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Full text of "The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge"

THE NOTEBOOKS OF MALTE LAURIDS BRIGGE 
(Die Auf zeichnungen des Malte Laurids Brigge) 

by Rainer Maria Rilke 

Translated from the German by William Needham 



Contents 
Book One 
Book Two 



BOOK ONE 



September 11th, rue Toullier. 

Here, then, is where people come to live; I'd have thought it more a 
place to die in. I've been out. I've seen: hospitals. I saw a man reel 
and fall. People gathered round him, which spared me the rest. I saw a 
pregnant woman. She pushed herself heavily along beside a high warm 
wall, sometimes touching it as if to make sure it was still there. 
Yes, it was still there. And behind the wall? I looked on my map: 
'Maison d 'Accouchement '* . Fine. They'll deliver her child; they're 
able to do that. Further on, in rue Saint- Jacques , a large-sized 
building with a cupola. The map gave: 'Val de Grace, hopital 
militaire'. I didn't actually need to know that, but it does no harm. 
The lane began to smell on all sides. It smelled, so far as I could 
make out, partly of iodoform, partly of the grease from the pommes 
frites, and partly of fear. All cities smell in summer. Then I saw a 
house strangely blinded by cataracts. It was nowhere on my map, but 
over the door and still quite legible were the words: 'Asyle de 
nuit'**. Next to the entrance were the prices. I read them. It wasn't 
expensive there. 

*maternity hospital 
**night shelter , dosshouse 

And what else? A baby in a stationary pram: it was chubby, its face a 
greenish hue, and on its forehead there was a definite rash which was 
clearly healing and not painful. The child was asleep, its mouth open, 
breathing iodoform, pommes frites, fear. That's just how it was. The 
main thing was being alive. That was the main thing. 

The fact is, I can't give up sleeping with the window open. Electric 
tramcars with all their bells ringing rage through my room. 
Automobiles drive across me. A door slams. Somewhere glass from a 
broken window clatters to the ground. I can hear the big pieces 
laughing and the little splinters sniggering. Then suddenly a dull 
muffled sound from inside a house on the other side. Someone's coming 
up the stairs. Coming, coming, on and on, is there for a long time, 
goes past. Back in the street. A girl shrieks: 'Ah, tais-toi, je ne 
veux plus! '* The tram, mad with excitement, races up, and across, and 
away. Someone is calling. People are running, overtaking one another. 
A dog barks. What a relief: a dog. Toward morning there's even a cock 
crowing, and what a boundless blessing it is. Then, abruptly, I fall 
asleep . 

*Ah, shut up. I've had enough! 



Those are the noises. But here there's something that's more terrible: 
the silence. I believe that sometimes when a great fire occurs you 
can get a moment of extreme tension: the water jets slacken off, the 
firemen no longer climb, nobody stirs. Soundlessly a black cornice 
edges forward up above; and a high wall, behind which flames are 
mounting, tilts, also without a sound. Everyone stands, shoulders 
hunched, tense, with the part of their faces above the eyes pressed 
into into furrows, waiting for the awful crash. That's how it is with 
the silence here. 



I'm learning to see. I don't know what it's about, but everything is 
registering in me at a deeper level and doesn't stop where it used to. 
There's a place within me that I wasn't aware of. What's going on 
there I don't know. 



I wrote a letter today and while I was writing it struck me that I've 
been here barely three weeks. Three weeks elsewhere--say, in the 
country--that could be like a day, here it's years. I'm definitely 
not going to write any more letters. What's the point of telling 
anyone that I'm changing? I haven't remained who I was, I'm different 
from who I was before; so, clearly I have no friends or acguaintances . 
And writing to strangers, to people who don't know me, is simply not 
possible . 



Did I say it before? I'm learning to see—yes, I'm making a start. 
I'm still not good at it. But I want to make the most of my time. 

For example, I've never actually wondered how many faces there are. 
There are a great many people, but there are even more faces because 
each person has several. There are those who wear one face for years 
on end; naturally, it starts to wear, it gets dirty, it breaks at the 
folds, it becomes stretched like gloves that are kept for travelling. 
These are thrifty, simple people; they don't change their faces, and 
never for once would they have them cleaned. It's good enough, they 
maintain, and who can convince them otherwise? Admittedly, since they 
have several faces, the guestion now arises: what do they do with the 
others? They save them. They'll do for the children. There have even 
been instances when dogs have gone out with them on. And why not? A 
face is a face. 

Other people change their faces one after the other with uncanny speed 
and wear them out. At first it seems to them that they've enough to 
last them forever, but before they're even forty they're down to the 
last of them. Of course, there's a tragic side to it. They're not used 
to looking after faces; their last one wore through in a week and has 
holes in it and in many places it's as thin as paper; bit by bit the 
bottom layer, the non-face, shows through and they go about wearing 
that. 

But that woman, that woman: bent forward with her head in her hands, 
she'd completely fallen into herself. It was at the corner of rue 
Notre-Dame-des-Champs . I began to tread softly the moment I caught 
sight of her. Poor people shouldn't be disturbed when they're deep 
in thought. What they're searching for might still occur to them. 

The street was too empty; its emptiness was bored with itself and it 
pulled away the sounds of my footsteps and clattered around all over 
the place with them like a wooden clog. Out of fright the woman reared 
up too quickly, too violently, so that her face was left in her two 
hands. I could see it lying there, the hollowness of it's shape. It 
cost me an indescribable effort to keep looking at those hands and not 
at what they'd torn away from. I dreaded seeing the inside of a face, 
but I was much more afraid of the exposed rawness of the head without 
a face. 



I'm afraid. One has to do something about fear once one has it. It 
would be hideous to fall ill here, and were it to occur to anyone to 
get me to the Hotel Dieu*, then I would undoubtedly die there. The 
Hotel is pleasant and terrifically popular. One can scarcely get a 
glimpse of the facade of Paris Cathedral without risking being run 
over by one of the great number of vehicles that must needs go at top 
speed into and across the open sguare. There are these little 
omnibuses that are forever ringing their bells, and the Duke of Sagan 
himself would have to let his carriage be halted if one of these 
little people who was dying had taken it into their head that they 
wanted to go straight to God's very own Hotel. The dying are stubborn, 
and the whole of Paris comes to a halt when Madame Legrand, the 
brocanteuse** from the rue des Martyrs, is driven to a certain square 
in the Cite. A notable feature of these fiendish little carriages is 
that they have frosted glass windows which are immensely stimulating 
and one imagines the most marvellous agonies taking place behind 
them--the imagination of a concierge could manage that--, and with a 
more fanciful imagination and striking out in other directions clearly 
there's no limit to one's conjectures. But I've also seen open 
droschkes*** arriving, for hire, with their hoods folded back, 
charging the normal rate: two francs per hour of death. 

* 'hostel of God' 

**second hand dealer 

***simple horsedrawn carriage 



This excellent hotel is very old. In the days of King Clovis people 
were already dying here in what few beds there were. Now there are 
559 beds to die in. It's natural mass-production. With such a high 
number as that a single death doesn't get the same attention; however, 
that isn't what matters. Quantity is what matters. Who today still 
cares whether or not a death has been well put together? Nobody. Even 
the rich who, after all, can afford to attend to the details of dying 
are starting to grow slipshod and apathetic; the desire to have a 
death all of one's own is becoming more and more infrequent. Only a 
while and it'll become as rare as a life of one's own. God! it's all 
there. God! It's all there waiting for us. We come along, we find a 
life, ready-made, off the peg, and all we have to do is put it on. 
You want to go, or you are forced to: 'No trouble at all, sir. Voila 
votre mort, monsieur'*. You die as and when you die; you die the death 
that belongs to the sickness you have (for all sicknesses are known; 
what is also known is that the different fatal endings belong to the 
sickness and not to the people who are sick; the sick person doesn't 
have anything to do, in a manner of speaking) . 

*There you are, sir, there's your death. 

In sanatoriums, where people die so gladly and with so much gratitude 
toward doctors and nurses, the death which is died is one that is 
utilised by the institution; everyone approves. But when one dies 
at home, the natural thing is to choose the sort of death they have 
in the better circles of society, where the, as it were, first-class 
funeral has already been introduced along with a whole train of 
admirable customs. The poor stand in front of such a house and watch 
until they've seen all they want to see. Their own death is, of 
course, banal and without any sort of fuss at all. They're pleased if 
they can find one that more or less fits--too big, well one can still 
grow a bit; it's only if it doesn't meet across the chest or if it 
chokes that something has to be done to it. 



Whenever I think back to my home, where there's no one left now, I 
can see that in times gone by things must have been different. In 
those days people knew (or suspected) that they had death inside them 
like the stone inside a fruit. Children had a small one in them and 
grown-ups a big one. Women had it in their womb and men in their 
chest. They had it and it gave them a particular dignity and quiet 
pride . 



My own grandfather, old Chamberlain Brigge, obviously carried a death 
inside him. And what a death it was: two months long and so loud it 
could be heard at the furthest corner of the estate. The long old 
manor house was too small for this death; it seemed as if wings needed 
building on to the hose because the Chamberlain's body was getting 
bigger and bigger and he was forever demanding to be carried from one 
room to another and got into a fearful temper if the day were still 
not ended and there were no more rooms left for him to lie in. Up the 
stairs the procession went, the menservants, maids, and the dogs that 
he always had round him; the steward led the way and then brought them 
into the room where his blessed mother had died, a room that was 
exactly as she had left it twenty-three years before and which no one 
since had been allowed to enter. Now the whole mob broke in. The 
curtains were pulled back and the robust light of a summer afternoon 
put all the shy, frightened objets to the test and clumsily turned 
itself round in the wide-eyed mirrors. And the people did the very 
same. There were lady's maids so consumed with curiosity they couldn't 
tell exactly what their hands were searching after; there were young 
servants gaping at everything, and elderly servant-folk walking around 
trying to recall what tales they had been told about this locked room 
in which now, at last, by good fortune, they found themselves. 

It was the dogs that appeared to be the most affected; a room where 
everything gave off a smell afforded them an immensely exciting 
interlude. The tall, lean Afghan hounds occupied themselves running 
back and forth behind the armchairs, making long dance-steps in their 
swaying motion as they crossed the chamber, raising themselves on 
their hind legs like heraldic dogs, resting their slender front paws 
on the white gold window sill and with sharp, eager, furrowed faces 
looked to the left and to the right down into the courtyard. Little 
glove-yellow dachshunds had seated themselves on the wide, 
silk-covered easy-chair by the window looking as if everything were 
exactly as it should be, and a sullen-faced, wire-haired pointer 
rubbed its back against the edge of a gilt-legged table causing the 
Sevres cups on the painted top to tremble. 

Yes, for the absent-minded overslept items in the room, it was 
a dreadful time. At one point rose leaves, spilling from books that 
had been hastily and clumsily opened, whirled to the floor and were 
crushed underfoot; small, fragile articles were seized, instantly 
broken and then guickly put back; quite a number of things that had 
been bent were either stuck under curtains or even thrown behind the 
gold mesh of the firescreen; and from time to time something fell, 
fell with a muffled sound on to the carpet, fell with a bright sound 
onto the hard parquet floor, but breaking to pieces here and there 
with a sharp burst or an almost soundless one, for these things, 
cosseted as they were, could not possibly withstand any kind of fall. 

And had anyone thought to ask what might be the cause of it all, what 
might have called down this glut of destruction upon this closely 
guarded room, there would have been only one answer to give: death. 

The death at Ulsgaard of Chamberlain Christoph Detlev Brigge. For he 
it was who lay, bulging massively out of his dark blue uniform, in the 
middle of the floor and did not stir. In his big strange face that no 
one could recognise any more, the eyes were closed; he didn't see what 
was happening. At first they'd tried to lay him on the bed, but he had 
resisted, for he had hated beds ever since those first nights of the 
last stage of illness. Also the bed here had proved too small, and 
there was nothing left to do but to lay him on the carpet; for he 
refused to be downstairs . 

Christoph Detlev 's death had already been living at Ulsgaard for many 
many days now, talking with everyone and demanded- -demanded to be 
carried, demanded the blue room, demanded the little salon, demanded 
the large drawing room, demanded the dogs, demanded that people laugh, 
talk, play games and remain silent and all at the same time, demanded 
to see friends, women, people who had died, demanded to die itself: 
demanded, demanded, screaming. 



For, when night had fallen and those among the overtired servants who 
were not keeping watch were trying to go to sleep, Christoph Detlev's 
death would scream and scream again and groan and roar for such a 
length of time without stopping that the dogs, which at first had 
joined in the howling, fell silent and didn't dare lie down but 
remained standing on their long, slender, tembling legs, overcome 
with fear. And when people in villages heard him roaring through the 
vast Danish silvery summer night they got up as they did in thunder- 
storms, dressing and remaining seated, not saying a word, round the 
lamp until it was over. And the women who were close to giving birth 
were moved to beds in the furthest rooms and in the tightest make-do 
spaces; but they heard it, they heard it as if it were in their own 
bodies, and they pleaded to be allowed to get up as well, and they 
came, all large and white, and sat with the others with their blurred 
faces . And the cows which were calving at the time were helpless and 
unresponding and one calf together with all the mother cow's entrails 
was dragged out dead because it totally refused to come. And everyone 
did their daily work badly and forgot to bring in the hay because all 
through each day they had had fears of the night; and because they 
were so weary from lying awake and from getting up out of fear they 
weren't able to think properly. And when on Sunday they entered the 
white peaceful church they prayed that there might be no more lords of 
the manor at Ulsguard for this one was dreadful. And what they were 
all thinking and praying for was said aloud by the minister from up in 
the pulpit, for he too no longer enjoyed restful nights and he could 
not understand God. And the bell said it because it now had a fearsome 
rival that boomed the whole night long and against which even with 
every bit of it's metal making the peal it could do nothing. Yes, they 
all said it, and one of the young men dreamed he had gone into the 
castle and had struck the gracious lord dead with his pitchfork; 
everyone was so resentful of the lord, so exasperated, so overwrought 
that as they listened to his tale they looked at him, quite without 
knowing, to see if he were possibly grown-up enough to carry out such 
a deed. That is how people felt and talked all over the area where 
just a few weeks previously the Chamberlain had been loved and pitied. 
But although they talked in this way, nothing changed. Christov 
Detlev's death was in residence at Ulsgaard and would not be hurried. 
It had come for ten weeks and for ten weeks it stayed. And during this 
time it was more the master than Christov Detlev Brigge had ever been; 
it was like a king being known later, and going down in history, as: 
' the Terrible ' . 

It wasn't the death of somebody suffering from some kind of dropsy; 
it was the evil regal death that the Chamberlain his whole life long 
had carried inside him where it had fed. Every excess of pride, of 
will and of dominance that he had not been able to use up himself on 
his calm days had gone into his death, the death that now sat at 
Ulsgaard squandering them. 

What a look Chamberlain Brigge would have given to anyone who deman- 
ded he die a different death from this one. His was a hard death. 



And when I think of the others I have seen or heard of: it's always 
the same. They've all had a death of their own. Those men who carried 
it in their armour, shut inside it like a prisoner; those women who 
grew very old and small and then on an immense bed like the ones on a 
theatre stage, in front of the whole family, the servants and the dogs 
discreetly and with dignity passed away. The children, even the really 
small ones, didn't have just any child's death; they braced themselves 
and died as who they were already and who they would have become. 

And what a wistful beauty that gave to the women when they were preg- 
nant and stood there with their slender hands restingly naturally on 
the large shape where two fruits were: a child and a death. And that 
tight, almost nourishing smile that took over their faces, didn't it 
sometimes come from sensing that both were growing? 



I've done something to keep fear away. I've sat up all night writing 
and now I'm as tired as if I'd been on a long walk across the fields 
at Ulsgaard. It's really hard for me to think that all of that is no 
more; that strangers are living in the old long manor house. It's 
possible that the maids are now asleep in the white room up in the 
gable, sleeping their heavy, damp sleep from evening till morning. 

And one has nobody and nothing and one travels the world with a trunk 
and a crate of books and, in point of fact, without any curiosity. 
What sort of life is that really: without house, without anything 
passed down to me, without dogs? At the very least one should have 
memories. But who has? Would that one's childhood were here now, it's 
as if it's been buried. Perhaps one needs to be old to be able to have 
contact with all that. I imagine it's good being old. 



It was a beautiful autumn morning today. I strolled through the Tuil- 
eries . Hung with mist like a light grey curtain everything eastwards 
into the sun was bedazzling. The statues, grey against grey, basked 
in the sunlight of the yet to be unveiled garden. Solitary flowers 
in the long flower beds got up and said 'Red' in a frightened voice. 
Then a very tall slim man came round the corner from the Champs- 
Elysees; he carried a crutch, but it was no longer shoved under his 
shoulder: he held it out in front of him, lightly, and now and then he 
stood it on the ground firmly and loudly as if it were a herald's 
staff. He couldn't suppress a joyful smile and smiled at everything 
as he went by, including the sun, the trees. The way he walked was 
like that of a shy child, but unusually light, full of memories of 
walks in earlier times . 



What a little moon like this can do to everything. There are days 
when everything around one is softly illumined, not yet identifiable 
in the bright air but nonetheless distinct. Even what lies nearest is 
imbued with the tones of distance, is abstracted and only denoted, 
not revealed; and what relates to distance: the river, the bridges, 
the long streets and the squares squandering themselves among them are 
what this expanse has collected behind it to be painted as if on silk. 
It's not possible to tell what a light-green vehicle on the Pont-Neuf 
can be, or a type of red that isn't too bold, or even a mere poster 
on the fire wall of a pearl grey group of houses. All is simplified, 
carelessly conveyed by a few light-coloured planes in like the face 
in a Manet portrait. And nothing is negligible or superfluous. The 
booksellers along the quai open up their cases, and the new or worn 
yellow of the books, the violet brown of the volumes, the larger 
green of a folder: all are attuned to one another, are valid, are 
part of the whole and form a completeness which lacks nothing. 



Down below me is the following assortment: a small handcart pushed by 
a woman; on top and running the whole length a barrel organ; 
crosswise on the other side a basketwoven cot in which quite a small 
bonneted and gleeful infant with sturdy legs is standing and doesn't 
like being made to sit. Now and again the woman turns the handle on 
the organ. The little infant immediately stands up again in its basket 
stamping, and a little girl in a green Sunday dress dances and taps 
her tambourine up at the windows. 



I think I ought to begin working on something now that I'm learning 
to see. I'm twenty-eight and virtually nothing has happened. Let's 
go back: I've written a study on Carpaccio, which is poor; a play 
entitled 'Marriage', which seeks to prove something false by means 
of ambiguities; and poems. Ah, but poems written early in life don't 
amount to much. One should wait and gather meaning and sweetness a 
whole life long--and as long a life as possible--then, at the very 
end, one might possibly write ten lines that are any good. For poems 
aren't, as people think, feelings (one has those early enough) ; 



they're experiences. To write a single line of verse one must see many 
cities, people, things, one must know animals, one must feel birds 
flying and know the movements flowers make as they open up in the 
morning. One must be able to think back to roads in unfamiliar 
regions, unexpected encounters, and partings which one saw coming long 
before; one must be able to think back to those days in one's 
childhood that are still unexplained, to one's parents whom one could 
not help offending when they brought a delightful gift and one didn't 
appreciate it (it was a delight for someone else), to those childhood 
illnesses which arose so peculiarly and with so many profound and 
difficult changes, to those days in peaceful and secluded rooms, and 
to those mornings by the sea, to the sea anywhere, to seas, to nights 
of travel that swept along high above, flying with the stars; and it's 
still not enough, even when one's allowed to think of everything one 
can. One must have memories of many nights of love--no two nights the 
same — of the cries of women in labour and of pale, white, sleeping 
women who have given birth and are now closing again. But one must 
also have been with the dying, one must have sat in a room with the 
dead with the window open and random noises coming in. And having 
memories is still not enough. If there are a great many, one must be 
able to forget them, and one must have the patience to wait until they 
return. For the memories are not what's essential. It's only when they 
become blood within us, become our nameless looks and signs that are 
no longer distinguishable from ourselves—not until then does it 
happen that, in a very rare moment, the first word of a verse rises in 
their midst and goes forth from among them. 



All my poems came about in a different way; so they are not poems. 
And when I wrote my play how mistaken I was. Was I an imitator and 
fool to need a third person in order to tell of the fate of two people 
who were making eachother's life difficult? How easily I fell into 
the trap. And I should have known very well that this third person 
who figures throughout all lives and literatures , this ghost of a third 
person who has never existed, has no meaning, and must be disavowed. 
He is one of the pretexts of a Nature which forever endeavours to 
divert people's attention from her deepest secrets. He is the screen 
behind which a play is acted out. He is the noise at the threshold of 
the voiceless silence of a real conflict. One would think it had all 
been too difficult till now for playwrights to speak of the two about 
whom the action turns; the 'third', precisely because he is so unreal, 
is the easy part of the task that they all can do. Right at the start 
of their dramas one notices the impatience; they can hardly wait to 
bring him on. The moment he's there everything is fine. But how boring 
it is when he's late; there's absolutely nothing can happen without 
him, everything comes slowly to a standstill, and waits. Yes, and 
what if this jamming up and delay goes on? What, Mr . Playwright , and 
you, the audience, who know the ways of the world, what if he had been 
lost without trace, this popular rake, or this presumptuous young man 
who fits every marriage like a skeleton key? What if, say, the devil 
had gone off with him? Let's say that's what's happened. Suddenly one 
becomes aware of the unreal emptiness of the theatres, they're walled 
up like dangerous holes, only moths from the padded edging of the 
loggia whirl down through the unstable hollow space. The playwrights 
have to forgo the pleasure of living in an exclusive neighbourhood. 
All public watchdogs search dutifully far and wide for that 
irreplaceable third person who himself was the plot. 

At the same time they're living among other people, not the 'third' 
persons but the two, about whom such an incredible number of things 
might be said and of whom not a word is ever spoken, though they 
suffer and do things and don't know how to help eachother. 

It's ludicrous. Here I sit in my little room, I, Brigge, 28 years of 
age and known to no one. I sit here and am nothing. Nevertheless, this 
nothing, five flights up on a grey Paris afternoon, begins to think 
and it has these thoughts: 

Is it possible, it thinks, that one still hasn't seen or recognised 
or said anything that's real and important? Is it possible that there 
have been thousands of years in which to look, to reflect, and to 



record, and that these thousands of years have been allowed to go by 
like a school break when one eats a sandwich and an apple? 

Yes, it's possible. 

Is it possible that despite inventions and advances, despite culture, 
religion and worldly wisdom one has remained on the surface of life? 
Is it possible that even this surface, which at any rate might, after 
all, have been something, has been covered over with unbelievably 
boring material so that it has the look of drawing-room furniture in 
the summer holidays? 

Yes, it's possible. 

Is it possible that the whole of world history has been misunderstood? 
Is it possible that the past is false because it's always its masses 
that have been spoken about as if one were talking of a convergence 
of many persons instead of talking about the one person they were 
gathered round because he was a stranger and was dying? 

Yes, it's possible. 

Is it possible that one believed one had to catch up on what had 
occurred before one was born? Is it possible that each and every 
person had to remember that he had been produced by all that had gone 
before and therefore knew it and would not let himself be persuaded by 
others who knew otherwise? 

Yes, it's possible. 

Is it possible that all these people have a totally accurate knowledge 
of what has never been? Is it possible that realities are as nothing 
to them; that their life is draining away, connected with nothing, 
like a clock in an empty room? 

Yes, it's possible. 

