Only the hand that erases can write the true thing
Thus is was
I am being driven forward
Into an unknown land.
The pass grows steeper,
The air colder and sharper.
A wind from my unknown goal
Stirs the strings
Still the question:
Shall I ever get there?
There where life resounds,
A clear pure note
In the silence.
Smiling, sincere, incorruptible--
His body disciplined and limber.
A man who had become what he could,
And was what he was--
Ready at any moment to gather everything
Into one simple sacrifice.
Tomorrow we shall meet,
Death and I--
And he shall thrust his sword
Into one who is wide awake.
But in the meantime how grievous the memory
Of hours frittered away.
Beauty: a note that set the heartstrings quivering as it flew by; the shimmer of the blood beneath a skin translucent in the sunlight.
Beauty: the wind which refreshed the traveler, not the stifling heat in dark adits where beggars grubbed for gold.
Never look down to test the ground before taking your next step: only he who keeps his eye fixed on the far horizon will find his right road.
Life yields only to the conqueror. Never accept what can be gained by giving in. You will be living off stolen goods, and your muscles will atrophy.
Never measure the height of a mountain, until you have reached the top. Then you will see how low it was.
"Better than other people." Sometimes he says: "That, at least, you are." But more often: "Why should you be? Either you are what you can be, or you are not--like other people."
What you have to attempt--to be yourself. What you have to pray for--to become a mirror in which, according to the degree of purity of heart you have attained, the greatness of life will be reflected.
Every deed and every relationship is surrounded by an atmosphere of silence. Friendship needs no words--it is solitude delivered from the anguish of loneliness.
If your goal is not determined by your most secret pathos, even victory will only make you painfully aware of your own weakness.
Life only demands from you the strength you possess. Only one feat is possible--not to have run away.
To be sure, you have to fence with an unbuttoned foil: but, in the loneliness of yesterday, did you not toy with the idea of poisoning the tip?
We carry our nemesis within us: yesterday's self-admiration is the legitimate father of today's feeling of guilt.
He bore failure without self-pity, and success without self-admiration. Provided he knew he had paid his utter-most farthing, what did it matter to him how others judged the result.
A Pharisee? Lord, thou knowest he has never been righteous in his own eyes.
The middle years
He stood erect--as a peg top does so long as the whip keeps lashing it. He was modest--thanks to a robust conviction of his own superiority. He was unambitious--all he wanted was a life free from cares, and he took more pleasure in the failures of others than in his own successes. He saved his life by never risking it--and complained that he was misunderstood.
"The Army of Misfortune." Why should we always think of this as meaning "The Others"?
Your cravings as a human animal do not become a prayer just because it is God whom you ask to attend to them.
Isn't the void which surrounds you when the noise ceases your just reward for a day devoted to preventing others from neglecting you?
What gives life its value you can find--and lose. But never possess. This holds good above all for "the Truth about Life."
How can you expect to keep your powers of hearing when you never want to listen? That God should have time for you, you seem to take as much for granted as that you cannot have time for Him.
The devils enter uninvited when the house stands empty. For other kinds of guests, you have first to open the door.
"Upon my conditions."* To live under that sign is to purchase knowledge about the Way at the price of loneliness.
There is only one path out of the steamy dense jungle where the battle is fought over glory and power and advantage--one escape from the snares and obstacles you yourself have set up. And that is--to accept death.
The more faithfully you listen to the voice within you, the better you will hear what is sounding outside. And only he who listens can speak. Is this the starting point of the road towards the union of your two dreams--to be allowed in clarity of mind to mirror life and in purity of heart to mold it?
Openness to life grants a lightning--swift insight into the life situation of others. What is necessary?--to wrestle with your problem until its emotional discomfort is clearly conceived in an intellectual form--and then act accordingly.
It makes one's heart ache when one sees that a man has staked his soul upon some end, the hopeless imperfection and futility of which is immediately obvious to everyone but himself. But isn't this, after all, merely a matter of degree? Isn't the pathetic grandeur of human existence in some way bound up with the eternal disproportion in this world, where self--delusion is necessary to life, between the honesty of the striving and the nullity of the result? That we all--every one of us--take ourselves seriously is not merely ridiculous.
He tends a garden, the borders of which have, without his knowledge, been set by his own powers. His pride in tending it well and his blindness to everything that lies outside its borders make him a little self-opinionated. But is this any worse than that slightly irritable contempt of the man who cannot so deceive himself and has therefore chosen to fight extra muros?
". . . and have not charity." Isn't the fulfillment of our duty towards our neighbor an expression of our deepest desire? It very well may be. In any case, why torture ourselves in order to hurt others?
Praise nauseates you--but woe betide him who does not recognize your worth.
The Strait Road--to live for others in order to save one's soul. The Broad--to live for others in order to save one's self--esteem.
So! We are to believe that misfortune is the fault of those it strikes--a fault which sooner or later will blossom into crime, unless the unfortunate one keeps silent about his fate.
You cannot play with the animal in you without becoming wholly animal, play with falsehood without forfeiting your right to truth, play with cruelty without losing your sensitivity of mind. He who wants to keep his garden tidy doesn't reserve a plot for weeds.
If you don't speak ill of others more often that you do, this certainly isn't from any lack of desire. But you know that malice only gives you elbowroom when dispensed in carefully measured doses.
You are your own god--and are surprised when you find that the wolf pack is hunting you across the desolate ice fields of winter.
"Hallowed be Thy Name." When all your strength ought to be focused into one pencil of light pointing up through the darkness, you allow it to be dissipated in a moss fire where nothing is consumed, but all life is suffocated.
