Articles, Blog

Picture of Life

I want to tell you something today, something that I have known for a long while, and you know it too; But perhaps you have never said it to yourself. I am going to tell you now what it is
that I know about you and me and our fate. You, Harry, have been an artist and a thinker, a man full of joy and faith, Always on the track of what is great and eternal, never content with the trivial and petty. But the more life has awakened you and brought you back to yourself, The greater has your need been and the deeper the sufferings and dread and despair that have overtaken you, Till you were up to your neck in them. And all that you once knew and loved and revered as beautiful and sacred, All the belief you once had in mankind and our high destiny, Has been of no avail and has lost its worth and gone to pieces. Your faith found no more air to breathe. And suffocation is a hard death. Is that true, Harry? Is that your fate? You have a picture of life within you, a faith, a challenge, And you were ready for deeds and sufferings and sacrifices, And then you became aware by degrees that the world asked no deeds and no sacrifices of you whatever, And that life is no poem of heroism with heroic parts to play and so on, But a comfortable room where people are quite content with eating and drinking, coffee and knitting, Cards and wireless. And whoever wants more and has got it in him—the heroic and the beautiful, And the reverence for the great poets or for the saints— Is a fool and a Don Quixote. Good. And it has been just the same for me, my friend. I was a gifted girl. I was meant to live up to a high standard, to expect much of myself and do great things. I could have played a great part. I could have been the wife of a king, the beloved of a revolutionary, the sister of a genius, the mother of a martyr. And life has allowed me just this, to be a courtesan of fairly good taste, And even that has been hard enough. That is how things have gone with me. For a while I was inconsolable and for a long time I put the blame on myself. Life, thought I, must in the end be in the right, And if life scorned my beautiful dreams, so I argued, It was my dreams that were stupid and wrong headed. But that did not help me at all. And as I had good eyes and ears and was a little inquisitive too, I took a good look at this so-called life And at my neighbors and acquaintances, Fifty or so of them and their destinies, And then I saw you. And I knew that my dreams had been right a thousand times over, just as yours had been. It was life and reality that were wrong. It was as little right that a woman like me should have no other choice than to grow old in poverty And in a senseless way at a typewriter in the pay of a money-maker, Or to marry such a man for his money’s sake, or to become some kind of drudge, As for a man like you to be forced in his loneliness and despair to have recourse to a razor. Perhaps the trouble with me was more material and moral and with you more spiritual— But it was the same road. Do you think I can’t understand your horror of the fox trot, Your dislike of bars and dancing floors, Your loathing of jazz and the rest of it? I understand it only too well, and your dislike of politics as well, Your despondence over the chatter and irresponsible antics of the parties and the press, Your despair over the war, the one that has been and the one that is to be, Over all that people nowadays think, read and build, over the music they play, the celebrations they hold, the education they carry on. You are right, Steppenwolf, right a thousand times over, And yet you must go to the wall. You are much too exacting and hungry for this simple, easygoing and easily contented world of today. You have a dimension too many. Whoever wants to live and enjoy his
life today must not be like you and me. Whoever wants music instead of noise, Joy instead of pleasure, soul instead of gold, Creative work instead of business, Passion instead of foolery, Finds no home in this trivial world of ours—

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