I run through the memory of my past in its entirety and can’t help asking myself: why have I lived? For what purpose was I born? . . . There probably was one once, and I probably did have a lofty calling, because I feel a boundless strength in my soul . . . But I didn’t divine this calling. I was carried away with the bait of passions, empty and unrewarding. I came out of their crucible as hard and cold as iron, but I had lost forever the ardor for noble aspirations, the best flower of life . . .
A Hero of Our Time
There ’s a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, ’t is not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come: the readiness is all. Since no man has aught of what he leaves, what is ’t to leave betimes?
William Shakespeare, Hamlet
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:
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
How well I understand this language of looks, mute but expressive, terse but emphatic.
A Hero of Our Time
‘Tell me, does it amuse you very much to torture me? I ought to hate you. Ever since I’ve known you, you’ve brought nothing but suffering…’
Her voice trembled, she leaned towards me and lowered her head upon my breast.
Perhaps that’s why you loved me, I thought. Moments of happiness one forgets, but sorrow never.
A Hero of Our Time
Some years ago – never mind how long precisely – having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off – then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.
Herman Melville, Moby Dick
I want to put flowers in your hair. But what flowers? There are none with touching enough simplicity. And from what May would I fetch them? But I’m convinced now that you always have a wreath in your hair…or a crown…I’ve never seen you in any other way.
I’ve never seen you without wanting to pray to you. I’ve never heard you without wanting to place my faith in you. I’ve never longed for you without wanting to suffer for your sake. I’ve never desired you without wanting to be able to kneel before you.
I am yours as the staff is the pilgrim’s-only I don’t support you. I am yours as the scepter is the queen’s-only I don’t enrich you. I am yours as the last little star is the night’s, even though the night may be scarcely aware of it and have no knowledge of its glimmer.
The first study for the man who wants to be a poet is knowledge of himself, complete: he searches for his soul, he inspects it, he puts it to the test, he learns it. As soon as he has learned it, he must cultivate it! I say that one must be a seer, make oneself a seer. The poet becomes a seer through a long, immense, and reasoned derangement of all the senses. All shapes of love, suffering, madness. He searches himself, he exhausts all poisons in himself, to keep only the quintessences. Ineffable torture where he needs all his faith, all his superhuman strength, where he becomes among all men the great patient, the great criminal, the great accursed one–and the supreme Scholar! For he reaches the unknown! ….So the poet is actually a thief of Fire!
If we wish to be let in on the secrets of life, we must be mindful of two things: first, there is the great melody to which things and scents, feelings and past lives, dawns and dreams contribute in equal measure, and then there are the individual voices that complete and perfect this full chorus. And to establish the basis for a work of art, that is, for an image of life lived more deeply, lived more than life as it is lived today, and as the possibility that it remains throughout the ages, we have to adjust and set into their proper relation these two voices: the one belonging to a specific moment and the other to the group of people living in it.
Rilke, Letters on Life
Seeing is for us the most authentic possibility of acquiring something. If god had only made our hands to be like our eyes–so ready to grasp, so willing to relinquish all things–then we could truly acquire wealth. We do not acquire wealth by letting something remain and wilt in our hands but only by letting everything pass through their grasp as if through the festive gate of return and homecoming. Our hands ought not to be a coffin for us but a bed sheltering the twilight slumber and dreams of the things held there, out of whose depths their dearest secrets speak. Once out of our hands, however, things ought to move forward, now sturdy and strong, and we should keep nothing of them but the courageous morning melody that hovers and shimmers behind their fading steps.
For property is poverty and fear; only to have possessed something and to have let go of it means carefree ownership!
Rilke, Letters on Life