When all becomes silent around you, and you recoil in terror--see that your work has become a flight from suffering and responsibility, your unselfishness a thinly disguised masochism; hear, throbbing within you, the spiteful, cruel heart of the steppe wolf--do not then anesthetize yourself by once again calling up the shouts and horns of the hunt, but gaze steadfastly at the vision until you have plumbed its depths.
On the bookshelf of life, God is a useful work of reference, always at hand but seldom consulted. In the white-washed hour of birth, He is a jubilation and a refreshing wind, too immediate for memory to catch. But when we are compelled to look ourselves in the face--then He rises above us in terrifying reality, beyond all argument and "feeling," stronger than all self--defensive forgetfulness.
The road to self--knowledge does not pass through faith. But only through the self--knowledge we gain by pursuing the fleeting light in the depth of our being do we reach the point where we can grasp what faith is. How many have been driven into our darkness by empty talk about faith as something to be rationally comprehended, something "true."
Our secret creative will divines its counterpart in others, experiencing its own universality, and this intuition builds a road towards knowledge of the power which is itself a spark within us.
Towards new shores--?
At every moment you choose yourself. But do you choose your self? Body and soul contain a thousand possibilities out of which you can build many I's. But in only one of them is there a congruence of the elector and the elected. Only one--which you will never find until you have excluded all those superficial and fleeting possibilities of being and doing with which you toy, out of curiosity or wonder or greed, and which hinder you from casting anchor in the experience of the mystery of life, and the consciousness of the talent entrusted to you which is your I.
Soaked, dark, wollen garments. Deprecating glances. Tired mouths. It is late.
The business proceeds with indifference and dispatch. At the polished black marble tombstone of the counter, many are still waiting.
A sexless light from white ramps is reflected in glass and enamel. Outside stands the darkness. The street door bangs and a wave of raw dampness breaks in upon the dry air, saturated with chemicals.
"O Life, thou embracing, warm, rich, blessed word!"
(Verner von Heidenstam)
Then he looks up from behind the scales on one of the high desks--wise, good-natured, withdrawn in concentration. Deep wrinkles in a gray skin bear witness to a gentle irony, born of experience and a long life within four walls.
Here and now--only this is real:
The good face of an old man,
Caught naked in an unguarded moment,
Without past, without future.
She knew that nothing would get better, that it would never be any different. He had lost interest in his work and no longer did anything. Because, he said, he was not given a free hand. And now she was sitting there praying for his freedom, praying because she so wanted to believe that he was being unfairly treated, that, if only he was given his freedom, he would become a man again. Wanted to believe it so that she might keep up her belief in him. She knew what the true answer was, but she had to force herself to listen to it: he was as free as anybody can be in the economic mazes of a modern society, and any external change would only bring him fresh disappointment. The situation would repeat itself, and he would discover that everything was just as it had been before.
Yes, yes-- And she knew more: knew that there could never be a way out. Because behind all his talk of freedom lay hidden a child's wish to conquer death, a lack of interest in any piece of work the result of which would not be his, even long after he was dead.-- And yet she sat there praying.
Before it became clear to us what had happened, he was already too far out. We could do nothing. We only saw how the undertow was dragging him faster and faster away from the shore. Saw his futile and exhausting struggle to touch the bottom beneath his feet.
It was only blind instinct which drove him to try and save his life: in his mind he had cut himself off from reality. When, in spite of this, a flash of knowledge as to his situation forced itself upon him, he told himself that the rest of us were even worse off. And then we still took the whole matter so lightly! He would certainly still be clutching this conviction at the last moment when the gurgling whirlpool sucked him down.
It had always been this way. Dependent like a child upon admiring affection, he had always taken uncritical friendship for granted, even with those who were indifferent or actually hostile. He had always acted upon this assumption--yet, in an unconscious effort to create friendships which perhaps did not exist, not without a certain compliance towards the interests of others, and, at the same time, a fear of collision with reality which might rend asunder his web of illusions. When things he had said were quoted against him, he denied having ever said them. And when this denial was called by its right name, he interpreted this as a symptom of his critic's lack of mental balance: as time went on, psychosis became an ever commoner word on his lips.
Just what was it we felt when, for the first time, we realized that he had gone too far out ever to be able to get back?
What is one to do on a bleak day but drift for a while through the streets--drift with the stream?
Slowly, with the gravity of an inanimate object, now coming to a standstill, now turning, where currents meet, in listless leisurely gyrations. Slow--and gray. The November day has reached the hour when the light is dying behind a low cold bank of cloud, but the twilight brings no promise of mitigation or peace.
Slow and gray-- He searches every face. But the people aimlessly streaming along the gray ditches of the streets are all like himself--atoms in whom the radioactivity is extinct, and force has tied its endless chain around nothing.
"That one may be translated into light and song." (Erick Bloomberg) To let go of the image which, in the eyes of this world, bears your name, the image fashioned in your consciousness by social ambition and sheer force of will. To let go and fall, fall--in trust and blind devotion. Towards another, another. . . .
To take the risk--
In the dim light he searches every face, but sees only endless variations on his own meanness. So might Dante have imagined the punishment of those who had never taken the risk. --To reach perfection, we must all pass, one by one, through the death of self-effacement. And, on this side of it, he will never find the way to anyone who has passed through it.
Excerpted from Markings by Dag Hammarskjold; with a New Preface by Jimmy Carter Translated by Leif Sjoberg & W.H. Auden. Copyright © 2006 by Dag Hammarskjold. Excerpted by permission of Vintage, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.