Is it possible that one can know nothing of the young girls who are 
nevertheless living? Is it possible that one says 'women', 'children', 
'boys' and not suspect for one moment (irrespective of their 
education) that for a long time these words had no plural but only 
countless singulars? 

Yes, it's possible. 

Is it possible that there are people who say 'God' and think it's 
something they have in common with everyone?--And take a couple of 
schoolboys: one of them buys a knife and the other buys an identical 
one on the same day. And after a week they compare the two knives and 
it turns out that they look only vaguely similar--so different have 
they become in different hands. (There you are, says the mother of 
one of them, if you will go and wear everything out straightaway .) --Ah 
then: is it possible to believe that one could have a God and not use 
him? 

Yes, it's possible. 

But if all this is possible and if even there's only a glimmer of 
possibility , then, for pity's sake, surely something needs to be 
done. The first person to come forward who has had these disquieting 
thoughts must begin to do what has always been missed; he could be 
just anyone and it doesn't matter in the least if he's not the most 
suitable person: there's simply no one else to do it. This young, 
insignificant foreigner, will have to sit himself down, five flights 
up and write day and night: yes, he will have to write; that's what it 
amounts to. 



I must have been twelve at the time, thirteen at the most. My father 
had taken me with him to Urnekloster. I don't know what prompted him 



to go visit his father-in-law. The two men had not seen each other for 
years ever since my mother died, and my father had never himself set 
foot inside the old manor house to which Count Brahe had retired late 
in life. I never saw this remarkable house again because when my 
grandfather died it passed into strangers' hands. Thus, seeing it now, 
in a version of my childhood memories, it's not a building, rather 
it's all split up: a room here, a room there, and here a section of 
passageway that doesn't link these two rooms but has simply been 
preserved, a fragment. Similarly it's all scattered about within me, 
-- the rooms, the staircases which opened onto the ground floor with 
such great elaborateness and other narrow circular stairways in whose 
darkness one travelled like blood through veins; the tower rooms, the 
high balconies, the unexpected galleries one was urged along from the 
little entrance door: --all that is still within me and will never 
cease being within me. It's as if the image of this house had plunged 
into me from an infinite height and smashed to pieces on the 
foundation of my being. 

What is preserved in its entirety in my heart, it seems to me, is 
solely the dining-hall where we met for dinner every evening at seven. 
I never saw that room by day; I can't even remember if it had any 
windows or what they looked out on; each time the family entered the 
candles would be burning in the heavy chandeliers and within a few 
minutes one forgot the time of day and everything one had seen 
outside. That high, and I presume vaulted, room was more impressive 
than all the rest; its darkened height, with its never fully illumined 
corners sucked all the images out of one without replacing them with 
anything in particular. One sat there as if dissolved, wholly without 
willpower, without consciousness, without interests, without 
resistance. One was like an empty space. I remember that at first this 
annihilating condition almost created a feeling of nausea in me which 
I overcame by stretching out my leg until my foot touched my father's 
knee opposite. It wasn't until later that I noticed that he seemed to 
understand, or, at least, seemed to tolerate this odd behaviour, even 
though in terms of the almost cool relationship existing between us 
such a gesture was inexplicable. It was, however, that light touch 
which gave me the strength to get through those long meals. And after 
several weeks of desperate endurance, I, with a child's almost 
boundless adaptability, had become so used to the eeriness of those 
meetings that it no longer cost me any effort to sit at table for two 
hours; now the time went by relatively quickly because I occupied 
myself observing those present. 

My grandfather called it 'the family' and I also heard the others use 
this term, which was quite arbitrary. For although these four people 
were distantly related to one another, they didn't belong together in 
any way. My uncle who sat next to me was an old man whose hard tanned 
face showed several black flecks, the results, I learned, of an 
exploding charge of gunpowder; surly and malcontent as he was, he had 
retired from the army at the rank of major and now carried out 
alchemical experiments in some room in the house unknown to me and, so 
I heard the servants say, was in contact with a gaol, which once or 
twice a year sent corpses to him. Day and night behind a locked door 
he would dissect them and prepare them in a mysterious way to resist 
decomposition. Opposite him sat Miss Mathilde Brahe. She was a person 
of uncertain age, a distant cousin of my mother's. Nothing was known 
about her except that she kept up a very lively correspondence with 
an Austrian spiritualist who called himself Baron Nolde and to whom 
she was completely devoted, to the extent that she wouldn't undertake 
even the slightest thing without soliciting his prior approval or 
something after the style of a blessing. She was at that time 
exceedingly stout, of a soft, lazy corpulence which, as it were, had 
been poured casually into the loose, light-coloured dresses she wore; 
her movements were weary and vague and her eyes were constantly 
watering. All the same there was something about her that reminded me 
of my gentle and slender mother. I found that the longer I looked at 
her the more I could detect in her face all my mother's fine, soft 
traits, which since her death I had never been able to remember 
clearly; only now, seeing Mathilde Brahe daily, could I again know 
what she who was now gone from me had looked like; in fact I possibly 
knew it for the first time. Only now did the hundreds and hundreds of 



details compose in my mind a memorial picture that accompanies me 
everywhere. Later I realised that in Fraulein Brahe ' s face all the 
details which characterised my mother's features were actually 
there, --only now it was as if a stranger's face had pushed its way 
between them forcing them apart so that they were distorted and no 
longer linked to one another. 

Next to this lady sat the little son of a cousin, a boy of about the 
same age as me but smaller and weaker. His thin, pale neck rose from 
a pleated ruff that disappeared beneath a long chin. His lips were 
thin and tight shut; his nostrils quivered slightly; and of his 
beautiful dark brown eyes only one could move. It sometimes looked 
across towards me calmly and sadly, whereas the other one remained 
constantly trained on the same corner of the room as if it had 
already been sold off and would no longer come under consideration. 

At the head of the table stood my grandfather's enormous armchair 
which a servant with nothing else to do would push under him; in it 
the old man occupied only a very small space. There were those who 
addressed this imperious hard-of-hearing old gentleman as 

'Excellency', while others gave him the title 'General'. And he most 
certainly bore the stamp of these titles but it had been so long since 
they had been conferred that the designations scarcely made sense any 
more. At any rate it seemed to me that no definite name could be 
attached to his personality which in some moments was so sharp and yet 
at other times so diffuse. I could never bring myself to call him 

'Grandfather', although occasionally he was friendly to me and now and 
then would call me to him, trying to add a jocular touch to my name. I 
should add that the whole family behaved towards the Count with an 
evident mixture of awe and timidity; only little Erik enjoyed a 
certain familiarity with the aged master of the house; his movable eye 
threw quick assenting looks at his grandfather who just as quickly 
returned them; and sometimes in the long afternoons one could see them 
appearing at the far end of the long gallery, and then walking hand in 
hand past the dark old portraits, not speaking a word but clearly 
understanding each other in some other way. 

I used to spend almost the whole day outside in the grounds and in 
the beech woods or on the heath; luckily there were dogs at 
Urnekloster and they would accompany me; here and there would be a 
tenant's house or dairy farm where I could get milk and bread and 
fruit, and I enjoyed my freedom in a fairly carefree way, at least in 
the following weeks, without letting myself be worried by thoughts of 
the evening gatherings. I spoke with hardly anyone for it was a joy to 
me to be alone; now and then I would have a short conversation but 
only with the dogs : I got on marvellously with them. Taciturnity, by 
the way, was a sort of family trait; I was used to it in my father, 
and it didn't surprise me that over dinner practically nothing was 
said . 

In the first few days following our arrival, however, Mathilde Brahe 
proved herself to be exceedingly talkative. She questioned my father 
about old acquaintances in foreign cities, she recalled odd 
impressions, and she moved herself to tears thinking of female friends 
who had died and of a certain young man who, she hinted, had been in 
love with her, though she had chosen not to respond to his ardent 
but hopeless affections. 

My father listened politely, inclining his head now and then in 
agreement and answering only when it was most necessary. The Count, at 
the head of the table, smiled continually, his lips drawn down; his 
face seemed larger than usual, as if he were wearing a mask. As it 
happens, he would sometimes say a few words himself, addressing no one 
in particular, in a voice that, though soft, could be heard throughout 
the whole room. It had something of the monotonous regularity and 
indifference of the workings of a clock about it; the surrounding 
silence appeared to have an empty resonance all of its own, the same 
for each syllable. 

Count Brahe meant it as a special courtesy to my father when he spoke 
of his late wife, my mother. He called her Countess Sibylle and all 



his sentences ended as if he were asking after her. I felt--I don't 
know why--as if he were referring to very a young girl dressed all in 
white who at any moment might enter the room where we were. I also 
heard him speak in the same tone about 'our little Anna Sophie' . And 
one day when I asked about this young woman whom my grandfather seemed 
so fond of I learnt that he meant the daughter of the Lord High 
Chancellor Conrad Revenlow, the morganatic wife of Frederick IV whose 
remains had rested at Roskilde for almost a century and a half. He had 
no notion of the passage of time; death was a minor incident which he 
ignored completely and those who were lodged in his memory continued 
to exist and their dying altered nothing whatsoever. Several years 
later, after the old man had died, he was described as having 
maintained the stubborn notion that the future and the present were 
one. He was said to have spoken on one occasion with a young wife 
about her sons and in particular about the travels of one of them; the 
old man talked endlessly and all the while the young lady, who was 
just into the third month of her first pregnancy and sitting near him, 
was almost fainting from horror and fear. 

However, on one occasion it all began with my laughing. I just laughed 
out loud and couldn't stop. It was one evening when Mathilde Brahe 
didn't show up at dinner. When the old and almost totally blind 
servant reached her place he, unaware, proffered the dish as usual. 
For a short while he stayed like that, then when he judged it right he 
moved along in his satisfied and dignified manner as if everything 
were in order. I had watched this scene and in the short time it took 
it didn't strike as being in the least comic. But a short while later 
just as I was putting food in my mouth laughter rushed up into my head 
with such speed that I swallowed the wrong way and caused great alarm. 
And although I found this situation annoying, and although I did 
everything possible to remain serious, my laughter carried on erupting 
and kept me completely in its power. 

My father, as if to blot out my behaviour asked in his full but low 
voice: 'Is Mathilde unwell?' My grandfather gave one of his smiles 
and then answered with a statement which I, being preoccupied with 
myself, paid no attention to and which sounded like: 'No, she simply 
doesn't want to meet Christine. ' I didn't take these words to be the 
reason why my neighbour, the tan-faced major, got up and with a 
mumbled apology and bowing directly towards the Count, left the room. 
I did happen to notice that he turned round once more in the doorway 
behind his host's back and by winks and nods signalled to little Erik 
and to my utter astonishment to me also as if he were urging us to 
follow him. I was so amazed that my laughter lost its grip on me. For 
the rest, I paid no further attention to the major; I found him 
unpleasant and I observed also that little Erik was taking no notice 
of him. 

As always the meal dragged on and on and just as we reached dessert 
my eye was caught by something moving in the semi-darkness at the far 
end of the hall. I thought the door there led to a mezzanine and was 
always locked but little by little it had opened and with a feeling 
of curiosity and dismay that was new to me I now fixed my eyes in 
that direction and saw a slim lady in a light coloured dress step 
into the shadow of the doorway and come slowly up towards us. I don't 
know if I stirred or made a sound before the noise of a chair being 
overturned forced me to tear my eyes away from the strange figure, 
and I saw my father who had jumped to his feet and was now going 
towards the lady, his face deathly pale and his hands clenched at his 
sides. Meanwhile, quite undisturbed by the scene, she continued 
towards us step by step and was already not far from where the Count 
was seated when the latter suddenly stood up, grabbed my father by 
the arm, pulled him back to the table and held on to him, while the 
strange lady slowly and absently went across the space that had been 
cleared, step by step through an indescribable silence in which only 
a glass trembled and clinked and though a door in the opposite wall 
of the hall disappeared. At that moment I noticed that it was little 
Erik who with a deep bow closed the door behind the stranger. 

I was the only one still sitting; I had sunk so heavily in my chair 
it felt as if I would never be able to get up again by myself. For a 



while I looked but my eyes wouldn't see. Then I remembered my father 
and I became aware that the old man still held him by the arm. My 
father's face was angry now, flushed with blood, but my grandfather, 
whose fingers gripped my father's arm tightly like a white claw, was 
smiling his mask-like smile. Then syllable by syllable I heard him 
say something although I couldn't understand what his words meant. 
Nevertherless they must have gone deep into my senses because about 
two years ago I found them buried in my memory and I've been aware 
of them ever since. He said: 'You are impetuous, Chamberlain, and 
discourteous. Why don't you let people go about their business?' 
'Who is it?' cried my father, interrupting .' Someone who has every 
right to be here. No stranger. Christine Brahe . ' At that point there 
arose once more that odd, rarefied silence and once more the glass 
began to tremble. But my father then broke loose and dashed out of 
the hall. 

The whole night long I heard him going up and down in his room, for 
I couldn't sleep either. But suddenly towards morning I awoke from 
whatever passed for sleep and to my horror saw something white that 
sat on my bed and froze me to the core. In my desperation I summoned 
the strength to hide my head under the bedclothes and there from fear 
and helplessness I began to weep. Suddenly it became cool and bright 
above my tear-filled eyes; I squeezed them shut so I wouldn't have to 
see anything through my tears . But the voice that now spoke to me from 
very near came mildly and sweetly to my face, and I recognised it: 
it was Mathilde ' s voice. I immediately calmed down and even when I 
was already quite peaceful I let her continue comforting me; true, 
I did find this kindness too feminine but I enjoyed it nevertheless 
and thought I had somehow deserved it. 'Aunt', I said at last, 
trying through my wet eyes to combine in her dissolved face the traits 
of my mother: 'Aunt, who was the lady?' 

'Ah', answered Miss Brahe with a sigh that seemed to me strangely 
comical, 'an unfortunate woman, my child, an unfortunate woman.' 

That same morning I noticed a number of servants busily packing. I 
thought it would be for us and I found it quite natural that we were 
leaving now. Maybe that was my father actually intended to do. I have 
never got to know what induced him to stay on at Umelkloster after 
that evening. But we didn't leave. We stayed on in that house a 
further eight or nine weeks, enduring its oppressive peculiarities, 
and we saw Christine Brahe on three more occasions. 

At that time I knew nothing of her story. I didn't know that she had 
died a long, long time before; it was while she was giving birth to 
her second child, a boy, who grew up to meet a terrifying and cruel 
fate,--I didn't know that she was a dead woman. But my father knew. 
Had he, a man of passion and eager to be logical and clear-thinking, 
wanted to force himself to endure this adventure without asking 
questions? I could see, though I couldn't appreciate, how he struggled 
with himself; I witnessed it without understanding how he finally won 
through . 

That was when we saw Christine Brahe for the last time. On that 
occasion Miss Mathilde appeared at dinner; she was not her former 
self. As in the first days following our arrival she talked 
incessantly with no discernible thread and for ever getting herself 
into a muddle, and at the same time some physical unease in her 
compelled her to be constantly adjusting her hair or her dress , --until 
without warning she jumped up and with a shrill wail disappeared. 

At that same moment I instinctively turned my gaze towards a certain 
door, and sure enough: Christine Brahe entered. Beside me the Major 
gave a vigorous jerk that transferred into my body, but clearly he 
no longer had the strength to stand up. His old, tanned, speckled 
face turned from one person to another, his mouth hung open and his 
tongue moved about behind his decayed teeth; then all at once his 
face was gone, and his grey head lay on the table, and his arms lay 
over and under it as if in chunks, and from somewhere a withered, 
speckled hand emerged, trembling. And now Christine Brahe went past, 
step by step, moving slowly like an invalid through an indescribable 



silence broken only by a solitary whimpering sound like that of an 
old dog. 

But then, to the left of the large silver swan filled with daffodils 
the large mask of the old man with its grey smile thrust forward. He 
raised his wine glass towards my father. And now, just as Christine 
Brahe was coming across behind his chair, I saw my father reach for 
his glass and lift it a handsbreadth above the table as if it were 
something very heavy. And that very same night we went on our way. 



Bibliotheque Nationale. 
I am sitting here reading a poet. There are a great number of people 
in the room but one doesn't notice them. They're inside the books. 
Sometimes they move about in the pages like people turning over in 
their sleep between two dreams. Ah, how good it is being among people 
who are reading. Why aren't they always like this? You can go up to 
one of them and gently touch him: he doesn't feel a thing. And if, 
when you stand up you bump against someone next to you and you 
apologise, he gives a nod towards where he hears your voice coming 
from, his face turns towards you and he doesn't see you, and his hair 
is like the hair of someone asleep. How good that feels. And I am 
sitting here and I have a poet. What a fate. There are now perhaps 
three hundred people in the room, all reading; but it's impossible 
that every single one of them has a poet. (God knows what they have.) 
There aren't three hundred poets. But see what sort of fate I have: I, 
probably the most beggarly of these readers, a foreigner: I have a 
poet. Even though I am poor. Even though the suit I use everyday is 
starting to show signs of wear at certain places. Even though the 
state of my shoes might cause comment of one sort or another. True, my 
collar is clean, as is my underwear, and I could, just as I am, walk 
into any cafe you like, possibly on the finer boulevards and without 
hesitating stretch out my hand and help myself to any cake or pastry 
from the platter. It would raise no eyebrows, I wouldn't be told off 
and thrown out, because at least it's a gentleman's hand, a hand 
that's washed four to five times a day. Yes, indeed, there's no dirt 
under my fingernails, no ink stains on my forefinger and, of special 
note, my wrists are flawless. It's a well-known fact that poor people 
don't wash as far up as that. Certain conclusions then can be drawn 
from the cleanness of my wrists . And people draw them. They draw them 
in shops. Even so, there are still a few individuals on the Boulevard 
Saint-Michel for example and in the rue Racine who are not ones to be 
misled and couldn't care less about my wrists. They take one look at 
me and they know. They know that I'm actually one of them, that I'm 
only putting on a bit of an act. It's carnival time. And they don't 
want to spoil my fun; so they just grin a little and wink. No one has 
seen them do it. The rest of the time they treat me as a gentleman. 
There only needs to be someone else close by for them to even act like 
servants. They act as if I were wearing a fur coat with my carriage 
following behind. Sometimes I'll give them two sous, trembling lest 
they reject them, but they accept them. And all would have been fine 
if they hadn't persisted with a little of their grinning and winking. 
Who are these people? What do they want from me? Are they lying in 
wait? What do they recognise in me? Admittedly, my beard looks a 
trifle neglected, in a quite, quite less than small way it resembles 
their sickly, old faded beards that have always impressed me. But 
don't I have the right to neglect my beard? Many busy men do, and it 
doesn't occur to anyone to group them with the outcasts as a 
consequence. For it's clear to me that outcasts is what they are; no, 
not actually beggars, a distinction must be made. They are human 
garbage, empty husks that Fate has spat out out. Moist with the 
spittle of Fate they stick to a wall, a lamp-post, advertising 
pillars, or are gradually sluiced down the alleyway leaving a dark, 
dirty trail behind them. What in the world did that old woman want of 
me, the woman who had crawled out of some hole carrying a drawer from 
a bedside table with a few buttons and needles rolling around in it? 
What was her reason for always walking alongside me, watching me? As 
if she were trying to recognise me with her watery eyes that looked as 
if a sick person had spat green phlegm at her bloody eyelids. And then 
how did that small grey-haired woman come to be standing beside me for 



a quarter of an hour in front of a shop window, showing me an old, 
long pencil being pushed with interminable slowness up through her 
clenched, putrid hands? I pretended to be looking at the window 
display and not to have seen anything. But she knew I'd seen her, she 
knew I was standing wondering what she might be doing. I knew full 
well that it had nothing to do with the pencil: I got the feeling it 
was a sign, a sign for the initiated, a sign that outcasts knew; my 
guess was that she was meaning me to go somewhere or do something. And 
the strangest thing was that all the time I couldn't get rid of the 
feeling that there might actually be a certain understanding between 
us, that this sign related to it, and that this scene was all part and 
parcel of what I should have been expecting. 

That was two weeks ago. But now hardly a day has passed without some 
similar encounter. Not only at dusk, it happens at midday in the most 
crowded streets: suddenly a little man or an old woman will appear, 
they'll nod, show me something, and then disappear again as if 
everything necessary has been done. It's possible that one of these 
days they'll take it into their heads to come as far as my room, they 
know precisely where I live and they'll set it up so that the 
concierge doesn't stop them. But here, my friends, here I'm safe from 
you. One needs a special card to enter this room. I have an advantage 
over you in that I have one. As you can imagine, I walk through the 
streets a little shyly; but eventually I stop in front of a glass 
door, open it as if I were at home, show my card at the next door 
(just the same as when you show me your things, the only difference 
being that they understand me and know what I mean--) , and then I'm 
amongst these books, taken from you as if I'd died, and am sitting 
reading a poet. You don't know what that is, a poet?--Verlaine? . . . 
Nothing? Nothing you can recall? No. You didn't single him out from 
the others you knew? You don't make distinctions, I know. But it's a 
different poet I'm reading, one who doesn't live in Paris, a different 
one altogether. One whose has a quiet house in the mountains. He 
sounds like a bell ringing in air that's pure. A happy poet who who 
tells of his window and and of the glass doors of his bookcase which 
mirror thoughts of a desolate vastness that is dear to him. This poet 
is exactly what I would have wanted to become; for he knows so much 
about girls and I too would have known a lot about them. He knows 
about girls who lived a hundred years ago; it no longer matters that 
they're dead, because he knows everything. And that's the main thing. 
He pronounces their names, these soft, elegantly written names with 
the old-fashioned loops in the long letters and the grown-up names of 
their older female friends in which you can already hear the tiniest 
echo of Fate, the tiniest echo of disappointment and death. Perhaps in 
a compartment of his mahogany desk lie their faded letters and pages 
loosened from their diaries giving dates of birthdays, summer 
picnics, birthdays. Or it may be that in the pot-bellied chest of 
drawers at the back of his bedroom there's a drawer in which their 
spring dresses had been put away; white dresses worn for the first 
time at Easter, dresses of dotted tulle which were really for summer, 
but they couldn't wait. Oh, what a happy fate to sit in the quiet room 
of an ancestral house with nothing but calm things that stayed in the 
same place, and from outside in the bright green garden the first tom- 
tits rehearsing their song in the light air, and the village clock in 
the distance. To sit and gaze at a strip of warm afternoon sun and to 
know a great amount about girls from the past and to be a poet. And to 
think that I too might well have become a poet like him, that I'd 
have been able to live anywhere, anywhere in the world, in one of the 
many country houses that are closed up and nobody cares about. I'd 
have needed just one room (the one under the gable that got plenty of 
light) . Up there I'd have lived with my old things about me, the 
family pictures, the books. And I'd have had an armchair and flowers 
and dogs and a stout walking stick for stony paths. And nothing else. 
Nothing except a book bound in yellowish, ivory-coloured leather with 
end papers of an old flowered pattern: in it I'd have done my writing. 
I'd have done a lot of writing because I'd have had many thoughts and 
memories of so much. 

But it hasn't worked out that way. God knows why. My old furniture is 
rotting away in a barn where I was allowed store it, and as for 
myself, yes, dear God, I haven't got a roof over me and the rain is 



getting into my eyes . 



Sometimes, in the rue de Seine for instance, I go past little shops. 
Vendors of second-hand goods, or small-time antiquarian booksellers, 
or dealers in engravings, all of them with overcrowded windows. No 
one ever goes inside them, they don't look as if they do any business. 
But look inside and you can see them sitting there and reading, 
completely at ease, with no thought to the morrow, or of making a 
success of things; they have a dog that sits cheerfully by their feet, 
or a cat that makes the silence even greater as it brushes along the 
rows of books as if it were wiping the names off the spines. 

