything, understand everything clearly, and draw from it the ability to create for myself.