Ah, if only that would do: sometimes I could wish I could buy myself 
a crowded shop-window like that and sit down behind it with a dog for 
twenty years . 



It's good saying it out loud: 'Nothing has happened. ' Once more: 
'Nothing has happened. ' Does it help? The fact that my stove began 
to smoke again and I had to go out isn't actually a disaster. And 
the fact that I'm weary and feel I've caught a chill doesn't signify 
anything. The fact that I've been wandering around the streets all 
day long is my own fault. I could just as well have been sitting in 
the Louvre. But no, I couldn't have done that. There are certain 
people there who go to get themselves warm. They sit on the 
velvetcovered benches with their feet looking like big empty boots 
side by side in a row on the warm-air grating. They're thoroughly 
decent people and when the attendants in dark uniforms and wearing 
decorations leave them be, they're very grateful. But when I enter 
they always grin. Grin and give little nods. The attendants in dark 
uniforms and wearing decorations leave them be, they're very grateful. 
But when I enter they always grin. Grin and give little nods. And then 
when I go up and down in front of the paintings they always keep their 
eye on me, always this all-eyes-swirled-into-one following me. It was 
good then that I didn't go into the Louvre. I just kept on walking. 
Heaven only knows how many towns, districts, cemeteries, and 
passageways I've walked through, how many bridges I've crossed. 
Somewhere I saw a man pushing a vegetable cart. He shouted: 
'Choufleur, choufleur, ' pronouncing '--fleur' with a particularly 
gloomy ' eu ' sound. Alongside him walked an ugly, angular-faced woman 
who now and then gave him a nudge. And whenever she nudged him he 
shouted. Sometimes he shouted of his own accord as well, but there was 
no point doing so now because they were in front of a customer's house 
and he had to shout anyway. Have I already said that he was blind? No? 
Well, he was blind. He was blind and he shouted. I'm not being exactly 
truthful when I put it like that. I've left out the cart he was 
pushing. I'm pretending I didn't notice he was calling out 
'Cauliflowers' . But is that essential? And even if it were, doesn't it 
really come down to what it all meant to me? I saw an old man who was 
blind and shouted. That's what I saw. Saw. 



Will people believe there are houses like this? No, they'll say I'm 
making it up. This time it's the truth, nothing left out, and, of 
course, nothing added. Where am I supposed to get it from? People know 
I'm poor. People know that. Houses? But, to be exact, they were houses 
that were no longer there. Houses that had been demolished, top to 
bottom. What was there were the other houses that had been standing 
next to them, tall, neighbouring houses. Apparently they were in 
danger of falling down because supporting them was a whole framework 
of long tarred poles that had been rammed in at an angle from the 
piled rubble on the ground to the exposed wall. I don't know if I've 
already said that this is the wall I mean. But it was, as it were, 
not the first wall of the existing houses (that should have been 
understood) but the last wall of the earlier ones. You could see 
inside them. On the different floors you could see walls with the 
paper still sticking to them, and here and there signs of where floors 



or ceilings had been fixed. Adjoining the inside walls and running the 
whole width of the house was a dirty-white expanse of wall across 
which crawled in unutterably disgusting, wormsmooth, bowel-like form 
the open rust-flecked groove for the toilet pipe. There were grey 
dusty marks at the edge of the ceiling where the gas pipe had been, 
and they went this way and that before they suddenly turned right 
round, ran to the painted wall and into a dark hole that had been 
ruthlessly torn open there. What was most unforgettable, though, were 
the walls themselves. The dogged life that had been lived in these 
rooms refused to be obliterated. It was still there; it clung to the 
nails that were left, it lingered on the remaining strip of floor- 
boarding, it was huddled up under the little that was left of a corner 
section . 

You could see in the paintwork how, slowly, year by year, it had 
changed blue into a mildewy green, green into grey, and yellow into 
an old, stagnant, putrefying white. And it had actually got into 
fresher-looking places behind mirrors, pictures and cupboards because 
it had traced and retraced their outlines amid the spiders and dust 
even in these hidden places that were now exposed. It was in every 
patch where the paint had peeled off, it was in the damp pockets at 
the bottom edges of the wallpaper, it swayed in the hanging shreds 
and sweated from the nasty stains that went back ages. And from these 
surfaces that had been blue, green and yellow and were now framed by 
broken runs of demolished partition wall, arose the air from these 
lives, this tenacious, shiftless, fuggy air that no wind had yet 
dispersed. Lingering there were the midday meals and the illnesses, 
the breathed out air and the years old smoke and the sweat that seeps 
from the armpits and makes clothes heavy, and the stale breath from 
mouths, and the boozy odour of fermenting feet. Lingering there were 
the pungent smell of urine, the stinging smell of soot, the dull 
steam-damp smell of potatoes, and the heavy, oily reek of old fat. 
Also there was the sweet lingering smell of neglected breast-feeding 
babies, and the smell of anxious children setting off to school, and 
of the muggy beds of older lads. And a lot of the smells were those 
that had come up from below out of the chasm of the street; they'd 
evaporated; and others had dripped down in the rain which over cities 
is not pure. And many had been brought here by the feeble, tamed 
housewinds that always kept to the same street, and there were plenty 
more that had come from goodness knows where. I did say, didn't I, 
that all the outer walls had been demolished bar the last--? Now this 
is the wall I've been talking about all this time. You might think I'd 
be standing in front of it for ages, but I'm willing to swear that as 
soon as I recognised the wall I took to my heels. Because it's the 
fact that I recognised it that makes it horrible. I recognise 
everything here; it passes into me without further ado; it finds a 
home in me . 



After all that I was somewhat wearied— you might say strained--which 
is why I found it too much that he had to be still waiting for me. 
He was waiting in the little cremerie* where I was hoping to have a 
couple of boiled eggs; I was hungry, I'd gone the whole day without 
getting myself anything to eat. And even now I couldn't get anything; 
before the eggs were ready I was forced to go back out into the 
streets and be buffeted by a whole turbid flow of people bearing 
down on me . For it was the Shrovetide carnival and it was evening 
and people had all the time in the world and floated about, rubbing 
against one another. And their faces were full of the light that came 
from the carnival booths and laughter welled up and poured from their 
mouths like puss from an open sore. The more impatient I became trying 
to move forward the more they laughed and crowded tightly together. A 
woman's scarf somehow got caught on me; I pulled her along behind me 
and people stopped me and and laughed and I felt that I should laugh 
too but I couldn't. Somebody threw a handful of confetti into my eyes 
and it stung like a whiplash. At the street-corners people were 
tightly wedged in, crammed against one another and they couldn't make 
any progress, just a gentle forward and back movement as if they were 
copulating where they stood. But although they stayed where they were 
and I ran like a madman along the side of the carriageway where there 
were breaks in the crowd, the plain truth is that it was they who were 



moving whereas I never left the spot. Nothing was changing; each time 
I looked up I was made aware that the selfsame houses were still on 
one side and the carnival booths were on the other. Perhaps we were 
keeping to the same place and it was simply a dizziness in me and in 
them that had made everything appear to be spinning. I had no time to 
think about it, I was heavy with sweat and there was a stupefying pain 
travelling round and round inside me as if something too big was being 
propelled in my blood and it stretched my veins as it came along. And 
at the same time I felt that the air had long since been used up and 
that I was simply breathing in more exhaled out air that my lungs left 
alone . 

*basic restaurant 



But all that's over now; I've survived. I'm sitting in my room near 
the lamp; it's a bit cold because I daredn't try the stove. What if it 
smoked and I had to go outside again? I'm sitting and thinking: if I 
weren't poor I'd rent another room, one with furniture that's not so 
outworn nor so full of former tenants as this is. At first it was 
really hard for me to lay my head back in this easy-chair; there is, 
you see, a certain greasy-grey hollow in its green cover that would 
likely fit all heads . For a long time I took the precaution of laying 
a handkerchief under my hair, but now I'm too weary to do it; I've 
discovered that it's fine as it is and that the slight hollow is 
exactly right for the back of my head, as if it had been made to 
measure. But if I weren't poor the first thing I would buy for myself 
would be a good stove and I would burn clean strong wood from the 
mountains and not these miserable tetes de moineau* whose fumes have 
such a frightful effect on your breathing and puts your head in a 
spin. And then I would need someone to tidy the place without making a 
din and to tend the fire in the same way I do, for often when I have 
to kneel in front of the oven, riddling the ash with the skin on my 
forehead all taut from being close to the glow of the embers, and 
with the heat in my open eyes, I'm using up all the strength that I 
need for the day so that if I then meet others they easily get the 
better of me. Sometimes, if there was a large crowd around, I would 
take a carriage and drive past, I would eat every day in a Duval... 
and no longer creep into the cremeries ... Is he likely to have been 
in a Duval? No. In there they wouldn't have let him wait for me. They 
don't admit people who are dying. People dying? Right now I'm sitting 
in my room; I can try calmly to reflect on what has happened to me. 
It is good to leave nothing to uncertainty. So I walked in and at 
first I saw only that the table where I often used to sit had been 
taken by someone else. I nodded a greeting in the direction of the 
little counter, ordered and sat down at a table nearby. But it was 
then that I felt him, although he didn't move. Of all things, it was 
his motionlessness that I felt and that I understood at once. 
Communication between us was established and I knew that he was rigid 
with terror. I knew that the terror had paralysed him, terror at 
something that was happening inside him. Perhaps a blood vessel had 
burst inside him, perhaps a poison that he had been afraid of for a 
long time was right now entering a chamber of his heart, perhaps a 
large abscess in his brain had risen like a sun and had changed his 
whole world. With an indescribable effort I forced myself to look at 
him because I still hoped it was all my imagination. But was happened 
was that I jumped up and rushed out because I hadn't been mistaken. He 
sat there in a thick black winter coat and his grey tense face was 
sunk deep into a woollen scarf. His mouth was closed as if it been 
shut with great force, but it wasn't possible to say if his eyes could 
still see on account of the smoke-grey spectacle lenses that covered 
them and trembled a little. His nostrils were torn open, and the long 
hair covering his emptying temples looked wilted as if from too great 
a heat. His ears were long and yellow with big shadows behind them. 
Yes, he knew he was withdrawing himself from everything, not only from 
human beings . One moment more and everything would be gone from his 
mind and this table and this cup and the chair he was clinging to, 
everything in his daily life, everything close to him would have 
become unintelligible, foreign, difficult. So he sat there and waited 
for it to have happened. And he offered no more resistance. 



I'm still resisting. I'm still resisting although I know that my 
heart has already been ripped out of me and is hanging there and, 
even if my torturers now leave me alone, I can't go on living. I tell 
myself: 'Nothing has happened' and yet I've only been able to 
understand this man because there's also something working away inside 
me and it ' s starting to draw me away and to separate me from 
everything. How I always used to dread hearing people say of a dying 
person that they were past recognising anyone. I'd imagine a lonely- 
looking face that lifted itself out of the pillow, searching for 
something familiar, something that had been seen for a moment but it 
wasn't there. If my fear weren't so great I ' d be able to find 
consolation in the thought that it's not impossible to see everything 
differently and still live your life. But I'm frightened, I'm 
unutterably frightened of this change. I haven't yet got used to being 
in this world. Not at all. Though the world does look good to me. What 
would I do in another one? I would so like to remain among the 
meanings which have become dear to me, and if there were something 
that really has to change I would want, at the very least, to be 
allowed to live among dogs who have a world that is related to ours 
and has the same things. 

There's still time for me to write all that down and talk about it. 
But there will come a time when my hand will be far from me and when 
I then tell it to write, it will write words that are not mine. The 
time of that other interpretation will dawn and not one word will be 
left standing on another and every meaning will dissolve like clouds 
and descend like rain. Despite all my fears I am yet like a man 
standing in the presence of something great and I recall that 
previously, before I began writing, it was often like this inside me. 
But this time it is I who will be written about. I am the impression 
that will be transformed. Oh it would only take a little for me to 
understand it all and give it my assent. Just one step more and my 
abject misery would become bliss. But I can't take this step. I've 
fallen and I can't get up any more because I'm broken in pieces. I've 
always gone on believing that help could come. Lying there in front of 
me, in my own handwriting, is what I've prayed for evening after 
evening. I made myself a copy from the books where I found it so that 
it would be close by me and would have come from my hand as if the 
words were my own. And now, kneeling here in front of my table, I want 
to write them once more because this way it takes longer than when I 
read them, and every word will last longer and will have time to die 
away. 

'Mecontent de tous et mecontent de moi, je voudrais bien me racheter 
et m' enorgueillir un peu dans le silence et la solitude de la nuit . 
Ames de ceux que j ' ai aimes, ames de ceux que j ' ai chantes, fortifiez- 
moi, soutenez-moi , eloignez de moi le mensonge et les vapeurs 
corruptrices du monde; et vous , Seigneur mon Dieu! accordez-moi la 
grace de produire quelques beaux vers qui me prouvent a moi-meme que 
je ne suis pas le dernier des hommes, que je ne suis pas inferieur a 
ceux que je meprise.'* 

*' Displeased with everyone, displeased with myself, I would like to 
make amends and take some pride in myself in the silence and solitude 
of the night. Souls of those I have loved, souls of those I have sung, 
strengthen me, sustain me, free me from the lies and corrupting 
vapours of the world; and you, my Lord God, grant me the grace to 
produce some fine verses that will prove to me that I am not the least 
of men, that I am not inferior to those I despise. ' 

'They were children of fools, yea, children of base men: 

they were viler than the earth. 

And now am I their song, yea, I am their byword. 

. . . they raise up against me the ways of their destruction . . . 

... they set forward my calamity, they have no helper. 
And now my soul is poured out upon me; the days of affliction have 
taken hold upon me. 

My bones are pierced in me in the night season: and my sinews take no 
rest . 

By the great force of my disease is my garment changed: it bindeth me 
about as the collar of my coat. 



My bowels boiled, and rested not: 

My harp also is turned to mourning, and my organ into the voice of 

them that weep. ' 



My doctor didn't understand me. Not in any way whatsoever. It was 
indeed difficult finding the right words . They wanted to try electric 
shock treatment. Fine. I was given a note: I was to be at the 
Salpetriere at one o'clock. I was there. I had to go along past 
various huts and through several yards where here and there beneath 
the bare trees people with white caps were standing looking like 
convicts. Finally I entered a long, dark corridor-like room which 
had four greenish frosted-glass windows on one side each separated 
from the next by an expanse of black dividing wall. A wooden bench 
ran along the wall facing and on this bench sat those who knew me and 
were waiting for me. Yes, they were all there. When I'd got used to 
the half-light in the room I noticed that among the people who were 
sitting there shoulder to shoulder in an endless row there could have 
been a few other people, lower class people: tradespeople, housemaids, 
waggon drivers . Down at the narrow end of the corridor two fat women 
had spread themselves out on special chairs and were chatting to each 
other, concierges presumably. I looked at the clock; it was five 
minutes to one. In five, let's say ten, minutes from now it would be 
my turn, so it wasn't so bad. The air was stale, heavy, full of 
clothing and breath. At one particular spot the strong, smell of ether 
forced its way through a crack in a door leaving a chill as it rose. I 
began pacing up and down. It struck me that I had actually been 
directed here among these people, to this overcrowded public surgery. 
It was, so to speak, the first official acknowledgement that I 
belonged to the outcasts. Is that how the doctor had seen me? Yet when 
I had visited him I had on a reasonably good suit and I had sent in my 
card. Nevertheless he must have somehow found out. Or perhaps I'd 
given myself away. That being the case, then, I didn't find it so 
terrible. People were sitting quietly and paying no attention to me. A 
few of them were in pain and to make it more bearable would give a 
little swing sometimes to this leg sometimes to the other. A number of 
men had lowered their heads onto the palms of their hands, others were 
fast asleep, their faces weighted down with weariness. A fat man with 
a red swollen neck sat there bent over staring at the floor, and now 
and again spat with a sound like a slap at a stain as if it seemed 
appropriate to him. A child was sobbing in a corner; it had brought 
its long skinny legs up onto the bench and was now holding them in an 
embrace, pressing tightly as if it had to say goodbye to them. A pale 
little woman who wore on her hair a lopsided crepe hat trimmed with 
round black flowers, had the grimace of a smile about her meagre lips, 
but her sore eyelids were constantly brimming over. Not far from her 
they'd placed a girl with a round smooth face and bulging eyes that 
were devoid of any expression; her mouth hung open and one could see 
the white slimy gums with their old stunted teeth. And there were 
bandages everywhere. Bandages wrapped layer upon layer around the 
whole head until only a single eye was there and it belonged to no 
one. Bandages that hid and bandages that told you what was underneath. 
Bandages that had been opened and in which now lay as if in a filthy 
bed a hand that was no longer a hand; and protruding from the row a 
leg that had been bound up as big as a whole man. I walked back and 
forth and made an effort to be calm. I was much occupied by the wall 
opposite. I noticed it had a number of single doors and that it didn't 
reach the ceiling, so that this corridor wasn't entirely cut off from 
the rooms that presumably lead off it. I looked at the clock. I'd been 
walking up and down for an hour. A while later the doctors arrived. 
First a couple of young ones with looks of indifference on their faces 
went by, eventually the doctor whom I'd been to see came along wearing 
light-coloured gloves, a chapeau a huit reflets* and an impeccable 
greatcoat. When he saw me he tipped his hat and smiled absently. I now 
hoped I'd be called straight away, but another hour went by. I can't 
remember how I spent the time. It simply went by. An old man in a 
soiled apron, some sort of orderly, came in and touched me on the 
shoulder. I went into one of the siderooms. The doctor and the young 
men were seated round a table. They looked at me. I was given a chair. 
Fine. And now I was expected to tell them what exactly was the matter 



with me. As briefly as possible, s ' il vous plait. Because the 
gentlemen didn't have much time. I felt odd. The young men sat and 
looked at me with that superior, professional curiosity that they'd 
been taught. The doctor I knew stroked his black goatee and smiled 
absently. I thought I would burst into tears but I heard myself say in 
French: 'I have already had the honour, monsieur, of giving you all 
the details that I'm able to give. If you consider it necessary that 
these gentlemen be fully informed, then you are no doubt able, 
following our conversation, to do that in a few words, while for me it 
would be very difficult. ' The doctor stood up with a polite smile, 
crossed with his assistants to the window and spoke a few words which 
he accompanied with a horizontal rocking movement of his hand. Three 
minutes later one of the young men, a short-sighted and nervous 
fellow, returned to the table and said, trying to look sternly at me: 
'You sleep well, sir?' 'No, badly. ' Whereupon he bounded back to the 
group. They debated there for a time then the doctor turned to me and 
advised me that I would be called. I reminded him that my appointment 
had been for one o'clock. He smiled and made a guick fluttering 
movement with his small white hands to indicate that he was 
tremendously busy. So I went back into my corridor where the air had 
become much more oppressive and began again to walk up and down though 
I felt dead tired. Eventually the accumulated smells of dampness made 
my head spin, I stood by the entrance door and opened it slightly. I 
saw that outside it was still afternoon and there was some sun, and 
that made me unspeakably happy. But I couldn't have been standing 
there for a minute before I heard my name called. A female who was 
sitting two steps away at a small table hissed something to me. Who 
had told me to open the door? I said I couldn't stand the air inside. 
Well, that was my affair, but the door had to be kept shut. Wouldn't 
it be possible then to open a window? No, that was forbidden. I 
decided to start walking up and down again, because it did eventually 
produce a kind of numbing effect and it harmed no one. But now that 
too displeased the woman at the table. Didn't I have a seat? No, I 
hadn't. Wandering about was not permitted. I would have to find myself 
a seat. There should still be one. The woman was right. Actually there 
was one free next to the girl with the bulging eyes. I sat there this 
time with the feeling that the situation I was in must definitely be 
leading to something dreadful. On my left was the girl with the 
rotting gums; whatever was on my right took me some time to make out. 
There was an enormous immovable mass that had a face and a big heavy 
lifeless hand. This side of the face was empty, completely without 
features and without memories and what was uncanny was that his suit 
was the sort they dress corpses in before putting them in a coffin. 
The narrow black necktie was fastened round the collar in the usual 
loose impersonal way, and one could tell that the jacket had been put 
on this limp corpse by somebody else. The hand had been placed on the 
trousers in the same position as this one here, and even the hair 
looked as if it had been combed by the women who wash the corpses and 
had been set stiffly like the hair on a stuffed animal. I oberved all 
this very carefully and it occurred to me that this seat then was the 
very one that had been destined for me, because I believed that now at 
last I had arrived at that point in my life where I would remain. 
Fate, indeed, moves in mysterious ways. 

*stylish shiny top-hat 

Suddenly there arose quite near me and in rapid succession the screams 
of a terrified struggling child followed by a low restrained weeping. 
While I was making an effort to find out where the screams could have 
come from, once more there was a small suppressed scream, and I could 
hear voices asking questions, and one, in an undertone, giving orders, 
and then, regardlessly, some kind of machine started to hum and 
continued without a care. It was then that I remembered that half-wall 
and it was plain to me that it was all coming from the other side of 
the doors and that people were working there. Indeed every so often 
the orderly with the soiled apron appeared and beckoned. I no longer 
gave any thought to it's possibly being me he had in mind. Was it 
meant for me? No. Two men came along with a wheelchair; they lifted 
the mass into it and now I saw that it was a lame old man and that the 
other side of his face was smaller, worn down by life and had one eye 
open that was dim and sorrowful. They took him into the other room 



leaving plenty of vacant space near me. And I sat and wondered what 
they probably intended to do the feeble-minded girl and whether or 
not she too would scream. The machine behind the wall hummed away so 
pleasantly in its mass-production kind of way that it wasn't 
disturbing at all. 

But then everything went quiet and in the quietness a superior self- 
satisfied voice that I thought I knew said: 'Riez! ' A pause. 'Riez. 
Mais riez, riez. '* I was already laughing. It was inexplicable why the 
man in there didn't want to laugh. A machine started rattling and 
immediately fell silent; words were exchanged, then again the same 
energetic voice made itself heard and commanded: 'Dites-nous le mot: 
avant.**' Spelling it out: ' a-v-a-n-t ' . Silence. 'On n'entend rien. 
Encore une fois***: . . . ' 

*Laugh! . . . laugh. Come on laugh, laugh. 
**Say the word 'before' for us. 
***We can't hear. Say it again. 

And then, while the warm and squishy babbling continued on the other 
side, there, for the first time in many many years it was there again. 
That: the Big Thing, which had shocked me with my first deep horror 
when I was a child lying in bed with a fever. Yes, that's what I had 
always called it whenever they were all standing round my bed, feeling 
my pulse, and asking me what had scared me: the Big Thing. And 
whenever they sent for the doctor and he came and persuaded me to 
tell him, I would simply beg him to do everything he could so that the 
Big Thing went away, nothing else mattered. But he was like the 
others. He couldn't take it away, though I was small then and it would 
have been easy to help me. And now it was here again. Later on it had 
simply failed to appear, it hadn't come back not even during nights 
when I'd had fever, but it was here now and I didn't have a fever. Now 
it was here. Now it was growing out of me like a tumour, like a second 
head, and was a part of me although it couldn't belong to me since it 
was so big. It was there like a big dead animal that at one time, when 
it was still living, had been my my hand or my arm. And my blood flowed 
through me and through it, as through one and the same body. And my 
heart must have been under a great strain pumping blood into the Big 
One; there was hardly enough blood. And the blood, against its own 
will, entered the Big Thing and came back sick and corrupted. But the 
Big Thing swelled and grew before my face like a warm bluish boil and 
grew before my mouth and across my remaining eye ran the edge of its 
shadow. 

I can't remember how I found my way through so many yards. It was 
evening and I'd become lost in an unfamiliar neighbourhood. I walked 
in one direction up boulevards that had wall after wall and when I 
could see no end to them I walked back down in the opposite direction 
as far as some square or other. There I began to walk along one street 
and passed other streets that I'd never seen before, and still more of 
them. Sometimes electric trams with their lights too bright raced up 
raced past amid a harsh clanging of bells. But their destination signs 
carried names I didn't know. I didn't know what city I was in or 
whether I lived hereabouts, or what I had to do so that I wouldn't 
have to do any more walking. 

And now, once more, I've even got this illness that always affects me 
so strangely. I'm sure it's taken too lightly. Just as the importance 
of other illnesses is exaggerated. The illness doesn't have particular 
characteristics, it takes on the characteristics of those it attacks. 
With the assurance of a sleepwalker it extracts one's deepest dread, 
which seemed a thing of the past, and sets it in front of one again 
within the hour. Men who in their schooldays once attempted the 
helpless vice, whose betrayed intimates are the poor hard hands of 
boys, find themselves making another attempt; or an illness they had 
overcome as a child starts up in them once more; or a habit they 
thought had faded away, a certain turn of the head that was a 
peculiarity of theirs years before, now returns. And with whatever it 
is that comes along there also appears a whole tangle of confused 
memories that hang from it like wet seaweed from some sunken thing. 
Lives that you could never have heard of emerge from the depths and 



blend in with what had really happened, and they oust the past that 
you thought you knew; for in what rises is a new rested strength that 
had always been there and is weary from too freguent remembering. 

I'm lying in my bed five flights up and my day which nothing 
interrupts is like a clock face without hands. Just as a thing that 
has long been lost is found one morning back safe and sound where it 
belongs and looking almost newer than it did at the time it went 
missing just as if someone had been taking care of it--: so here and 
here on my blanket lie things that were lost in my childhood and are 
now like new. All my lost fears are here once more. 

The fear that a small woollen thread sticking out of the hem of the 
blanket may be hard, hard and sharp as a steel needle; the fear that 
this little button on my nightshirt may be bigger than my head, big 
and heavy; the fear that this breadcrumb now falling from my bed may 
turn into glass and shatter when it meets the floor, and the 
oppressive fear that when, in reality, it does then everything will be 
broken into pieces, everything, forever; the fear that the margin 
strip of a torn-open letter may be something that's forbidden, that no 
one should be allowed to see, something indescribably precious, for 
which there is no place in the room that could be safe enough; the 
fear that if I were allowed to fall asleep, I might swallow the piece 
of coal that's lying in front of the stove; the fear that some number 
may begin to grow in my brain until it has no more room; the fear that 
what I'm lying on may be granite, grey granite; the fear that I could 
start screaming and people would flock to my door and eventually break 
it open; the fear that I could give myself away and tell about all I'm 
frightened of; and the fear that there's nothing I could say because 
its all unsayable , --and the other fears... the fears. 

I prayed for my childhood and it came back, and I feel it's still just 
as difficult as it was at the time and that growing older has been of 
no use to me whatsoever. 



Yesterday my fever was better and this morning the day began like 
spring, like spring in paintings. I'll try to go out to the 
Bibliotheque Nationale to my poet whom I haven't read for such a long 
time, and afterwards perhaps I can take a stroll through the gardens. 
Perhaps there'll be wind across the big ponds where the water is so 
real and children come to launch their boats with red sails and watch 
them move through it . 

Today I didn't expect it: I went out so bravely as if it were the 
simplest and most natural thing to be doing. And yet there was 
something that took hold of me as if I were made of paper and crumpled 
me up and tossed me way; it was incredible. 

Boulevard St-Michel was wide and empty and it was easy walking up 
its gentle slope; casement windows overhead opened with a glassy sound 
and their gleam flew across the street like a white bird. A carriage 
with bright red wheels came by and further on there was someone 
dressed in light-green. Horses, their harness flashing, trotted along 
the dark, newly-sprayed, clean carriageway. The wind had got up, 
fresh, mild; and everything was rising: smells, cries, bells. 

I passed one of the cafes where in the evenings musicians performed, 
made up as gypsies all in red. Creeping out of the open window with 
a bad conscience came the bleary-eyed air that had been there all 
night. Sleek-haired waiters were scrubbing in front of the door. One 
of them stood bent over throwing handful after handful of yellowish 
sand under the tables. A passer-by gave him a nudge and pointed down 
the street. The waiter whose face was quite red looked keenly for a 
couple of moments in that direction, then a laugh spread cross his 
beardless cheeks as if it had been spilled on them. He signalled to 
the other waiters and turned his laughing face quickly right and left 
a few times to call everybody over without missing anything himself. 
Now all of them were standing there looking and seeing or trying to 
see, smiling or annoyed that they hadn't discovered what was so funny. 



I felt a slight fear starting inside me. Something was pressing me to 
go to the other side of the street, but I began to walk all the more 
quickly and couldn't help glancing at the few people in front of me 
though I didn't notice anything special about them. However I did see 
that one of them, an errand boy with a blue apron on and an empty 
basket over his shoulder, was gazing after someone. When he'd had 
enough he turned on the spot towards the houses and signed to a 
laughing clerk with a wafting movement across the forehead that 
everyone is familiar with. Then his dark eyes flashed and he came 
towards me satisfied and gently swaying. 

I expected, as soon as I got a clear view, to see some unusual and 
striking figure; but there appeared to be no one walking in front of 
me except a tall lean man in a dark overcoat and wearing a soft black 
hat on his short pale blond hair. I checked that there was nothing to 
laugh at either in his clothes or in his behaviour and I was just 
trying to look past him down the boulevard when he tripped over 
something. Since I was following close behind him I took special care 
when I came to the spot, but there was nothing, absolutely nothing. 
We continued walking he and I, the distance between us never varying. 
Now came a crossing and what happened was that the man in front of me, 
made one leg shorter than the other and hopped down the steps from the 
raised pavement the way children do when they happily hop or skip as 
they go along. He got up onto the pavement on the other side simply 
by taking one long step. But he was scarcely up there before he lifted 
one leg up slightly and hopped on the other, once, quite high, and 
straightway again and again. At this point you might well take this 
sudden movement to be a trip or stumble if you persuaded yourself that 
it had been some trifling item, a fruit stone, slippery peel, 
something or other; and the strange thing was that the man himself 
appeared to believe in the existence of an obstacle because he turned 
round each time and looked towards the offending spot in that half- 
annoyed, half reproachful way that some people do at such moments. 
Once again something was shouting a warning to me to cross to the 
other side of the street but I didn't follow it and carried on behind 
this man directing all my attention to his legs. I must confess I felt 
curiously relieved when for the distance of twenty paces the hopping 
didn't recur; but as I raised my eyes I noticed that the man had 
encountered a further annoyance. The collar of his overcoat had turned 
upwards and though as he tussled first with one hand and then with 
both to fold it back down, he had no success. That's what happened. It 
didn't worry me. But straightaway to my boundless amazement I realised 
that in the hands of this man there were two kinds of movement: the 
one, furtive and swift with which he imperceptibly flipped the collar 
up, the other a lengthy, as it were, persistent, exaggerated, spelled- 
out movement which was supposed to effect a way of to folding it back 
down. This observation confused me to such an extent that two minutes 
passed before I recognised that in the man's neck, behind his hunched 
up overcoat and the nervous hand actions was the same bi-syllabic 
hopping that had quitted his legs only a short while ago. From this 
moment I was bound to him. I could tell that this hopping was 
wandering around in his body, that it was seeking here and there to 
break out. I understood his fear of people, and I myself began 
checking the passers-by to see if they had noticed anything. A cold 
stabbing pain ran down my spine as his legs suddenly gave a little 
twitching jump but no one had seen it and I imagined myself wanting to 
do a little stumble, should anyone be taking notice. That would 
certainly be a means of making those who were curious believe that 
there really had been a small inconspicuous object on the pavement 
that we had both happened to step on. But while I was pondering on how 
I might help, he himself had found a new and excellent solution. I 
forgot to say that he carried a walking cane. Now, it was an ordinary 
one made of dark wood with a simple curved handle. And in his anxious 
searching he had chanced on the idea of holding this cane first with 
one hand (for who knows what the other hand might be needed for) 
against his back right over the spine, pressing it firmly into the 
small of his back, pushing the curved end inside his collar so that he 
would feel it hard like a support behind his cervical vertebra and his 
first dorsal vertebra. That was a posture that wasn't conspicuous; at 
most a touch jaunty. It could be put down to the unexpected spring 



day. It occurred to no one to turn round and look; now everything was 
going fine. Admirably. Admittedly, at the end of the crossing two hops 
came and went, two small half -suppressed hops that were of no account 
and the one jump that was actually visible was so skillfully 
appropriate (a hose was lying just there across the way) that there 
was nothing to be afraid of. Yes, everything was still going well; now 
and again the other hand too seized the cane and pressed it in more 
firmly and immediately the danger was once more overcome. There was 
nothing I could do, however, to prevent my anxiety growing. I knew 
that all the time he was walking and making an incessant effort to 
appear indifferent with his mind elsewhere, the terrible stabs of pain 
were accumulating inside his body; in me there was also the same 
anxiety that he felt with it growing and growing, and I saw how he 
clutched the cane to him when the shaking began inside him. The 
expression of his hands was so unrelenting and strong that I set all 
my hope in his willpower that was bound to be great. But what did a 
will count for here? The moment had come when his strength would be at 
an end; that couldn't be long now. And I who followed him with my 
heart beating strong lumped together as I do money what small amount 
of strength remained with 

me, and as I looked up at his hands I asked him if he would care to 
take it if he needed it. 

I think he took it; I couldn't help it not being more. 

On Place St-Michel there were many vehicles; pedestrians hurried 
to and fro. Often we were caught between two carriages and he would 
then take a breath and slacken a little as if he were taking a rest 
and there would be a little hopping and a little nodding. Perhaps that 
was the ruse employed by the captive illness to subdue him. His will 
had burst at a couple of places and the drop had left behind in his 
obsessional muscles a gentle, alluring stimulation and a compelling 
two-beat rhythm. But the cane was back in its place and the hands 
looked vicious and angry; it was all going well as we started to cross 
the bridge. Yes, going well. But then some unease came into his walk; 
first he ran two steps and then he stood. Stood. His left hand gently 
let go of the cane and rose so slowly that I could see it trembling 
up in the air. He tipped his hat back a little and drew his hand 
across his brow. He turned his head slightly and his uncomprehending 
gaze rolled on across sky, houses, water, and then he gave in. The 
cane was gone, he stretched out his arms as if he were wanting to fly 
up high and there burst from him a natural energy that bent him 
forward and pulled him back and made him nod and bow and flung dancing 
energy out of him and into the crowd. For there were already a great 
many people around him and I could no longer see him. What sense would 
there have been in going anywhere? I was empty. Like a blank sheet of 
paper I drifted along past the buildings and up the boulevard again. 

[A draft of a letter: 

I'm trying to write to you although there is actually nothing to say 
after a necessary parting. I'm trying anyway. I think I have to do 
this because I have seen the saint in the Pantheon, the lonely, 
sainted woman and the roof and the door and, inside, the lamp with 
its modest circle of light, and out there the sleeping city and the 
river and the distance in the moonlight. The saint watches over the 
sleeping city. I've wept. I've wept because it was all suddenly and 
so unexpectedly there. I stood before it and wept. I couldn't help 
it. I'm in Paris. The ones who hear this are pleased; most of them 
envy me. They're right. It's a great city, great, full of 
extraordinary temptations. For myself, I must admit that in certain 
respects I've succumbed to these temptations. I don't think there's 
any other way of saying it. I've succumbed to these temptations and 
this has brought about certain changes, if not in my character then 
assuredly in my view of the world, at any rate in my life. Under these 
influences a completely different perception of all things has formed 
in me, and there are now certain differences which, more than has been 
the case in the past, separate me off from other people. A changed 
world. A new life full of new meanings. At present I'm finding it 
rather difficult, because everything is new. I'm a beginner in my own 
relationships . 



At some point might it be possible to go see the sea? 

Yes, and just think: I was imagining that you could come. Would you 
have possibly been able to tell me if there was a doctor there? I 
forgot to find out about that. By the bye, I don't need that any more. 

Do you remember Baudelaire's incredible poem ' Une Charogne ' ? Perhaps I 
understand it now. Except for the last stanza he was in the right. 
What should he do when that happened to him? It was his task to see 
in this terrifying existent thing, repulsive only in appearance, that 
which affects all existences. Choosing or refusing are out of the 
question. Do you think that Flaubert came to write ' Saint- Julien 
1 ' Hospitalier ' by chance? It seems to me that it hinges on whether or 
not you can bring yourself to to lie beside a leper and to warm him 
with the warmth of lovers ' nights because nothing other than good 
can come of it . 

Don't think for a moment that I'm suffering here from 
disappointments--quite the reverse. Sometimes I'm surprised how 
readily I gave up everything that was expected for what is real, even 
if it's terrible. 

My God, if only something of this could be shared. But would it then 
exist? No, it comes only at the price of being on one's own. 



The existence of the horrible in every atom of air. You breathe it in 
without being able to see it, but it condenses inside you, becomes 
hard, assumes pointed geometrical forms among your organs; for all the 
torments and horrors that happened at places of execution, in torture 
chambers, madhouses, operating rooms, under the arches of bridges in 
late autumn: all this has a tenacious permanence which endures for its 
own self and depends, jealous of everything else that exists, on its 
own terrible reality. People would like to be able to forget much of 
it but sleep runs its file softly over the furrows in their brains, 
though dreams can drive sleep away and retrace the pattern. And they 
wake up gasping and let the gleam of their candle dissolve in the 
darkness and drink the half-bright reassurance as if it were sugared 
water . 

But oh on what a narrow ledge this reassurance stands. It needs only 
the smallest change and once again the vision of what was familiar 
and friendly goes beyond the outline that was so comforting only a 
moment ago and can be seen more clearly to be an edge of terror. Be 
on your guard against the light that makes space more hollow; don't 
look round to see whether behind you, as you sit up, perhaps a shadow 
is standing, like your master. Better, perhaps, if you had remained 
in the darkness and your unconfined heart had tried to be the heavy 
heart of all that is obscure. Now that you have pulled yourself 
together you can watch yourself cease in your hands; from time to time 
you can roughly sketch your own face. And inside you there is hardly 
any space and it almost calms you to think that anything very large 
can possibly be dwelling in those close confines, that even something 
tremendous must accordingly reduce its size in order to become an 
inner thing. But outside--outside there are no restraints, and when 
it grows out there it grows inside you as well, not in the vessels 
that are partly controlled by you or in the phlegm of your tranquil 
organs; it expands in your capillaries, sucked upwards into the 
outermost branches of your infinitely complex being. There it rises, 
there it towers over you, higher than your breath where you have fled 
as if to your last refuge. Ah, and where to then, where to then? Your 
heart drives you out of yourself, your heart pursues you and you are 
already almost outside yourself and can no longer get back in. Like a 
beetle that has been trodden on you ooze out of yourself and your 
little bit of outer hardness and adaptation are meaningless. night 
without objects. windows dulled to the outside. doors carefully 
closed. institutions passed on from time immemorial, believed in, 
never quite understood. stillness on the staircase, stillness from 
the adjoining rooms. Stillness high up on the ceiling. mother: the 
one true you, you, who dealt with all this stillness back in my 



childhood. You who took it all on yourself, saying 'Don't be afraid. 
It ' s me ' . You who deep in the night had the courage to be this 
stillness for the one who was afraid, who was dying of fear. You 
stike a match and already the sound is you. And you hold it before you 
and say: 'It's me. Don't be afraid. ' And slowly you put it down and 
there is no doubt: it's you, you are the light that reveals the 
familiar cherished things which are there for no other reason than 
that they are good, plain, simple. And whenever there's a sound of 
something in the wall, or on the floorboards, you simply smile, with 
that clear smile that lights all around you into the scared face that 
looks at you searchingly as if you knew all about the secrets. Is 
there any power to match yours among the rulers of the earth? See-- 
kings lie and stare, and the storyteller cannot divert them. As they 
lie blissfully close to the bosoms of their favourites, horror creeps 
over them and makes them tremble and lose all desire. But you come and 
keep the monstrosity behind you and completely blot it out, not like a 
curtain that can lift up here and there. No, it's as if you had 
overtaken it the moment the urgent call left my lips . As if you had 
arrived well ahead of all that might happen and had behind you only 
your hurrying here, your eternal pathway, the flight of your love. 



The moulder of plaster casts whose shop I pass every day has hung two 
masks by his door. One is the face of the young woman who had drowned; 
they had taken a plaster cast of it in the morgue because it was 
beautiful, because it was smiling, because the smiling was deceptive, 
as if it knew. And lower down a man's knowing face*. This hard knot 
of firmly tightened meanings. This relentless, self-intensifying music 
that tried incessantly to condense and fall to earth. The countenance 
of him whose hearing a god had sealed; so that there might be no sound 
but his own, so that he wouldn't be swayed by sounds that were dulling 
and invalid. He in whom sound was clear and enduring; so that only the 
toneless senses might bring the world to him, silently, a tense world 
waiting, unready, for the creation of sound. 

*mask of Beethoven 

World-perf ector : just as that which falls as rain over the land and 
upon the waters, drops down carelessly, and by chance, and joyfully 
heeding earthly laws again rises invisibly out of all things and rises 
and hovers and form the heavens; so our precipitations rose out of you 
and vaulted the earth with music. Your music: would that it were about 
the world, not only about us . Would that a pianoforte had been built 
for you in the Theban desert, and an angel had led you to that 
solitary instrument through desert mountain ranges where lie kings, 
courtesans, anchorites. He surely would have flung himself upwards out 
of fear that you would begin. 

And then you would have poured forth, Pourer-f orth, unheard, giving 
back to the universe only what the universe can bear. Bedouin out 
hunting would have galloped by in the distance, superstitiously; but 
merchants would have flung themselves on the ground at the edges of 
your music as if you were a storm. Only a few solitary lions would 
have circle round you at night, afraid of themselves, menaced by their 
own agitated blood. 

For who will retrieve you now from lecherous ears, who will drive them 
from the concert halls, the mercenaries with their sterile hearing 
that whores and never once conceives? Semen sprays out and they stay 
beneath it like prostitutes playing with it; or it falls like Onan ' s 
semen among all of them while they lie there in their unachieved 
gratification. 

But, Master, if, somewhere, a virginal young man were to lay his 
wakeful ear beside your music, he would die of bliss, or he would 
carry infinity inside him and his fertilised brain would burst from 
sheer birth. 



I don't underestimate it. I know it takes courage. But let's suppose 



for a moment that someone had it, this courage de luxe*, to follow 
them in order to know once and for all (for who could forget it again 
or confuse it with something else) where they creep off to afterwards 
and what do they do with all the rest of their day, and if they sleep 
at night. This especially should be ascertained: whether or not they 
sleep. But it will need more than courage. For they don't come and go 
like other people whom could be followed without any trouble at all. 
They're here one moment and then gone, set down and then removed like 
toy soldiers . The places where you find them are a little remote but 
by no means hidden. The bushes give way, the path curves slightly 
round the lawn; that's where they are with a huge amount of clear 
space around them as if they were standing under a cloche roof. With 
their small and altogether unassuming build, you might take these 
inconspicuous men to be pensive walkers. But you are wrong. Do you 
see the left hand, how it it ' s trying to get at something in the 
slanted pocket of the old overcoat; how it finds it and takes it out 
and holds the little item clumsily and conspicuously up in the air? 
It doesn't take a minute before two or three birds appear , sparrows, 
hopping closer out of curiosity. And if the man manages to meet their 
very exact interpretation of immobility then there's no reason why 
they shouldn't come even closer. Eventuallly the first one flies up 
and whirls around nervously for a while level with the hand which is 
holding out (God knows) the crumbs from a piece of old sweet bread 
in its modest, manifestly sacrificial fingers. And the more people 
gather around him, at the appropriate distance, of course, the less 
he has in common with them. He stands there like a candle that's 
burning down and shines from all that ' s left of the wick and is warm 
and never flickers. And what the many small foolish birds can't work 
out is how he calls to people and how he draws them to him. If there 
were no onlookers and he was left standing there long enough, I'm sure 
that all at once an angel would come and, overcoming any hesitancy, 
eat a stale, cloying mouthful out of the withered hand. But now as 
always there are people getting in the way of that. They see to it 
that only birds come. They think that's ample and they claim that he 
expects nothing else. What else should this rain-soaked doll expect, 
stuck in the ground and leaning slightly like the ship's figurehead in 
the little garden at home. Does it also come to be standing like this 
because it had stood somewhere tilting towards its life, tilting to 
get the greatest movement? Does it now look so washed out because at 
one time it was painted in colours? Will you ask it? 

*surfeit of courage 

Only, don't ask the women anything when you see one feeding the 
birds. You could even follow them; they do it as they go along; it 
would be easy. But leave them. They don't know how it all came to be. 
All of a sudden they have a lot of bread in their bag and from beneath 
their thin shawls they take out large pieces that are moist from 
having been chewed a little. It makes them happy to know that their 
saliva is getting out into the world a little, that the little birds 
can fly around with the aftertaste when they're just as likely to 
forget it . 

There I sat with your books, obstinate man*, and tried to think as 
others do who don't let you be in one whole but have taken a portion 
for themselves, one that satisfies them. For I still didn't understand 
fame, this public destruction of something that's still forming, whose 
worksite is broken into and stones are chucked about by the mob. 

*Henrik Ibsen 

Young man, wherever you are, there is something mounting in you that 
will cause you to shudder. There's advantage in the fact that no one 
knows you. And if those who think you are nothing contradict you, 
and if those you kept company with abandon you, and if they want to 
destroy you on account of your dear thoughts : what is this obvious 
danger, which keeps you strong within, compared with the cunning 
enmity of an approaching fame that will render you harmless by 
scattering you all around. 

Ask no one to speak of you, not even contemptuously. And, as time 



goes on and you notice how your name is being spread around, don't 
take it more seriously than anything else you hear from their mouths. 
Think: it's become a bad name; get rid of it; take a different one; 
any, so that God can call to you in the night. And hide it from 
everyone . 

Loneliest and most remote of men, how they have caught up with you by 
your fame. How long ago is it when they were fundamentally opposed to 
you. And now they go around with you as if as if you were like them. 
And they take your words around with them in the cages of their 
darkness and reveal them in public places and tease them a little out 
of their safety. All your terrifying beasts of prey. 

That was the first time I read what you had said, when the words 
escaped and fell desperately upon me in my desert. As desperate as 
you yourself were at the end, you whose path is still marked out 
wrongly on every map. 

Like a crack this hopeless hyperbola of your path crosses the heavens, 
curving towards us only once before departing full of horror. What 
was it to you if a wife stays or leaves, and if one man is in the grip 
of vertigo and another of madness, and if the dead are alive and the 
living appear dead: what was it to you? It was so natural for you; 
you passed through as you would an antechamber and you didn't stop. 
But you lingered there, bent over, inside that place where what 
happens to us boils, condenses, and changes colour, inwardly. Further 
inward than anyone had ever been before; a door had burst open in 
front of you; now you were among the retorts lit by the fiery glow. 
You never let anyone accompany you there, mistrustful one, you would 
sit, noting distinctions between transitions. 

And there— because revealing things was in your blood and not in how 
you looked or in how you spoke--completely on your own you took the 
immediate decision to magnify this tiny thing (that you had first 
become aware of as you peered closely through the glass) in such a 
way that it might be gigantic before all the thousands who saw it. 
Your theatre came into being. You couldn't wait for this almost 
spaceless life, compressed into drops by the centuries, to be 
discovered by different skills and become liable eventually to be 
stumbled upon by a few individuals who little by little come to share 
the same realization and finally demand to see for themselves these 
very grand rumours confirmed in a metaphor of the scene that they were 
presented with. You couldn't wait for this; you were there and you had 
to do what was hardly measurable: a feeling that rose about half a 
degree, the angle of deflection that you read from close up of an 
almost unencumbered will, the slight cloudiness in a drop of yearning 
and this nil colour-change in an atom of confidence: that is what you 
had to determine and keep known; for it was in such processes that 
life now, our life, was lived, the life that had glided into us, that 
had withdrawn so deeply inside us that it was scarcely possible any 
longer to make conjectures about it. 

As you were then, a timelessly tragic poet, committed to revelation, 
you had to convert this capillary action at a stroke into the most 
convincing gestures, into the things that were most present. So you 
set about the unprecedentedly violent act of your work that more and 
more impatiently and more and more desperately sought equivalents 
among visible things for what you had seen inside. There was a rabbit 
there, an attic, a large room where someone was pacing the floor, a 
chink of glass in an adjoining room, a blaze outside the windows; 
there was the sun. There was a church and a rocky valley that was like 
a church. But that wasn't enough. Eventually towers had to be brought 
in, and the whole mountain range, and avalanches that bury landscapes 
and spill onto a stage cluttered with tangible things, for the sake of 
things that were incomprehensible. There was no more you could do. The 
two ends you had bent together shot apart, your crazy powers escaped 
from your supple wand and your work came to nothing. 

Who could otherwise understand why in the end, stubborn as you were, 
you didn't want to leave the window? You wanted to see the passers-by, 
for the thought had struck you that one day you might be able to make 



something of them, if you could make your mind up to get started. 

Then, for the first time I realized that there was nothing one could 
say about a woman; I noticed that whenever they spoke of her there 
was a lot they omitted: as with other people they would provide names, 
descriptions, surroundings, places, objects, but they would, up to a 
certain point, list all sorts of things that they'd always known about 
her, and then stop softly and, so to speak, warily, as if they had come 
to that tentatively sketched boundary that enclosed her. What was she 
like? I would then ask. 'Blonde, a bit like you, ' they would say and 
then start listing all sorts of things that they had always known 
about her but they repeatedly failed to give any accurate description 
of her; consequently I was unable by that means to picture her in my 
mind any more. I was actually able to see her only when Mama told me 
the story which I asked for again and again. 



Every time she came to the scene with the dog invariably she would 
then close her eyes, put her cold fingers to her temples and with a 
kind of fervour frame between her hands a face that was shut off yet 
completely aglow. 'I saw it, Malte, ' she would claim: 'I saw it. ' She 
was already in her last years when I heard her say those words. It 
was when she no longer wanted to see anyone, a period when she had 
with her at all times, even when travelling, that little fine-meshed 
silver strainer through which she filtered everything she drank. She 
no longer took solid food, except, when she was alone, for biscuits 
or bread which she would crumble and eat crumb by crumb the way 
children eat crumbs . She was already obsessed by the fear of needles . 
The excuse she gave to others was simply to say: 'There's nothing else 
agrees with me any more, but that mustn't upset you. I feel 
marvellous on that. ' She could suddenly turn towards me (for I had 
grown a little bit) and with a smile that required a great effort from 
her would say 'What an enormous amount of needles there are, Malte, 
they're lying around in so many places, and when you think how easily 
they fall out . . . She would check herself as if to make a joke of it 
but the thought of all the badly fastened needles dropping down 
anywhere and at any moment shook her with horror. 

When she talked about Ingeborg, however, she was aware of nothing else 
and was completely at ease: she spoke more loudly and she laughed when 
she remembered Ingeborg 's laugh and that enabled one to see how 
beautiful Ingeborg had been. 'She made us all happy, ' she said, 'your 
father as well, Malte, literally happy. ' But when they said she was 
going to die, she seemed only a little ill, and we all went around 
hiding the fact. One day she sat up in bed and without thinking said 
to herself, like someone who wants to hear how a thought sounds out 
loud: 'You mustn't be so self-controlled; we all know what it is, and 
I can reassure you things are as good as they can be, I wish for 
nothing more. ' Just imagine; she said: 'I don't want to go on any 
longer. '--she who made us all happy-- 'Will you come to understand that 
someday, Malte, when you're grown up? Think about it later, perhaps it 
will come into your mind. It would be good if there were someone who 
understood such matters . ' 

'Such matters' occupied Mama's thoughts when she was alone, and she 
was always alone during those last years. 'Of course I'll never solve 
it, Malte, ' she would sometimes say with her characteristically bold 
smile that wasn't for anyone to see, its purpose being wholly 
fulfilled when it was smiled. 'But to think that no one ever feels 
tempted to find it out. If I were a man, yes--particularly if I were a 
man--I would think about it and in doing so I would follow proper 
procedures and keep my thoughts orderly from the beginning. Because 
there has to be a beginning, and if one could only grasp it it would 
be something to be going on with. Ah, Malte, we pass away like this 
and it seems to me that people are all distracted and preoccupied and 
don't pay proper attention as we go along. It's as if a shooting star 
were to fall and no one saw it and no one made a wish. Never forget to 
wish for something, Malte. One should never give up wishing. I don't 
believe there is any kind of fulfilment, but there are wishes that 
last a long time, a whole lifetime, so that one can't possibly wait 



long enough for fulfilment.' 

Mama had had Ingeborg's little secretaire brought up and placed in 
her room. I often found her in front of it, for I had her permission 
to enter her room just as I wished. The sound of my footstep was 
completely absorbed by the carpet but she felt my presence and held 
out one of her hands to me across the other shoulder. This hand was 
completely weightless and kissing it was almost like kissing the ivory 
crucifix that was passed to me at night before I went to sleep. She 
sat at this low secretaire, with its drop-leaf lid open as if she were 
seated at a musical instrument. 'There is so much sunlight in it, ' she 
said, and it was true, the interior was remarkably bright with its old 
yellow lacquer on which flowers were painted, always a red one then a 
blue one. And where there were three together there was a violet one 
between them separating the other two. These colours and the green of 
the narrow horizontal arabesque border were as dim as the background 
was radiant, without actually being clear. This produced a strangely 
subdued proportionality of tones as regards their unexpressed inner 
affinities . 

Mama pulled out the little drawers which were all empty. 'Ah, roses, ' 
she said, inclining slightly into the melancholy fragrance that had 
not entirely disappeared. Regarding the secretaire she always imagined 
that out of the blue something might still found suddenly in a secret 
compartment that no one had thought of and that would open only by 
pressing some kind of hidden spring. 'All of a sudden it will shoot 
f orward--you ' 11 see, ' she said in a voice that was earnest and anxious 
and she pulled hurriedly at all the drawers. But what papers had 
actually remained in the compartments she had carefully put together 
and locked them away without reading them. 'I wouldn't understand it, 
Malte; it's bound to be too hard for me. ' It was her conviction that 
everything would be too hard for her. 'In life there are no classes 
for beginners; you're always required to do the most difficult things 
straightaway.' People assured me that she had been like this only 
since the terrible death of her sister, Countess Ollegaard Skeel, who 
had been set alight before a ball standing in front of a candle-lit 
mirror trying to rearrange the flowers in her hair. But of late it 
was Ingeborg who seemed the most difficult to comprehend. 

And now I will write down the story just as Mama used to tell it when 
I asked her to. It was the middle of summer, on the Thursday following 
Ingeborg's funeral. From that part of the terrace where we were having 
tea one could see the gable of the family vault through the giant elm 
trees. The table was laid out as if there had never been one person 
more sitting there and we had also spread ourselves out quite a bit 
round it. And we had each brought something with us, a book or a 
workbasket, so that we were even a little cramped. Abelone (Mama's 
youngest sister) was pouring the tea and handing it out, and we were 
all busily handing round the tea things, except your grandfather who 
was looking from his armchair towards the house. It was around the 
time when the mail was expected to arrive, and it was most often 
Ingebord who had brought it because she had to stay longer at the 
house seeing to the arrangements for dinner. In the weeks she was 
ill we had plenty of time to get out of the habit of expecting her 
for we knew very well she couldn't come. But on that afternoon, Malte, 
when she really could no longert come, she came. Perhaps we were to 
blame; perhaps we called her. For I remember that all at once I was 
sitting there making every effort to think what it could be that was 
so different now. Suddenly I found it impossible to say what it was; 
I had completely forgotten. I looked up and saw all the others turned 
towards the house, not so much in a special and obvious way as in a 
very calm and ordinary expectation. And I was about to-- (it makes me 
feel cold thinking about it) but, God help me, I was just about to 
say 'Where is . . . ? ' --when Cavalier shot from beneath the table, like 
he always did, and ran to meet her. I saw it, Malte; I saw it. He ran 
towards her even though she wasn't coming. We realised he was running 
to meet her. Twice he looked round at us as if he were asking a ques- 
tion, then he tore away towards her as always, Malte, just as he 
always did and reached her; for he began to jump round and round, 
Malte, round something that wasn't there and then up at her to lick 
her, and up again. We heard him whimpering with joy, and from the way 



he several times shot up in the air in quick succession, you might 
well have thought his jumping was to hide her from us. But suddenly 
there was a howl and he twisted himself away from his leap and fell 
backwards in the air with a curious awkwardness and then lay stretched 
out on the ground not moving at all. The servant came from the 
opposite side of the house with the letters. For a moment he 
hesitated. Obviously it was no easy thing to walk towards all our 
faces. Besides, your father had already signalled to him to stay. Your 
father, Malte, didn't like animals; nevertheless he went, slowly, it 
seemed to me, over to where the dog lay and bent over it. He said 
something to the servant, something short, monosyllabic. I saw how the 
servant rushed forward to lift Cavalier up. But your father took hold 
of the dog himself and carried it, as if he knew exactly to take it, 
into the house. 

Once, when she was recounting what had happened, it had grown almost 
dark and I was on the point of asking Mama to tell us about the 
'hand' : at that moment I could have done it myself. I was already 
taking in breath to begin; but then it occurred to me how well I had 
understood the servant's not being able to approach their faces. And I 
was afraid, despite the darkness, of how Mama's face might look if it 
had seen what I had seen. I swiftly took another breath so it might 
appear as if that was all I had wanted to do. A few years later, after 
the curious night in the gallery at Urnekloster, I went around for 
days in the hope of confiding with Erik. But after our nocturnal 
conversation he again completely shut himself off from me; he avoided 
me; I believe he despised me. And it was precisely because of this I 
wanted to tell him about the 'hand' . I imagined I would regain his 
good opinion (and for some reason I desperately wanted this) if I 
could get him to understand that I really had experienced it. But Erik 
was so clever at keeping away from me that it never came about. And 
then, a short time later, we left. So this, oddly enough, is the first 
time I've told anyone (and after all, I'm doing it only for myself) 
about an event that now lies far back in my childhood. 

I can tell how small I was at the time by the fact that I was kneeling 
on the armchair so that I could comfortably reach up to the table on 
which I was drawing. It was evening in our apartment in town, in 
winter, if I'm not mistaken. In my room the table stood between the 
windows, and there was no lamp in the room other than the one that 
shone on my pages and on Mademoiselle's book; for Mademoiselle was 
sitting beside me, her chair set back a little, reading. She was lost 
to the world when she was reading and I don't know if she was in her 
book; she could read for hours on end; she seldom turned a page and 
I had the impression that the pages kept getting fuller and fuller 
before her eyes as she looked words onto them, certain words that she 
needed that weren't there. That's how it seemed to me while I went on 
drawing. I drew slowly without anything very definite in my mind and 
whenever I was at a loss how to continue, I would look at what I'd 
done, tilting my head a little to the right; that was the quickest way 
for me to see what was still missing. There were officers on horseback 
riding into battle, or were in the midst of it and that was much 
simpler because all you needed to show was the smoke that engulfed 
everything. Mama certainly maintained at the time that I painted only 
islands--islands with large trees and a castle and a flight of steps 
and along the shoreline flowers, meant to be be reflected in the 
water. But I think she was making that up; or it must have been later. 

What is certain is that on that evening I was sketching a knight, a 
solitary, recognisable knight on a curiously clad horse. He needed 
so many colours that I often had to change crayons, but red was the 
one I favoured most and I kept reaching for it. Now I needed it once 
more; it rolled (I can still see it) , it rolled diagonally across the 
illumined page to the edge of the table and before I could prevent 
anything it had gone past me and had disappeared. I needed it really 
urgently and it was very annoying having to climb down after it. 
Clumsy as I was it took rather a lot of organising to get down; my 
legs seemed much too long, I couldn't get them out from under me; I 
had been in a kneeling position too long and it had made my limbs 
numb. I didn't know what was part of me and what was part of the 
chair. Finally I did get down, somewhat befuddled, and found myself on 



an animal skin that ran under the table and extended to the far wall. 
But then a fresh difficulty arose. Accustomed to the brightness above 
and still wholly excited by the colours on the white paper my eyes 
could make nothing of what might be under the table and the blackness 
seemed so final that I feared that I would knock against it. I relied 
therefore on my sense of touch and, kneeling, and supported by my left 
hand I combed with the other hand through the cool, shaggy rug which 
felt so nice and friendly; but there was no trace of a pencil. I 
imagined I was losing a great deal of time and was just about to call 
Mademoiselle and ask her to hold the lamp for me when I noticed that 
my involuntarily strained eyes bit by bit could make things out in the 
darkness. I could already distinguish the wall at the back with its 
light-coloured moulded skirting. The table legs helped me find my 
direction. I recognised first of all my own outspread hand rather like 
some aquatic creature moving down there all on its own searching the 
area around. I watched it, I still recall, almost with curiosity; it 
seemed to me as if it knew things I'd never taught it; as it groped 
around down there so sure of itself making movements I'd never seen it 
make. I followed its advance, it interested me; I was prepared for 
anything. But how could I have been expected to make instant sense of 
another hand coming to meet it out of the wall— a larger and unusually 
thin hand such as I had never seen before. Searching in a similar 
manner it approached from the other side and both of the outspread 
hands moved blindly towards eachother. My curiosity was still not 
satisfied but suddenly it ended and only horror was left. I I felt 
that one of the hands belonged to me and that it was letting itself in 
for something that could not be remedied. Summoning all the command 
that I had over it I stopped it and pulled it palm down slowly back to 
me without taking my eyes off the other one which continued with its 
searching. I could see that it wasn't going to stop, and I can't say 
how I managed to get up again. I sat very deep in the armchair, my 
teeth were chattering and my face was so drained of blood it felt as 
if the blue had left my eyes. 'Mademoiselle--', I wanted to say and 
couldn't but she was shocked herself, she flung her book aside and 
knelt beside the armchair and called my name. I think she shook me. 
But I was completely conscious. I swallowed once or twice; for now I 
wanted to tell her about it. 

But how? I made an indescribable effort to pull myself together but 
there was no way I could express myself well enough for someone to 
understand. If there were words for an event such as this then I was 
too small to know what they were. And suddenly I was gripped by the 
fear that, notwithstanding my age, those words would be there all at 
once and what appeared to me to be more dreadful than anything else 
was then having to say them. To undergo once again what it had really 
been like down there, or else to modify my account from the beginning; 
to hear myself admitting it--no, I had no strength left for that. 

It's imagination, of course, if I now claim that at the time I had 
already felt that something had come into my life, directly into what 
was mine, and that I would have to go round with it for ever and ever. 
I can see myself lying in my little cot, not yet asleep and somehow 
vaguely foreseeing that life would be like that: full of nothing but 
very odd things that are meant for one person only and not to be 
passed on. What is certain is that bit by bit a sad and heavy pride 
arose in me. I imagined how one might go around full of inner things 
and be silent. I experienced an impetuous sympathy towards grown-ups; 
I admired them and resolved to tell them that I admired them. I 
resolved to say so to Mademoiselle at the next opportunity. 



And then along came one of those illnesses that was intent on showing 
me that this wasn't my first personal experience. The fever dug around 
in me and from the very depths brought to light experiences, images, 
facts that I had no knowledge of; I lay there overwhelmed by my own 
self and waited for the moment when I would be told to put all those 
things back inside me precisely, layer by layer, row by row. I began, 
but it grew under my hands, it baulked, it was much too much. Then I 
was seized with rage and I chucked everything into me in heapfuls and 
pressed it together, but I couldn't close myself again. And then I 



screamed, half-open as I was, I screamed and screamed. And when I 
began to look outside myself they had already been standing round my 
bed for a long time, holding my hands, and there was a candle there 
and their large shadows moved behind them. And my father ordered me to 
say what the matter was. The order was delivered in a low friendly 
voice but it was an order all the same. And he became impatient when I 
didn't answer. 

Mama never came at night--, or, rather, she came just the once. I had 
been screaming and screaming. Mademoiselle had come and Sieversen, the 
housekeeper, and George, the coachman; but it did no good. And so, 
finally, they'd sent the coach for my parents who were at a great ball 
at the residence of the Crown Prince, I believe. And all at once I 
heard the coach coming into the courtyard and I became quiet and sat 
up and looked towards the door. There was a faint swishing sound in 
the adjoining rooms and Mama entered in her grand court-gown, of which 
she was oblivious, and almost ran forward letting her white fur fall 
behind her and took me in her bare arms . Amazed and delighted as never 
before, I ran my hand over her hair and her small smooth face and the 
cold jewels at her ears and the silk at the edge of her shoulders 
which smelled of flowers . And we remained like that and wept tenderly 
and kissed eachother until we felt that father was there and that we 
had to separate. 'He has a high fever, ' I heard Mama say timidly and 
father reached for my hand and counted my pulse. He was wearing the 
uniform of the Master of the Hunt with its beautiful broad blue 
watered-silk ribbon of the Order of the Elephant. 'What nonsense to 
send for us , ' he said, speaking into the room without looking at me. 
They had promised to go back if it was nothing serious. And serious it 
was not. On my bed cover I found Mama's dance card and some white 
camellias which I had never seen before and when I'd felt how cool 
they were I placed them on my eyes. 

When you have illnesses like that you find that afternoons drag on and 
on. In the morning after a bad night you can always go back to sleep 
and the next time you awake you think it's early but its afternoon, 
and it stays afternoon and it doesn't stop being afternoon. So you lie 
in the newly tidied bed and perhaps grow a little in your joints and 
are too tired to imagine anything at all. As you might guess, the 
taste of apple sauce lasted a long time if you somehow construed it 
so, in spite of yourself, and let its clean tartness circulate instead 
of thoughts . Later with your strength returned and with pillows behind 
you propping you up you could sit and play with your soldiers; but 
they topple over so easily on the slanting bed-tray and its always 
all of them together; and you are not yet sufficiently back inside 
life to begin all over again. Suddenly it was too much and you begged 
them to take everything away as fast as they can and it was good to 
see your two hands again a little bit further along the cleared 
bedcover . 

There were times when Mama came and read me fairy stories for half an 
hour (for proper long readings there was Sieversen), but it wasn't on 
account of the stories. For we agreed that we didn't like fairy 
stories. We had a different idea about what was wonderful. We found 
that what we marvelled at most was when everything went naturally. We 
didn't think much of flying through the air. Fairies disapointed us; 
as for transformations into something else we didn't expect more than 
a very superficial change. Nevertheless we did read a little, so as to 
appear occupied; we didn't appreciate it when anyone came in and we 
had to explain what we were doing; with father especially we were 
exaggeratedly frank. 

Only when we were quite sure of not being disturbed and it was growing 
dark outside it could happen that we would devote ourselves to 
memories we had in common which seemed old to both of us. We smiled 
over them for we had both since grown up. We were reminded that there 
was a time when Mama wished I was a little girl and not this boy I now 
decidedly was. Somehow I had guessed this and I had sometimes thought 
of knocking at Mama's door in the afternoon Then, when she asked who 
was there I would say I would happily cry from outside ' Sophie ' , 
making my little voice sound so dainty that it tickled my throat. And 
when I entered (dressed in the little house-dress with the sleeves 



rolled up that I wore anyway) I really was Sophie, Mama's little 
Sophie, busying herself about the house, her hair plaited by Mama so 
that there could be no mistaking her for that naughty Malte, should he 
ever return. That would definitely not be welcome. His absence was as 
agreeable to Mama as to Sophie, and their conversations (in which 
Sophie always spoke in the same high-pitched voice) mainly consisted 
in listing Malte ' s bad habits and complaining about him. 'Oh dear, 
that Malte, ' Mama would sigh, and Sophie had lots of things to tell 
regarding the misdeeds of boys in general; it was as if she knew heaps 
of them. 

In the midst of such reminiscences Mama would suddenly say: 'I would 
love to know what has become of Sophie. ' The way things were, Malte, 
of course, couldn't tell her anything. But when Mama suggested that 
she was certainly dead, he would stubbornly contradict her and implore 
her not to believe it even though there was little that could be 
proved to the contrary. 



When I think about it now I find it surprising that time and again I 
managed to come back completely from the world land of these fevers 
and find myself in an exceedingly communal way of life where each 
person wanted the assurances of fellow-feeling with people one knew 
and where one took great care with shared understandings . When 
something was expected, it either came or it didn't; there was no 
third posibility. There were things that were sad, sad once and for 
all; there were pleasant things and a whole lot of things that were 
incidental. And if a joy was in store for, one knew it was a joy and 
that one had to behave accordingly. Basically it was all very simple 
and once you understood that, it took care of itself. Absolutely 
everything fell within these agreed boundaries: the long, monotonous 
school hours when it was summer outside; the walks that one had to 
talk about later in French; the visitors one was summoned to meet who 
thought one comical, just when one was feeling sad, and laughed at one 
as they would at the sorrowful expressions of certain birds which have 
no other. And the birthdays, of course, to which were invited children 
one hardly knew, embarrassed children who in turn made one 
embarrassed, or the bold ones who scratched one's face and smashed 
things one had just been presented with and then suddenly leave, 
having emptied all boxes and drawers and left it all in piles. But 
when one played by oneself, as was always the case with me, it could 
happen that one unexpectedly stepped beyond this agreed and on the 
whole harmless world and into a set of circumstances that were 
completely different and in no way forseeable. 

Mademoiselle was given to having migraine attacks which came with 
tremendous severity; those were the days when I was hard to find. I 
know that whenever father happened to ask for me, the coachman would 
be sent into the park to look, and I wasn't there. From one of the 
upper guest-rooms I could see him running out and calling my name at 
the entrance to the long avenue. These guest rooms ran side by side 
under the gables at Ulsgaard and as we only very seldom had house 
guests these rooms almost always stood empty. Next to them was that 
large corner room that had such a powerful attraction for me. There 
was nothing inside apart from an old bust representing Admiral Juel, I 
think, but the walls were lined all round with dark grey wardrobes, 
with the result that the window had had to be installed in the vacant 
whitened space above them. I had found a key in one of the wardrobe 
doors and it fitted all the others. So, in a short time, I had 
investigated every one: chamberlains' coats from the eighteenth 
century, which were quite cold with their interwoven threads of silver 
and the beautifully embroidered waistcoats that complemented them; the 
official costume of the Order of Danneborg and Elephant Orders, so 
rich and elaborate and the linings so soft to the touch that at first 
you took them to be women's clothes. Then there were the real gowns, 
each on its own, filled out by its hidden hoops and hanging there like 
marionettes from some over-sized puppet show, so unquestionably out of 
date, as if their absent heads were being used for something else. But 
there were wardrobes that were dark when you opened them, dark with 
uniforms which buttoned to the top and looked more worn than all the 



others, as well as looking as if they actually wished they had not 
been preserved. 

No one will find it amazing that I pulled all of them out and leant 
them into the light; that I held this one and that one to me or around 
me; that I hurriedly put on a costume that could be my size more or 
less and, curious and excited, I ran into the next guest room and 
stood in front of the narrow pier-mirror made of assorted pieces of 
green glass. Ah, how I trembled, being there; and how thrilling it was 
to be trembling so. When something drew nearer out of the dimness more 
slowly than me, the mirror didn't, so to speak, believe it and didn't 
want, sleepy as it was, to repeat immediately what I had told it. But 
in the end, of course, it had to. And what was there now was something 
unexpected, unknown, something quite different from what I had 
imagined, something sudden, independent; I swiftly ran my eye over it 
to recognise myself a moment later, not without a certain irony which 
came within a hairsbreadth of ruining all my pleasure. But if I began 
to say things, to bow; if I walked away turning and giving myself a 
vague kind of wave; if I also walked back in a lively and determined 
fashion, then imagination was on my side for as long as I pleased. 

That was the time I got to know the influence that can come directly 
from a particular costume. No sooner had I donned one of them when I 
was forced to admit that it had me in its power; that it dictated my 
movements, the expression of my face, everything that came into my 
mind. My hand that the lace cuff kept falling across was definitely 
not my normal hand; it moved like an actor; I would say it even 
watched itself moving, however exaggerated that sounds. In the 
meantime all this feigning never went so far as to make me feel a 
stranger to myself; on the contrary, the more variations I gave of 
myself the more convinced of myself I became. I grew bolder and 
bolder. I hurled myself higher and higher, for my skill in catching 
myself was beyond all doubt. I didn't notice the temptation that was 
growing rapidly in this self assurance. My undoing didn't come about 
until the last wardrobe. I had never been able to open it before, but 
one day the lock yielded, and in place of known outfits I was afforded 
all sorts of things for masquerades. My cheeks flushed at the whole 
phantastical idea. I couldn't begin to count all that was there. Apart 
from a bautta* that I remember there were dominos in several colours, 
there were ladies ' s skirts that gave a light tinkling sound from the 
coins that were sewn onto them; there were pierrot costumes which 
seemed silly to me, and pleated Turkish pants and Persian fezzes out 
of which slipped small bags of camphor, and there were coronets with 
stupid bland-looking stones. I rather despised all of this; it came 
from such a feeble unreality and hung there so flayed, and 
pathetically flopped together whenever they were dragged out into the 
light. What threw me into a frenzy were the roomy cloaks, the scarves, 
the veils, all those wide, unused, yielding fabrics that were so soft 
and caressing or were so slippery I could hardly keep hold of them, or 
so light they flew past me like a breeze, or were simply heavy 
beneath their whole weight. In them I first saw possibilities that 
were really free and infinitely variable: being a slave-girl about to 
be sold, or Joan of Arc, or an old king, or a sorcerer, all of these 
were now possible, especially since there were masks there as well, 
large threatening or astonished faces with genuine beards and thick or 
raised-high eyebrows. I had never seen masks befor, but I could tell 
straightaway that masks should exist. I couldn't help laughing at the 
thought that we had a dog that looked as if it wore one. I pictured 
his warm eyes that always seemed to be looking out from behind and 
into its own hairy face. I was still laughing as I put the clothes on 
and I entirely forgot what I was supposed to be. Now this was new and 
exciting, leaving my decision intil I was in front of the mirror. The 
face I tied on had a curious hollow smell; it was a tight fit but I 
was able to see through it comfortably, and it was only then I began 
choosing all kinds of fabrics and winding them round my head in the 
shape of a turban, so that the edge of the mask, which reached down 
into an enormous yellow cloak, was almost covered over both on top and 
at the sides. Finally, when I could add nothing more, I considered 
myself amply disguised. I also seized a large staff and let it walk 
beside me at arm's length and hauled myself thus into the guest room 
and up to the mirror. 



It was really magnificent, exceeding all expectations. The mirror 
gave it back to me instantly, it was too convincing. It wouldn't have 
been at all necessary to move much; the apparition was perfect, even 
though it did nothing. But my aim was to learn what I really was, so I 
turned myself round a little and finally lifted up both arms in large 
movements like a sorcerer, which I immediately saw was the only right 
thing to do. However, just at this solemn moment I heard, quite near 
to me and muffled by my disguise, various noises sounding together; I 
was very frightened; I lost sight of the Being over in the mirror and 
I was badly upset when I became aware that I'd knocked over a small 
round table with heaven knows what on it, probably very fragile 
objects. I bent down as best I could and found my worst fears 
confirmed; it looked as if everything had broken in two. The two 
superfluous green-violet porcelain parrots were, of course, each in 
its own spiteful way, smashed to pieces . Sweets had rolled out of a 
jar and they had the silken look of pupating insects; the lid had been 
flung some distance away; I could only see half of it, anyway, the 
rest of it was nowhere to be seen. What annoyed me most, however, was 
a perfume bottle that had smashed into a thousand tiny fragments and 
from which had spurted the remains of some oldish essence or some such 
resulting in the formation on the parquet floor of a stain shaped 
like a very repulsive physiognomy. I dried itonly got darker and more 
unpleasant. I was absolutely desperate. I got up and searched for 
anything I could remedy the situation with. But there was nothing to 
be found. Also I was so hampered in my seeing and moving that rage 
mounted in me against the ridiculous state I was in: it was beyond my 
comprehension. I tugged on everything but it only made my clothes 
tighter. The strings of the cloak were strangling me and the stuff on 
my head pressed down as if there were more and more of it. At the same 
time the air had become muggy as if the o up quickly using something 
or other that was hanging from me, but it oldish vapour from the 
perfume bottle had misted things. 

Hot and furious I dashed in front of the mirror and with some anxiety 
on account of the mask I saw my hands working away. But that's just 
what the mirror had wanted. Its moment of vengeance had come. While I 
was straining, with an increasing feeling of restriction, to somehow 
squeeze myself out of my disguise, the mirror compelled me, I don't 
know what with, to look up and it dictated to me an image, no, 
something real, an alien, incomprehensible, monstrous reality that 
permeated me against my will, for now it was the stronger of us and I 
was the mirror. I stared at this large, terrifying, unknown something 
and it seemed incrediible that I was alone with it. But at the very 
moment I thought the worst had happened: my mind emptied, I wasn't 
there. For a second I had an indescribable achingly futile longing for 
myself because there was then only himt, there was nothing but him. 

I ran off but now it was he who was running. He bumped into everything. 
He wasn't acquainted with the house, he didn't know where to go. He 
tumbled down a flight of stairs, he fell over someone coming along the 
passage who broke free screaming. A door opened, several people came 
out. Ah how good to see recognisable faces. It was Sieversen, dear 
kind Sieversen, and the chambermaid and the servant who looked after 
the silverware; now things would be resolved. But they didn't leap 
forward and save me; their cruelty knew no bounds. They stood there 
and laughed; my God, they could stand there and laugh. I was crying 
but the mask wouldn't let my tears escape, inside they ran across my 
face and dried immediately, and ran again and dried. And eventually I 
knelt down in front of them, as no one had ever done, I knelt and 
lifted up my hands to them and implored them: 'Get me out, if you 
still can and keep me with you, ' but they didn't hear; I had no voice 
left. 

To her dying day Sieversen would tell how I had sunk to the floor and 
how they had gone on laughing thinking it was called for. They'd got 
used to my ways. But then I just went on lying there and hadn't 
answered. And the horror when they eventually discovered that I was 
unconscious, lying there like one of the pieces of cloth, simply a 
piece of cloth. 



Time passed incredibly and all at once it was time again for Dr. 
Jespersen, the Pastor, to be invited. It was a tedious and drawn out 
breakfast for all concerned. Accustomed to the deep piety of the area 
around, and of its deference to him, he was completely out place at 
our house; you could say he was lying on dry land gasping. The gill- 
breathing system he had developed in himself was labouring; bubbles 
were showing and the whole business was not without its dangers. If 
one wished to be exact, fabrics of conversation just weren't there; 
they were remaindered at unbelievable prices : liguidation of all 
stock. When he came to our house Dr. Jespersen had to limit himself to 
being a kind of private individual, but that was exactly what he had 
never been. He had been employed, as far back as he could remember, as 
a soul expert. For him the soul was a public institution of which he 
was a representative and he saw to it that he was never off duty, not 
even in regard to his wife, 'his modest, faithful Rebecca, made 
blessed by bearing children, ' as Lavater put it on a different 
occasion . 

[ Written on the margin of the MS : 

Incidentally, concerning my father: his position in regard to God was 
one of absolute correctness and faultless courtesy. In church it 
sometimes seemed to me as if he were God's Master of the Hunt, 
standing there patiently, and then bowing his head. On the other hand, 
in Mama's eyes it was almost a violation that anyone's relationship to 
God could be based on politeness. If her religion had had customs and 
rituals that were clear and detailed it would have been bliss to her 
to be on her knees for hours on end and to prostrate herself and make 
the sign of the cross with large movements on and around her breast 
and shoulders. She didn't actually teach me to pray, but it was a 
comfort for her that I liked to kneel and put my hands together, 
sometimes with my fingers interlaced, sometimes with my fingers 
upright, whichever seemed to me to be particularly expressive. Quite a 
bit of the time I was left in peace and early on I went through a 
number of phases in my development which I didn't connect with God 
until much later at a time when I was in despair; the connection was 
made with such ferocity that it took shape and shattered almost at the 
same instant. Clearly I needed to begin again right from the 
beginning. And for this beginning I sometimes thought that I had need 
of Mama, though it was better, of course to experience it alone. Also 
by then she had been dead for a long time.] 

Sitting across from Dr. Jespersen Mama could be almost boisterous. She 
would repeatedy get into conversation with him which he took seriously 
and when he then heard himself talking she reckoned she'd done enough 
and suddenly forgot him, as if he'd already gone. 'How can he, ' she 
said sometimes, 'drive around and go into people's homes just as they 
were dying . ' 

He even came to her when that very occasion arose, but she was unable 
to see. Her senses were giving way one after the other, starting with 
her sight. It was in autumn, we should have been moving back to town, 
but just then she fell ill, or rather, she immediately began to die, 
slowly and drearily to wither over the the whole surface of her body. 
The doctors came and on one particular day they were all there 
together and were everywhere in the house. For a few hours it was as 
if it belonged to the Privy Counsellor and his assistants and as if we 
no longer had any say. But straightway after that they all lost 
interest and only came one at a time as if out of simple courtesy, and 
to smoke a cigar and drink a glass of port wine. And in the meantime 
Mama died. 

All we were waiting for was Mama's only brother, Count Christian 
Brahe, who, it will be recalled, had for a while served in the Turkish 
army, where he, we had always been given to understand, had gained 
great distinction. He arrived one morning in the company of an exotic- 
looking servant and I was astonished to see that he was taller than 
my father and apparently older as well. The two men immediately 
exchanged a few words, which, I assumed, related to Mama. There was a 
pause. Then my father said, 'She is very disfigured. ' I didn't 



understand this expression, but it made me shudder when I heard it. I 
had the impression that my father also had had to steel himself before 
he pronounced the words. But it in making this admission it was 
probably his pride above all that suffered. 

Not until several years later did I hear further talk of Count 
Christian. It was at Urnekloster and it was from Mathilde Brahe who 
was fond of speaking of him. I'm sure, however, that she rather 
wilfully embellished the odd episode, for my uncle's life, which the 
public and even our family got to know of only through rumours that he 
never refuted, was entirely open to interpretation. Urnekloster is now 
in his possession. But no one knows if he occupies it. Perhaps he's 
still travelling as he used to; perhaps news of his death is on its 
way here from some far flung part of the world, written by his foreign 
servant in bad English or in some or other unknown tongue. Or perhaps 
this man will give no sign of himself if one day he's left on his own. 
Perhaps both of them disappeared long ago and are on the passenger 
list of a missing ship under names that weren't their own. 

I admit that at Urnekloster in those days whenever a coach drove up I 
always expected to see him step out and my heart would beat in a 
special kind of way. Mathilde Brahe maintained that that was how he 
would come, that it would be so like him to suddenly be there when 
when you least thought it likely. He never did come but my vivid 
imagination was occupied with him for weeks; I had the feeling that we 
owed it to each other to have a link between us and I would have loved 
to know something of his true nature. 

Meanwhile my interest soon shifted and as a result of certain events 
it became wholly centred on Christine Brahe, though I didn't trouble 
myself, oddly enough, to acquaint myself with her circumstances. On 
the other hand I was worried by the thought as to whether or not there 
was likely to be a picture of her in the gallery that I could look at. 
And the desire to find out grew so obsessively and tormentingly that 
for several nights I got no sleep, until, entirely unexpectedly, there 
came the night when, God knows why, I got out of bed and went upstairs 
with my candle, which appeared to be frightened. 

For my part, I had no thought of fear. Anyway, I wasn't thinking, I 
simply went. The high doors yielded so playfully before me and above 
me; the rooms I went through kept themselves very quiet. And finally 
from a waft from far below I noted that I'd entered the gallery. On 
the right side I could feel the windows and the night; on the left had 
to be the pictures. I lifted my candle as high as I could. Yes: there 
were the pictures . 

At first I set about looking only for women's portraits but then I 
quickly spotted one and then another that resembled certain ones 
hanging at Ulsgaard, and when I shone the light from below they moved 
and wanted to come to it; it seemed heartless not to at least to wait. 
Again and again there was Christian IV with his beautiful hair braided 
en cadenette* against the slow curve of his cheek. There were women, 
presumably his wives, of whom I only knew Kirstine Munk; and suddenly 
Mistress Frau Ellen Marsvin was looking at me, wary in her widow's 
attire and with the same string of pearls on the brim of her tall hat. 
There were King Christian's children: ever new ones from new wives, 
the 'incomparable' Eleonore on a white palfrey, in her most glittering 
period before her affliction. The Gyldenl0ves: Hans Ulrik who the 
women in Spain thought painted his face, so filled with blood was he, 
and Ulrik Christian, once seen never forgotten. And almost all the 
Ulf elds . And this one here with one eye painted over black could well 
be Henrik Hoick, who at the age of thirty-three was Imperial Count and 
Field Marshal, and it happened like this: on his way to the demoiselle 
Hilleborg Krafse, it came to him in a dream that instead of a bride he 
was given a naked sword and he took this to heart and turned back and 
began his short, dauntless career that was brought to an end by the 
plague. I knew them all. We also had at Ulsgaard the ambassadors to 
the Congress of Nimwegen, who bore a slight resemblance to one another 
because they had been painted all at the same time, each with the 
thin, trimmed eyebrow of a moustache above the sensual, almost eye-like 
mouth. That I recognised Duke Ulrich goes without saying, and Otte 



Brahe and Claus Daa and Sten Rosensparre, the last of his line; for I 
had seen paintings of them all in the great hall at Ulsgaard or had 
found them portrayed in old folders of copper-plate engravings . 

*strands of hair drawn back each side and 

tied at the back of the neck. 

But there many there I had never seen; and in all only few women, but 
there were children. My arm had long since grown tired and was 
trembling, but time and again I lifted the candle to look at the 
children. I understood them, these little girls who carried a bird on 
their hand and had forgotten it. Sometimes there was a small dog at 
their feet, or a ball lying there and on the table next to them there 
were fruits and flowers; and hanging on a column behind them, small 
and just for the occasion, the coat of arms of the Grubbes or the 
Billes or the Rosenkrantzes . So many things had been stationed round 
them it was as if there was a great deal lot to compensate for. But 
they simply stood there in their fine clothes and waited. I couldn't 
help thinking about the women and about Christine Brahe, and I 
wondered if I would recognise her. 

I was about to run quickly right to the far end and look at them as I 
walked back, but suddenly I bumped against something. I turned round 
with such a start that Erik jumped back and whispered: 'Watch out with 
that candle of yours . ' 

'You here?' I said breathlessly, and I couldn't make out whether this 
was a good thing for me or a very bad one. He just laughed and I had 
no notion of what to do next. My candle fickered and I couldn't 
rightly make out the expression on his face. Most probably his being 
there didn't bode at all well. But then, drawing closer he said: 'Her 
picture isn't here; we're still looking for it upstairs. ' Keeping his 
voice low he used his one movable eye to somehow indicate upwards. I 
took it he meant the attic. But all of a sudden a curious idea came 
into my mind. 

'We?' I asked. 'Is she upstairs then?' 

'Yes', he nodded and stood really close. 

'And she's looking with you?' 

'Yes, we're both looking.' 

'Then the picture has been put away somewhere?' 

'Yes, just imagine, ' he said indignantly. But I couldn't really 
understand what she wanted it for. 

'She wants to see it for herself, ' he whispered, coming even closer. 

'Oh, I see, ' I said, as if I understood. Then he blew out the candle. 
I saw how he stretched forward into the brightness, his eyebrows 
raised high. Then there was darkness. I instinctively stepped back. 

'What are you doing?' I cried out in a parched voice, trying to keep 
myself controlled. He leapt towards me and clung to my arm, giggling. 

'What is it?' I shouted at him trying to shake him off; but he held on 
tightly. I couldn't prevent him putting his arm round my neck. 

'Shall I tell you?' he hissed and a little saliva sprayed into my ear. 

'Yes, yes, quickly.' 

I didn't know what I was saying. Hwas holding me in a complete embrace 

and stretching up. 

'I've brought her a mirror, ' he said, and giggled again. 

' A mi r r o r ? ' 

'Yes, because her picture's not there.' 

'No, no, ' I uttered. 

He suddenly pulled me a little bit closer to the window and pinched my 

upper arm so sharply that I let out a yell. 

'She's not in it, ' he breathed into my ear. 

Automatically I pushed him away; something on him cracked, it seemed 
to me as if I'd broken him. 

'Come on, come on, ' and now it was my turn to laugh, 'Not in it, not 
in what? ' 

'You're stupid, ' he replied angrily, no longer whispering. He pitched 
his voice lower as if he were now starting on a new and unused part of 
it. 'One is either in it, ' he pronounced with a precocious 
sternness, 'in which case one can't be here, or if one is here, one 
can ' t be in it . ' 

'Naturally, ' I answered promptly, without thinking. I was afraid he 
might go off and leave me on my own. I even grabbed at him. 



'Shall we be friends?' I proposed. He wanted to be asked. 

'It's all the same to me, ' he said jauntily. 

I was trying to begin a friendhip with him but I didn't dare put my 

arm round him. 

'Dear Erik, ' was all I could utter and I just touched him lightly 

somewhere. I was suddenly very tired. I looked around. I no longer 

understood how I'd got here and why I wasn't afraid. I didn't rightly 

know where the windows and pictures were. And when we were leaving he 

had to show me the way. 

'They won't hurt you, ' he assured me magnanimously, and giggled again. 



Dear, dear Erik; perhaps you have been, after all, my only friend. For 
I've never had one. It's a pity you didn't care about friendship. 
There are many things I would have loved telling you about. Perhaps we 
would have got along. One can never know. I remember that your 
portrait was being painted at that time. Grandfather had got someone 
to come and paint you. An hour every morning. I can't recall what the 
painter looked like, his name escapes me, though Mathilde Brahe was 
forever repeating it. 

Did he see you as I see you? You wore a suit of heliotrope-coloured 
velvet. Mathilde Brahe was in raptures about that suit. But that 
doesn't matter now. I would simply like to know if he really saw you. 
Let's accept that he was a proper painter. Let's accept that it didn't 
occur to him that you might die before he'd finished, that he didn't 
regard the matter in any sentimental way at all; that he simply 
worked; that the dissimilarity of your two brown eyes delighted him; 
that he was not for one moment embarrassed by the stationary one; that 
he had the tact not to lay on the table by your hand anything which to 
a small degree was supporting it. Let's accept anything else that is 
still necessary, and let's validate it: the portait that's in the 
gallery at Urnekloster, your portrait, the last one there. 

(And when people are leaving, and they've seen them all, there is 
still a little boy there. One moment: who is that? A Brahe. Do you see 
the silver pole on the black field and the peacock feathers? It even 
gives the name: Erik Brahe. Wasn't there an Erik Brahe who was 
executed? Of course, it's pretty well known. But this can't have 
anything to do with that. This boy died when he was still a boy, 
whenever that was. Can't you see that?) 



Whenever anyone paid a visit and Erik was sent for, Fraulein Mathilde 
Brahe always asserted that it was altogether amazing how closely he 
resembled the old Countess Brahe, my grandmother. She was said to have 
been a great lady. I didn't know her. On the other hand I very well 
remember my father's mother, the real mistress of Ulsgaard. For it 
seemed that she always remained such, in that she especially resented 
Mama's coming into the house as the wife of the Master of the Hunt. 
From that moment on, however, she continually acted in a retiring 
manner and referred servants to Mama for trivial things while she 
guietly made the the decisions and gave the instructions relating to 
important matters without being accountable to a single soul. Mama, I 
believe, would not have had it any other way. She was so little suited 
to overseeing a large house; she completely lacked the ability to 
differentiate between what was irrelevant and what was important. The 
moment she was told anything it filled her whole mind and she forgot 
everything else even though it was still there. She never complained 
about her mother-in-law. And to whom could she have complained? Father 
was an extremely respectful son and grandfather always had little to 
say. 

Frau Margarete Brahe had, as far back as I can remember, always been a 
tall, unapproachable old lady. I can't imagine her in any other way 
than as being much older than the Chamberlain. She lived her life in 
our midst without giving a thought to anyone. She didn't depend on any 
of us and always had with her a kind of lady's companion, an ageing 
Countess Oxe, whom, through some favour or other, she had placed under 



a measureless obligation. It must have been a notable exception 
because performing good deeds was not her style. Children she did not 
like, and animals weren't allowed near her. I don't know if there was 
anything she did like. It was said that as a very young girl she had 
been betrothed to the handsome Felix Lichnowski whose life was brought 
to such a horrible end at Frankfurt. In point of fact, after her death 
they found she'd kept a portrait of the Prince, which, if I'm not 
mistaken, they returned to his family. I see now that over the years, 
perhaps, and as a result of the kind of retired country life that had 
evolved at Ulsgaard, she had foregone another brilliant life that had 
been in store for her. It's difficult to say whether she mourned it or 
not. Perhaps she scorned the opportunity that didn't come along, the 
opportunity to live a life that called for skill and talent. She had 
taken all of this so deeply into herself and had attached protective 
coverings to it, a mass of hard, slightly metallic, gleaming 
coverings, whose topmost surface could on any occasion be relied upon 
to present a cool, new look. Admittedely now and then she revealed 
through a naive impatience that not enough attention was being paid to 
her; during my time there, when we were at table, she could suddenly 
make a complicated show of swallowing the wrong way in order to secure 
everyone's sympathy and, at least for a moment or two, allow her to 
appear as sensational and thrilling as she would like to have been in 
the great world. I suspect, however, that my father was the only one 
who took these all too often upsets seriously. Leaning politely 
forward across the table he would watch her, and immediately one could 
feel him mentally offering her his own well behaved windpipe and 
placing it entirely at her disposal. The Chamberlain, of course, had 
likewise also stopped eating. He took a little sip of his wine and 
kept his own counsel. 

At table he had only once held fast to his own opinion as opposed to 
his wife's. That was long ago, yet the story was still retold 
maliciously and in secret; almost everywhere there was someone who 
hadn't heard it. Time was, they say when the Chamberlain's wife would 
work herself into a state about wine stains getting into the 
tablecloth through someone's clumsiness; any such stain, no matter how 
caused, did not escape her notice and drew from her the severest 
rebuke, not to say exposure. This had happened even when several 
famous guests were present. A few innocent stains which she referred 
to in exaggerated terms were the object of her derisive accusations, 
and though grandfather did his level best by means of little signs and 
open banter, she stubbornly persisted with her reproaches--mind you, 
she was to be cut off in mid-sentence. What in fact happened was 
something that had never been done before and was completely 
inconceivable. The Chamberlain had called for the red wine, which had 
just been passed round, and he was now paying very close attention to 
filling his own glass. The only thing was that, strange to tell, he 
didn't stop pouring even though the glass had long been full, but, 
under a growing silence, slowly and carefully he went on pouring until 
Mama, who was never one to hold back, burst out laughing, and with her 
laughter set the whole matter to rights. Now everybody joined in, 
relieved, and the Chamberlain looked up and handed the bottle to the 
servant . 

Later another idiosyncrasy got the better of my grandmother. She 
couldn't bear for anyone in the house to get sick. Once, when the cook 
injured herself my grandmother happened to see her with her hand 
bandaged, and she maintained that the whole house smelt of iodoform, 
and it was hard convincing her that the woman couldn't be dismissed on 
that account. She didn't want to be reminded of being ill. If anyone 
were careless enough in her presence to show the slightest signs of 
being unwell, she regarded it as nothing short of a personal insult 
and would hold it against them for a long time. 

The autumn mama died, the Chamberlain's wife shut herself and Sophie 
off completely, keeping to her rooms and breaking off all contact with 
us. Not even her son was admitted. It's certainly true that this death 
occurred at a most inappropriate time. Rooms were cold, stoves smoked, 
and mice had got back into the house; no place was safe from them. But 
it was more than that. Mistress Margarete Brigge was outraged by the 
fact that Mama was dying; by the fact that there was an item on the 



agenda that she refused to talk about; that the young wife presumed to 
take precedence over her as she herself imagined dying at some time 
that had not yet been determined. For it often passed through her mind 
that she would have to die. But she didn't want to be rushed. She 
would die, of course, when it suited her, and after that they would 
all be free to follow on behind her, if they were in such a tearing 
hurry. 

She never quite forgave us for Mama's death. As it was, she aged very 
quickly over the following winter. When she walked she was as tall as 
ever, but seated she would slump, and she was getting more and more 
hard of hearing. You could sit and stare hard at her for hours 
together and she would be unaware of you. She was somewhere within 
herself; only seldom and for only a few moments did she come back into 
her senses, which were empty, without occupant. Then she would say 
something to the Countess who would straighten her mantilla for her 
and with her large freshly washed hands would touch parts of her dress 
as if water had been spilt on them or as if the dress were not very 
clean. 

She died one night as Spring got near, in town. Sophie Oxe ' s door was 
open but she hadn't heard a thing; when they found her in the morning 
she was as cold as glass . 

Immediately afterwards the Chamberlain's dreadful illness began. It 
was as if he had bided until she had gone so he could die without need 
to consider her. 



It was in the year following Mama's death when Abelone first caught my 
attention. Abelone was there all the time. That was a great 
disadvantage for her. I had observed once before on some occasion or 
other that Abelone was disagreeable and I hadn't given the matter any 
serious thought. Until then it would have appeared to me almost 
ludicrous to ask what reason Abelone had for being there. Abelone was 
there and people made use of her in whatever way they could. But I 
suddenly asked myself: Why is Abelone here? Each one of us had our own 
particular reason even if it was by no means always as evident as, 
say, the usefulness of Miss Oxe. But why was Abelone there? For a 
while people were saying that she should find something that amused 
her. But that got forgotten. Nobody came forward with anything for 
Abelone 's amusement. It was absolutely clear that that she was not 
amusing herself. 

All the same, Abelone had one asset: she sang. That's to say there 
were times when she sang. There was a strong, unwavering music in her. 
If it's true that angels are male, then you could probably say that 
there was something male in her voice, a radiant, divine, maleness . I, 
who even as a child had been so distrustful as regards music (not 
because it lifted me out of myself more powerfully than everything 
else but because it never landed me where it had found me but further 
down, somewhere that was wholly incomplete), I tolerated this music on 
which you could ascend higher and higher until you thought for a while 
that it must be like heaven. I had no inkling then that Abelone was to 
open yet heavens for me. 

At first our relationship consisted in her telling me about Mama's 
girlhood. She attached great importance to convincing me how 
courageous and youthful Mama had been. There was no one, she assured 
me, who could match her in dancing or riding. 'She was the boldest of 
all, and tireless, and then she suddenly went and got married, ' said 
Abelone, still amazed after so many years. 'It happened so 
unexpectedy, no one rightly understood why.' 

I was interested to know why Abelone had not married. To me she seemed 
relatively old and the notion that she might still marry never entered 
my head. 

'There wasn't anyone, ' she replied simply, becoming truly beautiful as 
she spoke. Is Abelone beautiful? I asked myself, surprised. Then I 



left home to go to the Academy for Young Noblemen; it was the start of 
a distasteful and harmful period. But there at Soro whenever I 
separated myself from the others and they let me stand in peace at the 
window I would look out in amongst the trees; and in such moments and 
at night the certainty grew in me that Abelone was beautiful. And I 
started writing her all those letters, lengthy ones and short, many of 
them secret letters in which I thought I was writing about Ulsgaard 
and about my present unhappiness . But, as I see it now, they may well 
have been love letters. For when the vacation came, reluctantly, at 
last, it was as if by agreement that we didn't meet in front of the 
others . 

Absolutely nothing had been agreed upon between us, but when the 
carriage turned into the park I couldn't help getting down, perhaps 
simply because I was unwilling to drive up to the house like some 
stranger. It was already high summer. I ran along one of the paths 
towards a laburnum tree. And there was Abelone. Beautiful, beautiful 
Abelone . 

I don't ever want to forget how it was when you looked at me. How you 
wore your look, offering it as if it were freed from your upturned 
face . 

Ah, wasn't there a change in the climate all around us? At Ulsgaard 
didn't the season grow milder from all our warmth? Are there not now 
particular roses in the park that go on blooming right into December? 

I don't want to talk about you, Abelone. Not because we deceived 
eachother--since, even then, beloved, you loved someone you have never 
forgotten, and I loved all women—but because only harm is done by 
putting it into words. 



There are tapestries here, Abelone, wall-tapestries. I am imagining 
that you're here; six tapestries in all; come, let's walk slowly along 
in front of them. But before that, step back and look at them all 
together. How peaceful they are, aren't they? There's little variation 
in them. See, there's always this oval, blue island floating in the 
muted red background where there are flowers growing and little 
animals busying about. Only there, in the last tapestry, does the 
island rise a little as if it's become lighter. It always has a figure 
on it, a woman in various costumes but always the same form. Sometimes 
there's a smaller figure next to her, a maidservant, and there are 
always animals bearing the coat-of-arms , big animals from the island, 
all of a piece with the rest of the tapestry. To the left a lion and 
to the right, bright, the unicorn; they are holding the same banners 
which can be seen high above them: three silver moons rising in a blue 
band on a red field--did you see it? Shall we begin with the first? 

She is feeding the falcon. How splendid her costume is. The bird is on 
her gloved hand and shifts about. She is looking at the bird and 
putting her other hand into the bowl brought by the maidservant to 
find something for it. Below to the right, a little silken-haired dog 
sits on the train of her dress and is looking up hoping it will be 
remembered. And, have you noticed, a low trellis of roses shuts off 
the island at the rear. The animals bearing the coat-of-arms are 
reared on their hind-legs in heraldic arrogance. The coat-of-arms 
appears again as a cloak enfolding them. A beautiful clasp holds it 
together. The cloak flutters. 

As we move on to the next tapestry isn't our approach instinctively 
more gentle the moment we realize how engrossed she is as she binds a 
garland, a small crown of flowers. Thoughtfully she selects from the 
flat-bottomed cup which the maidservant holds out to her the colour of 
the carnation she will tie in next. Behind her on a bench stands a 
basket of unused roses, unused, that a monkey has found. Now it's to 
be carnations. The lion has grown indifferent but the unicorn on the 
right understands. 

Shouldn't there be music in this stillness? Or was it not already 



there, restrained? Her heavy adornments make no sound as she 
progresses (how slowly, do you see?) to the portable organ and, 
standing, plays, separated by the organ flutes from her maidservant 
who moves the bellows. She has never been so beautiful. It's wondrous 
to see how hair has been brought forward in two plaits and combined 
above the headpiece so that both ends rise out of the knot like a 
short plume of a helmet. The lion, disgruntled, unwillingly endures 
the sounds, biting back its howl. But the unicorn is beautiful, as if 
caught in the rolling waves of music. 

The island broadens out. A tent has been raised. Blue damask flashed 
with gold. The animals part the sides to make an opening, and almost 
plain in her royal apparel she steps forward. What are her pearls 
compared with her? The maidservant has opened a small box and lifts 
from it a necklace, a heavy, magnificent treasure that has always been 
locked away. The little dog sits beside her raised on a seat specially 
provided, and looks on. And have you discovered the motto along the 
top edge of the tent? It reads: 'A mon seul desir.*' 

*to my sole desire 

What has happened? Why is that little rabbit down there jumping? Why 
can you see immediately that it's jumping? Everything is out of joint. 
The lion has nothing to do. The woman is holding the banner herself. 
Or is she holding on to it? With her other hand she has taken hold of 
the unicorn's horn. Is this mourning? Can mourning be so upright? And 
can a mourning dress be as discreet as this one in green-black velvet 
with faded patches showing here and there? 

But we come now to another festival. No one has been invited. 
Expectation has no role to play in it. Everything is there. Everything 
is always. The lion looks around almost menacingly: no one is allowed 
to come. We have never seen her tired before: is she tired? Or has she 
sat down only because she's holding something heavy? You may be 
thinking of a monstrance. But she lowers her other arm towards the 
unicorn and the animal rears its head, flattered, gets to its feet and 
comes and rest its head on her lap. It's a mirror she's holding. Do 
you see: she's showing the unicorn its image--. 

Abelone, I'm imagining you're here. Do you understand, Abelone? I 
think you must understand. 



BOOK TWO 



Now the tapestries of the Dame a la Licorne* are also no longer in 
the old chateau of Broussac. This is the time when everything is 
leaving great houses; they can no longer hang on to anything. Danger 
has become safer than safety. No one from the Delle Viste line walks 
beside us with all that in their blood. They are all gone. No one 
speaks your name, Pierre Aubusson, great Grand Master from an ancient 
house, at whose desire, perhaps, were woven these pictures which 
praise everything and disclose nothing. (Ah, why have poets written in 
a different way about women, written more literally, as they thought. 
It's certain that we weren't allowed to know otherwise.) Now we happen 
to be among others who happen to be here and its almost makes you 
afraid you haven't been invited. But there are some who go past when 
not many are around. Young people scarcely pause unless it's to see, 
with regard to this or that particular feature, what they are 
reguired, by whatever subject, to have seen once. 

*Lady with the Unicorn. 

Occasionally, though, you'll see young girls in front of the 
tapestries. For there are lots of young girls in the museums, girls 
from somewhere or other who have left homes that no longer hold on to 
anything; they find themselves in front of these tapestries and for a 



short while forget about themselves. They've always felt that there 
existed this kind of quiet life whose slowly moving gestures revealed 
not quite all their significance and they dimly recall even thinking 
for a time that such would be their life. Then hurriedly they'd get 
out a sketchbook and begin to draw whatever presented itself: one of 
the flowers or a happy little animal. It didn't matter; they'd already 
been told exactly what they were looking at. And it really doesn't 
matter. Just keep drawing; that's the main thing; because it's for 
this they'd left home one day, rather stormily. They're from good 
families. But whenever they lift their arm as they're drawing you can 
see that their dress isn't buttoned at the back, or, at least, not all 
the way. There are a few buttons they can't reach. That's because when 
the dress was made there was not yet any talk of their suddenly 
leaving home, alone. In families you always find there's someone who 
sees to buttons like these. But here, dear God, who should waste their 
time doing that in such a big city? You'd need a friend; but friends 
are all in the same boat and what it comes down to is buttoning up 
each other's dress. Which is ridiculous and reminds you of your 
family, and that's what you don't want. 

Now and then while they're drawing they can't avoid thinking whether 
or not it might have been possible after all to remain at home. If one 
could only have been religious, devoted, in step with the rest. But it 
would look foolish to be trying to be the same as everyone else, would 
look foolish. The path has somehow become narrower. Families are no 
longer able to turn to God. What remains is only various alternative 
ways, if need be, in which to share things. But what happened when 
sharing was honest was that each individual received so little it was 
a disgrace. And if there was cheating in the sharing-out, quarrels 
broke out. No, it's better to draw whatever you're drawing. In time 
you'll achieve a likeness. And with Art, if you take it bit by bit, 
the result will be really quite enviable. 

And so, putting all their effort into the task they have set 
themselves these young girls forgo any longer view. They don't notice 
how in everything they draw they are doing nothing other than 
suppressing inside themselves the immutable life that in these woven 
pictures radiantly opens up before them. They are not willing to 
believe it. Now, when so much is changing, they too want to change. 
They're very close to giving up on themselves and to thinking about 
themselves in the way that how men might speak of them in their 
absence. This seems progress to them. Already they're almost persuaded 
that you search for one pleasure and then another and then an even 
greater one: that life consists in this, if you don't want to lose it 
through some kind of silliness. They've already begun to look around, 
to search; they whose strength has always resided in being found. 

That, I believe, is a result of being tired. For untold centuries they 
have seen to the whole business of love. They have played the entire 
dialogue--both parts. For the man has simply repeated the words, 
badly. And he has made their shared learning difficult with his 
distractedness , with his thoughtlessness, with his jealousy, which 
itself was a kind of thoughtlessness. On the other hand women have 
persevered day and night and have increased their love and their 
misery. And from among them them, under the pressure of endless needs, 
have arisen women, powerful in their love who, even while they called 
out for the man had surpassed him, and outgrew him when he did not 
return, like Gapara Stampa or the Portuguese nun, both of whom did not 
cease until their agony swung round to become a bitter, icy splendour 
that could no longer be confined. We know about each of these women 
because there are letters that have been preserved as if by a miracle 
and books containing poems of reproach and lament, and portraits in a 
gallery that look at us with an expression that betokens tears, which 
the artists succeeded in catching because they didn't know what it 
was . But there have been countless more of them, such as those who 
have burnt their letters, and others who had no strength left to write 
them. Old women who had become hardened but had a precious core within 
them which they concealed. Women who have grown stout and shapeless 
from fatigue let themselves resemble their husbands, though inside 
them where love had been at work in the dark, all was different. 
Child-bearing women who never wanted to bear children and who 



eventually perished in their eighth delivery still had the actions and 
lightness of girls looking forward to love. And those who stayed with 
men who were violent or who were drunkards had found inwardly the 
means to keep at the greatest distance from them coulddn't help 
shining as if they were perpetually surrounded by saints . Who can say 
how many such women there were or who they were. It's as if they've 
gone on ahead and destroyed all the words that could help others 
understand . 

But now when so much is changing isn't it for us to change as well? 
Couldn't we try in some small way to develop and contribute our 
efforts slowly, little by little to the task of loving. We have been 
spared all the hardship which is why it has slipped in among our 
amusements in the way that a piece of genuine lace can sometimes fall 
into a child's toy-drawer and can take his fancy or cease to, and can 
finally lie there among the toys that have been broken or taken apart, 
in a worse state than them all. Though we're looked on as experts, 
like all dilettants we've been spoiled by shallow pleasures. But what 
if we were to despise our successes. What if we were to begin right 
from the beginning to learn how love works, something that has always 
been done for us. What if we went ahead and became beginners, now that 
much is changing. 



now I also know what was happening when Mama unrolled the short 
lengths of lace. You see, she'd taken one of the single drawers from 
Ingeborg's secretaire to use herself. 

'Shall we have a look at them, Malte?' she would say happily as if 
everything in the little yellow lacquered drawer were being given to 
her as a present. And then from sheer anticipation she'd find it 
impossible to unfold the wrapping tissue. I had to do it every time. 
But I became quite excited when the pieces appeared. They were wound 
round a wooden spindle that was completely hidden beneath all of the 
lace. And then we would slowly unwind them and watch the patterns 
unrolling, and we were a little startled each time one of them ended. 
They stopped so suddenly. 

First came selvedges of Italian handiwork, sturdy pieces with drawn 
threads in which everything was repeated just as you see in a 
peasant's garden. Then a whole run of Venetian needlepoint suddenly 
latticed our view as if we were cloisters or jails. But it cleared 
again and we saw deep into gardens that became more and more 
artificial until everything was dense and warm to the eyes as in a 
greenhouse: magnificent plants that were new to us spread out their 
giant leaves, tendrils reached out and grasped one another as if they 
were dizzy, and the large open blooms of the Points d'Alencon made 
everything blurred. Suddenly, quite tired and muddled, we stepped into 
the long panel of Valenciennes lace where it was early on a winter's 
morning and all white with hoar frost. We pushed our way through the 
snowcovered bushes of Binche and came to places no one had ever 
visited; the branches hung down so curiously there could well have 
been a grave beneath them, but we hid that thought from each other. 
The cold pressed in on us more and more and when at last we got down 
to the small and altogether delicate Kloppel lace Mama said, ' now 
we'll get frost flowers on our eyes. ' Which is what happened, because 
for us, inwardly, it was very warm. 

As we were rolling up the pieces of lace we both sighed; we were a 
long time at the task, but we didn't want to entrust it to anyone 
else. 'Just think, if we'd had to make them, ' said Mama looking 
positively frightened. That was something I couldn't imagine that at 
all. I caught myself thinking of little animals constantly spinning 
and being left in peace so they'd get on with it. No, they'd been 
women, of course. 

'The women who made them are certain to have gone to heaven, ' I said 
admiringly. It occurred to me, I remember, that I hadn't asked about 
heaven for a long time. Mama gave out a breath, the spindles were back 
together . 



After a while when I had already forgotten about it, she said very 
slowly: 'To heaven? I think they're definitely there. If one looks at 
it in that light it can well be an eternal bliss . We know so little 
about it . ' 



Often when we had visitors mention was made that the Schulins were 
economising. The big old manor-house had burnt down a few years before 
and they were now living in the two narrow wings, and were making that 
do. But hospitality was in their very blood. They couldn't give it up. 
If anyone arrived at our house unexpectedly, they would probably come 
from the Schulins, and if someone suddenly glanced at the clock and 
had to dash off in a fright, you could be certain they were expected 
at Lystager. 

Mama never really went out any more, but that was something the 
Schulins couldn't understand. There was no alternative but to drive 
over to them. It was in December, after a few early falls of snow; the 
sleigh was ordered for three 3 o'clock and I was to go with them. Not 
that we were ever a punctual. Mama didn't like the carriage to be 
announced and most times she came down far too early. Finding no one 
there she would always remember something she should have done a long 
time before, and upstairs somewhere she would start searching for or 
arranging things with the result that she could be difficult to find. 
Eventually we'd all be standing waiting. And when she was at last 
seated and wrapped up, it would appear that something had been 
forgotten and Sieversen had to be called because only Sievensen knew 
where it was . But then we would suddenly drive off before Sievensen 
came back. 

That day the weather never brightened at all. The trees stood about in 
the mist as if they didn't know which way to go. And there was 
something cocksure in the way we drove driving among them. In between 
times the snow fell again silently and now it was as if the very last 
trace of everything had been erased and we were travelling into a 
blank page. All you could hear was the ringing of the sleighbells but 
you couldn't tell exactly from which direction it was coming. Then 
came the moment when it stopped; it was as if the last bell had 
jingled and then they'd all gathered again to give out the fullness of 
their combined sound. We could well have imagined the church steeple 
as being on our left. But the edge of the park suddenly appeared high, 
almost above our heads and we found ourselves in the avenue. The sound 
of the sleighbells no longer faded away; it seemed to hang from the 
trees right and left in clusters . Then we swung in and drove round 
something and past something else and halted in the middle. 

Georg had completely forgotten that the house wasn't there and for a 
moment we all thought the same. We went up the steps that led to the 
old terrace and were simply amazed that it was so dark. All of a 
sudden to the left below and behind us a door opened and someone 
shouted: 'Over here! 'and held up a hazy lamp and swung it from side to 
side. My father laughed: 'We're rising up around here like ghosts, 'and 
helped us back down the steps. 

'But there was a house here just now, ' said Mama and wasn't 
particularly swift in adjusting her mood to Wjera Schulin who, warm 
and laughing, had come running out to us. At that point, we had, of 
course, to go guickly inside, which left no more time for thinking 
about the house. We left our coats in a narrow vestibule and then 
suddenly we were among lights and facing a warm fire. 

These Schulins were a redoubtable line of independent women. I don't 
know if there were any sons. I only remember three sisters. The eldest 
had been married to a Marchese in Naples from whom she was now 
obtaining a divorce, slowly on account of many lawsuits. Then came Zoe 
of whom it was said there was nothing she didn't know. And first and 
foremost there was Viera, warm Viera; God knows what has become of 
her. The Countess, a Narischkin, was really the fourth sister, and in 
certain respects the youngest. She had no kwowledge of anything and 



had to be instructed by her children constantly. And Count Schulin, 
good fellow, felt as if he were married to all these women and went 
around kissing them as the occasion presented itself. 



The moment we began to enter he laughed out loud and bid each one of 
us welcome. I was passed around the ladies who touched me and asked me 
questions. But it was my firm intention, when that was over, to 
somehow slip away and look around outside for the house. I was 
convinced it was there that day. Getting out was not so difficult; 
like a dog I scurried along beneath all the clothes and through the 
door that was standing ajar into the lobby. But once there I found the 
the outside door wouldn't budge. There were various devices, chains 
and bolts that in my haste I couldn't deal with. Suddenly the door 
actually opened, but it made a loud noise and before I could get 
outside I was seized and pulled back. 

'Stop. There's no running away from here, ' said an amused Viera 
Schulin. She bent down to me and I was determined not to say a word to 
this warm person. But when I said nothing she took it to mean that a 
call of nature had driven me to the door; she caught hold of my hand 
and without further ado she started to haul me away with the half- 
confidential half-lofty notion of taking me with her to some place or 
other. This intimate misunderstanding did more than hurt my feelings. 
I tore my hand away and looked at her angrily. 'I want to see the 
house, ' I said proudly. She didn't understand. 

'The big house outside at the steps. ' 

'You silly' she said making a grab at me. 'There's no house there any 
more. ' I insisted there was. 

'We'll go and look sometime during the day ' she suggested, giving 
way. 'We can't go crawling around out there now. There are holes there 
and right behind are Papa's fish-ponds which aren't allowed to freeze 
over. Fall in there and you'll turn into a fish. ' 

With that she pushed me along in front of her, back into the brightly 
lit rooms. They were all sitting talking and I ran my eyes along the 
row: they only go there, of course, when the house isn't there, I 
thought scornfully; if Mama and I lived here it would be there all the 
time. While the others were all speaking at the same time Mama looked 
preoccupied. She was bound to be thinking about the house. 

Zoe' sat down beside me and asked me questions. From time to time her 
face with its well ordered features would register new insights, as if 
she were constantly perceiving things. My father was seated leaning 
somewhat towards his right listening to the Marchesa who was laughing. 
Count Schulin was standing between Mama and his wife and was 
recounting something. But I saw the Countess interrupting him in mid- 
sentence . 

'No, child, you're imagining it, ' said the Count good naturedly, but 
suddenly he had the same troubled look on his face, which he stretched 
forward above the two ladies . The Countess was not to be deflected 
from her so-called imagining. She looked very strained like someone 
who doesn't want to be disturbed. With her soft, ring-laden hands she 
was making dismissive gestures when someone said ' shsh ' and suddenly 
there was total silence. 

From behind the people in the room the large objects that had come 
from the old house were pressing in far too close. The heavy family 
silver gleamed and bulged as if it were being viewed through a 
magnifying glass. My father looked around disconcertedly . 

'Mama can smell something, 'said Viera Schulin behind him. 'We must all 
be quiet; she smells with her ears. ' But she herself was standing 
there eyebrows raised, attentive, all nose. 

The Schulins in this particular matter had been a bit odd since the 
fire In the narrow, overheated rooms a smell could arise at any 
moment, and then it would be checked and each person would give their 
opinion. Zoe, practical and conscientious, tackled the stove; the 



Count went round, stood in each corner for a little while and waited; 
'Nothing here, ' he would then say. The Countess had got to her feet 
but didn't know where to look. My father turned slowly about as if he 
had the smell behind him. The Marchesa, who had immediately taken it 
to be a nasty smell held her handkerchief over nose and looked from 
one person to another to see if it had gone. 'Here, here' Viera called 
out from time to time as if she had found it. And around each word 
there was a curious silence. For my part I had diligently sniffed 
about like the rest. But all at once (was it the heat of the room or 
the proximity of so many lights?) and for the first time in my life I 
was overcome by something resembling the fear of ghosts. It became 
clear to me that all these recognisably grown up people who just a 
short time ago had been talking and laughing were going round back 
bent busying themselves with something invisible, and that they were 
admitting they couldn't see the something that was there. And what was 
terrifying was the fact that it was stronger than all of them. 

My fear increased. I felt as if what they were looking for could 
suddenly break out on me like a rash, and then they would see it and 
point at me. In utter despair I looked across at Mama. She was sitting 
curiously erect as she often did and she seemed to be waiting for me. 
Scarcely had I sat down beside her and sensed that she was trembling 
inside when I knew that the house just then was starting to die away 
again. 

'Malte, you sissy, ' came a laugh from somewhere. It was Viera' s voice. 
But we didn't let go of each other and together we saw it through; and 
we stayed like that, Mama and I, until the house had once more 
entirely vanished. 



It was birthdays that were richest in experiences that verged on the 
incomprehensible. You already knew, of course, that Life was happy to 
make no distinction between days; but on this day you got up feeling 
you had a right to joy, a right that was not open to doubt. The feeling 
that you possess this right probably takes hold within very early and 
at the time when you grasp at everything and clearly get everything, 
when, with an unerring power of imagination you enhance the things 
you already cherish with the same primary-coloured intensity that 
already governs your new desires. 

But then suddenly those strange birthays come along when you're fully 
and confidently aware of this right but you see others becoming 
unsure. You would probably still like to have someone dress you as 
they did before and then accept everything that came along. But you're 
hardly awake before someone outside shouts that the cake hasn't 
arrived yet, or you hear something smash as the presents are being 
arranged on a table in the next room, or somebody comes in and leaves 
the door open with the result that you see all the presents before you 
should. That's the moment when something like an operation is 
performed on you. A short, terribly painful incision. But the hand 
that does it is practised and steady. It's soon over. And hardly is it 
finished before you stop thinking about yourself; what's needed is for 
you to rescue the birthday by observing the others and forestalling 
their mistakes, and confirming them in their illusion that they're 
coping splendidly. They don't make it easy. They prove to be 
unimaginably clumsy, almost mindless. They manage to come along with 
presents intended for other people; you run to meet them and then you 
have to act as if you were just running around the room for exercise, 
not for anything special. They want to surprise you and with a very 
superficial imitation of expectation they lift up the bottommost layer 
inside the gift-box where there's nothing but cotton wool; then you 
have to ease their embarrassment. Or, if its something mechanical 
they've given you, they ruin it on the first try by overwinding it. 
That's why it's a good idea to have practised beforehand by 
overwinding a mouse or some similar toy and pushing it along 
discreetly with your foot; this way you can often deceive them so as 
to help them over their shame. 

In the end you'll have done everything asked of you and without any 



special talent. Talent is only really necessary if someone has taken a 
lot of trouble and, displaying self-importance and good-humour, has 
brought you a joy and even from a distance you could see that it was a 
joy for someone quite different from you, a completely alien joy. 

It must have been before my time when people knew, really knew, how to 
tell a story. I've never heard anyone telling one. Every time Abelone 
spoke to me about Mama's youth, it was clear she couldn't narrate. Old 
Count Brahe could, though. I want to write down what she said about 

that. 

There must have been a period in Abelone ' s young life when her own 
emotionality was far from confined. That was when the Brahes lived in 
town in the Bredgade and did a fair amount of entertaining. When she 
went up to her room late in the evening, she would think she was tired 
like the others. But then all at once she would feel the window and-- 
if I've understood rightly--she could stand facing the night for hours 
on end, thinking: this is about me. 'I stood there like a prisoner, ' 
she said, 'and the stars were freedom. ' Then she had no difficulty 
going to sleep. The expression 'to fall asleep' ill matches this year 
of her girlhood. Sleep was something that rose with you , and from 
time to time you opened your eyes and lay on a new surface that was 
still far from being the topmost one. And then you were up before 
daybreak, even in winter when the others would come sleepily and late 
to breakfast. Of an evening when it grew dark there were always only 
candles for the whole household, candles for sharing. But the two 
candles that were lit very early in the new darkness, giving 
everything a fresh start— those candles you had to yourself. They 
stood in their low two-branched candlestick and shone peacefully 
through the small, oval, tulle lampshades painted with roses that now 
and then had to be reset. That didn't disturb anything; for one thing 
you were in no hurry whatsoever, and for another there were the times 
you needed for looking upwards and reflecting when you were writing a 
letter or making an entry in the diary you'd started once when your 
handwriting was completely dif f erent--timid, beautiful. 

Count Brahe lived quite separate from his daughters. He considered it 
sheer delusion when anyone claimed to be sharing their lives with 
others. ('Sharing, you say..., ' he would remark) But he didn't find it 
unwelcome to hear people talking of his daughters: he would listen 
attentively as if they lived in a different town. 

It was, then, quite extraordinary when one morning after breakfast he 
beckoned Abelone to him: 'We have the same habits, it seems: I too 
write very early in the morning. You can help me.' Abelone remembered 
it as if it were yesterday. 

The very next morning she was led into her father's reputedly 
inaccessible study. She didn't have time to take a close look at the 
room as she was immediately given a seat facing the Count across his 
writing table which seemed to her like a plain with books and piles of 
paper as villages . 

The Count dictated. Those who maintained that Count Brahe was writing 
his memoirs weren't entirely wrong. Only, these didn't deal with his 
political and military reminiscences that were eagerly awaited. 'I 
forget them, ' the old gentleman would say curtly when anyone dropped a 
hint in that direction. But what he didn't want to forget was his 
childhood. He held on to it. And in his way of thinking it was quite 
in order for his very distant past to have control of him now, and for 
him to turn his gaze inward where it lay as in a northern summer 
night, intensified and unsleeping. 

Sometimes he would spring to his feet and speak into the candle 
flames, causing them to flicker. Or he would order whole sentences to 
be crossed out yet again; then he would pace violently up and down, 
his nile green silk dressing gown billowing. Throughout all this there 
was one other person present: Sten, the Count's old Jutlander valet 
whose job it was when grandfather jumped up was to put his hands on 
top of the loose sheets of paper, covered with notes, that lay around 
on the desk. His Grace entertained the notion that modern paper was 



worthless, being much too light so that, given the least opportunity, 
it would fly away. And Sten, whose long upper half was all you saw of 
him shared this distrust and appeared to sit on his hands, blind in 
daylight and solemn as an owl. 

This Sten spent his afternoons reading Swedenborg and none of the 
other servants would ever have cared to go into his room because, so 
it was said, he was in communion with the dead. Sten's family had 
always sought contact with spirits and Sten had been marked out for 
this kind of communication. His mother had seen an apparition the 
night she gave birth to him. Sten had big round eyes and the other end 
of his vision lay behind the person he was looking at. Abelone's 
father often asked after spirits the same way you'd ask after 
relatives: 'Are they coming, Sten?' he would ask kindly. 'It's good if 
they come . ' 

For a few days the dictation continued. But then Abelone couldn't 
spell ' Eckernf orde . ' It was a proper noun but she'd never heard it 
before. The Count who, truth to tell, had been looking quite some time 
for an excuse to abandon the writing which was too slow for his 
memories, made out he was loath to continue. 

'She can't write it, ' he said harshly, 'and others won't be able to 
read it. So will they see what I'm getting at?' he continued angrily, 
not taking his eyes off Abelone. 

'Will they see this Saint-Germain?, ' he shouted at her. 'Did we say 
Saint-Germain? Cross it out. Write: The Marquis von Belmare. ' 

Abelone crossed it out and wrote. But the Count went on speaking so 
fast that no one could have kept up with him. 

'Splendid man, Belmare; couldn't stand children but he took me on his 
knee, little as I was, and I took it into my head to bite his diamond 
buttons. That delighted him. He laughed and lifted my head so that we 
were looking into each other's eyes: 'You've got excellent teeth, ' he 
said, 'teeth to tackle anything ...' --But I was looking closely at his 
eyes. I've travelled around since that time. I've seen all kinds of 
eyes, but, believe me: never again eyes like those. For these eyes to 
see anything it needn't be there, it was already within them. You've 
heard of Venice? Good. I tell you, those eyes would have brought 
Venice into this room, and Venice would have been here, just as this 
desk is here. I was once sitting in the corner listening as he told my 
father about Persia: sometimes I think my hands still carry the smell 
of it. My father held him in high esteem, and His Highness the 
Landgrave was something along the lines of a pupil of his. But there 
were, of course, plenty of people who took it amiss that he believed 
in the past only when it was inside him. What they couldn't grasp was 
that stuff only makes sense if you're born with it.' 

'Books are empty, ' shouted the Count making a furious gesture at the 
wall, 'Blood, that's what matters; it's in there we have to be able to 
read. ' This Belmare had wondrous stories in his with remarkable 
pictures; he could open the book where he wanted, there was always 
something written there; no page in his blood had been skipped. And 
from time to time when he locked himself away and leafed through it on 
his own he came to the passages on alchemy and precious stones and 
colours. Why shouldn't all that have been left in? They're certainly 
somewhere . 

'This man would have had no trouble living with a truth, if he'd been 
on his own. But it was no small matter being alone with a truth like 
this. And it would offend his good taste to invite people to visit him 
on account of his truth; he didn't want his Lady to be an object of 
gossip: he was far too much an oriental in that regard. 'Adieu, 
Madame ', he said truthfully, 'until a different time. Perhaps in a 
thousand years one will be stronger and more undisturbed. Your beauty, 
Madame, is only now revealing itself, ' he said and it wasn't merely a 
compliment. And with that off he went and established his zoo for 
people to visit, a kind of Jardin d ' Acclimatation for the larger 
species of lies which we had never yet seen and a palm-house for 



exaggerations and a small well-tended fig grove of false secrets. 
People came from all around and he strolled about with diamond buckles 
on his shoes and was totally at the service of his guests. 

'A shallow existence: how? Basically it was a token of chivalry for 
his lady, as well as being a boon for his lengthening years. ' 

For a while the old gentleman had nothing more to say to Abelone whom 
he had forgotten. He paced madly back and forth and cast challenging 
glances at Sten as if Sten at any given moment would transform himself 
into the man he was thinking of. But Sten was not going to transform 
himself yet. 

'He had to be seen, ' the Count persisted crazily. 'Time was when he 
was perfectly visible although in many towns and cities the letters he 
received were addressed to no one: they just had the name of the place 
on them, nothing else. But I saw him. 

'He wasn't handsome. ' The Count gave a peculiar hurried laugh. 'He 
wasn't even what people call distinguished or refined, there were 
always more refined-looking men around him. He was rich: but to him it 
was simply a sort of notion that couldn't be relied on. He was well- 
built, although other men looked after themselves better. In those 
days, of course, I couldn't judge whether or not he was intellectually 
stimulating or this or that which showed him to be a man of worthy 
qualities— but he was . ' 

The Count, trembling, stood there and made a movement as if he were 
positioning something in space and leaving it there. At this point he 
became aware of Abelone. 

'Do you see him?' he barked at her. And suddenly he seized one of the 
silver candlesticks and shone it blindingly in her face. Abelone 
remembered she'd seen him. 

Over the next few days Abelone was summoned regularly and the 
dictation, after the incident, went on much more smoothly. Drawing 
from all kinds of documents the Count was compiling his earliest 
memories of the Bernstorff circle in which his father had played a 
certain role. Abelone was now so accustomed to the peculiarities of 
her work that those who saw them working could easily take their 
purposeful collaboration for a genuine closeness. 

Once, as Abelone was about to leave, the old gentleman walked up to 
her and it was as if he were holding a surprise behind his back: 
'Tomorrow we'll write about Julie Reventlow, ' he said and, savouring 
his words, added: 'She was a saint. ' 

Presumably Abelone looked at him in disbelief. 

'Yes, yes, there's still all that, ' he insisted, as if issuing an 
order, 'there's all that, Countess Abel. ' He took hold of Abelone's 
hands and opened them like a book. 

'She had the stigmata, ' he said, 'here and here. ' And he gave a hard 
sharp tap on each palm. 

Abelone didn't know the term 'stigmata' . It'll become clear, she 
thought; she was very impatient to hear about the saint whom her 
father had actually seen. But she wasn't sent for again, not on the 
next morning, nor later. — 

'Countess Raventlow was often spoken of in your family, ' Abelone 
concluded tersely when I asked her to tell me more. She looked tired; 
she also claimed to have forgotten most of it. 'But sometimes I still 
feel the two marks, ' she said with a smile, and she couldn't stop 
smiling as she looked almost with curiosity into her empty hands . 



Even before my father's death everything had changed. Ulsgaard was no 
longer in our possession. My father died in town in an apartment that 
seemed to me hostile and disconcerting. At the time I was living 
abroad and I arrived too late. 

He was laid out on a bier between two rows of high candles in a room 
that looked out onto a courtyard. The smell of the flowers was an 
unintelligible medley like a lot of different voices all at the same 
time. His handsome face with the eyes closed had the expression of 
someone obligingly trying to cast his mind back. He was in the uniform 
of the Master of the Hunt, but for some reason or other the white 
ribbon had been put on instead of the blue. His hands were not folded, 
they lay crosswise and looked meaningless, like copies of hands. I'd 
been hastily informed that he had suffered a great deal: none of that 
was evident. His features had been tidied like the furniture of a room 
that a guest has vacated. I felt as if I'd seen him dead rather often; 
I was so familiar with it all. 

Only the surroundings were, in an unpleasant way, new to me. This 
oppressive room was new, having windows opposite, very likely other 
people's windows. It was new to have Sieversen coming in from time to 
time and doing nothing. Sieversen had grown old. I was expected to 
have breakfast. Breakfast was announced several times. I couldn't 
possibly face breakfast breakfast that morning. I didn't notice that 
they wanted to get me out of the room; eventually, because I hadn't 
gone, Sieversen somehow made it known that the doctors had arrived. I 
had no idea what for. There was still something left to do, Sieversen 
said, and looked intently at me with her eyes strained and reddened. 
Then in came, rather precipitately, two gentlemen: the doctors. The 
first one lowered his head with a jerk, as if he had horns and 
intended to butt me, but in fact it was so that he could view us over 
his glasses, first Sieversen, then me. 

He bowed with the formality of a student. 'The Master of the Hunt had 
one more wish, 'he said in the same manner as when he had entered; 
again I had the feeling he was approaching things headlong. I somehow 
made it necessary for him to direct his gaze through the glasses. His 
colleague was a chubby, thin-skinned blond man; it occurred to me that 
it would be easy to make him blush. A pause. It was strange that the 
Master of the Hunt still had wishes . 

For no reason I glanced again at that handsome well-proportioned face. 
And I knew that he wanted certainty. That basically was what he had 
always wanted. Now it was to be his. 

'You are here to perforate the heart; please go ahead. ' 

I bowed and stepped back. The two doctors then bowed simultaneously 
and began straighaway to confer. Someone was already moving the 
candles aside. But the elder one of the doctors again took a couple of 
steps towards me. He saved himself the last part of the way by 
stopping at a certain spot and craning forward; he looked at me 
angrily. 

'It is not necessary, ' he said, 'that is, I think it is better if 
you . . . ' 

He seemed sloppy and shabby in his thriftily hurried posture. I bowed 
once more; it just happened, my bowing again. 

'Thank you, ' I said curtly, 'I shan't disturb you. ' 

I knew I could bear this and there was no reason for me to withdraw. 
It had to be. It lent reason to everything there. Besides, I had never 
seen what it was like when someone is pierced through the heart. It 
seemed the right thing to do not to turn down such an out of the 
ordinary experience when it arose as a matter of course. Already at 
that time I no longer actually believed in disappointments, so there 
was nothing to be afraid of. 

No, no, there's nothing in the world that we can imagine, not the 



least thing. It's because everything is composed of so many single 
details that are unforeseeable. We ignore them in the hurry of using 
our imagination, so we don't know they're missing. But realities are 
slow and indescribably detailed. 

Who would have thought, for example, of this resistance? Hardly had 
the broad, high breast been exposed when the hurried little man found 
the relevant spot. But the swiftly applied instrument didn't go in. I 
had the feeling that all time was suddenly gone from the room. We 
could have been in a painting. Then time came plunging back with a 
faint gliding sound and there was more of it than we could use. 
Suddenly there was a tapping sound. I'd not heard tapping like that 
before: a warm, reserved double tapping. My hearing transmitted it and 
at the same time I saw that the doctor had pushed through to the 
bottom. But it took a while before the two impressions combined in me. 
Right, I thought, it's through. As far as the tempo was concerned the 
tapping was almost gloating. 

I looked at the doctor whom I had now known for such a long time. No, 
he was in complete command of himself: a gentleman working briskly and 
objectively who had to leave almost rightaway. There wasn't a trace of 
pleasure or satisfaction about him. Only, on his left temple a few 
hairs were standing up out of some kind of ancient instinct. He 
carefully withdrew the instrument which left behind something like a 
mouth from which twice in succession blood emerged as if the mouth 
were saying something in two syllables. The young blond doctor 
absorbed it in his wad of cotton. And now the wound remained quiet, 
like a closed eye. 

I assume I bowed once more, though without paying attention this time. 
I was astonished, to say the least, to find myself alone. The uniform 
had been straightened with the white ribbon lying across it as before. 
But now the Master of the Hunt was dead, and not he alone. Now our 
heart, the heart of our race, was bored through. All gone. Thus the 
shattering of the helmet: 'Today Brigge and nevermore, ' a voice in me 
said . 

I wasn't thinking of my own heart. And when it came to me later, I 
knew for the first time and with complete certainty that there was 
nothing that linked me with it. It was an individual heart. It was 
already beginning from the beginning. 

I know I'd imagined I couldn't depart straightaway. First, I told 
myself, everything had to be put in order. As to what had to be put in 
order I wasn't quite sure. There was virtually nothing to be done. I 
walked around town and detected a definite change in everything. I 
found it pleasant to step out of the hotel where I was staying and see 
that it was now a city for grownups and that it was putting on its 
best front for me almost as if for a stranger. Everything had become 
that little bit smaller and I strolled Langelinie out as far as the 
lighthouse and then back again. As chance would have it, when I 
entered the Amaliengade district there came from I don't know where 
something I'd recognised years before, something that was trying to 
exert power over me once more. All around there were certain corner- 
windows or archways or street lamps that knew a great deal about one 
and were threatening one with it . I looked them in the face and made 
them feel I was staying at the Hotel Phoenix and could leave at any 
moment. But it troubled my conscience. The suspicion arose in me that 
none of those influences and connections had really yet been dealt 
with. Indistinct as they were I'd one day abandoned them secretly. 
Even one's childhood would still, as it were, need completing if one 
didn't want to give it up as lost forever. And while I understood how 
I had lost it, I felt at the same time that I would never have 
anything else to put in its place. I spent a few hours every day in 
Dronningens Tva^rgade in the cramped rooms that looked insulted, as do 
all rented rooms where someone has died. I walked back and forth 
between the desk and the big white-tiled stove burning the Master of 
the Hunt's papers. I'd begun by throwing the correspondence, already 
in bundles, in the fire but the bundles were tied too tightly and 
simply charred at the edges. It was a tussle working them loose. Most 
of them had a strongly persuasive smell that forced its way into me as 



if it wanted to stir my memories. I didn't have any. Then some 
photographs, heavier than the others happened to slip out; these 
photographs took took an unbelievably long time to burn. I don't know 
why but I suddenly imagined Ingeborg's picture to be among them. But 
whenever I looked I saw mature, splendid, distinctly beautiful wowen, 
and they took my thoughts elsewhere. That was proof enough that I 
wasn't entirely without memories. It had been in exactly such eyes as 
these that I, a growing boy, had sometimes seen myself when I crossed 
the street with my father. From inside a carriage they could surround 
me with a glance that I could barely shake off. I now know that they 
were comparing me with my father and that the result was not in my 
favour. Certainly not, the Master of the Hunt had no cause to fear 
comparisons . 

It may be I know something that he was afraid of. I'll tell how I made 
this assumption . There was a piece of paper that had lain folded for a 
long time deep in his wallet and was now crumbly and broken at its 
corners. I read it before I burnt it. It was in his finest hand, firm 
and even, but I noticed rightaway that it was only a copy. 

'Three hours before his death, ' so it began, and it concerned 
Christian IV. Of course I can't repeat the contents word for word. 
Three hours before his death he wished to leave his bed. The doctor 
and the valet, Wormius, helped him to his feet. He was a little 
unsteady but he was standing and they dressed him in his quilted 
nightgown. Then he suddenly sat down at end of the bed and uttered 
something. It was incomprehensible. The doctor kept constant hold of 
his left hand to save him from sinking backwards onto the bed. They 
sat there like that and from time to time the King painfully and in a 
thick voice said a word no one could understand. Eventually the doctor 
started talking to him gently in the hope of fathoming what was in the 
King's mind. After a short while the King interrupted him and suddenly 
said quite clearly: '0 doctor, doctor, what is his name?' The doctor 
struggled to think. 

'Sperling, most gracious Majesty.' 

But that wasn't what he actually meant. The King, as soon as he heard 
that they understood him, opened wide his one remaining eye, the 
right, and using his whole face said the one word that his tongue had 
been forming for hours, the only word he still had: 'Doden', he said, 
' Doden* ' . 

* (in Danish) Death. 

There was nothing else on the paper. I read it several times before I 
burnt it. And it occurred to me that my father had suffered greatly at 
the end. So I had been told. 



Since then I have thought a good deal about the fear of death, not 
without taking into account certain experiences of my own. I think I 
can probably say that I have felt it. It has come over me in crowded 
cities, surrounded by other people, has come over me often for no 
reason at all. Though it's true that often there have been plenty of 
reasons: take for instance when someone was sitting on a bench and the 
bench gave way and they all stood around and looked at him, and he was 
already far beyond feeling any fear: then I had his fear. Or that time 
in Naples when the young person sitting opposite me in the tram died. 
At first it looked like a faint, we even travelled on for a while. But 
then there was no doubt that we needed to stop. And the carriages 
behind us came to a halt all bunched up as if there was never going to 
be any traffic in that direction again. The pale, fat girl could well 
have died peacefully as she was, leant against the woman next to her. 
But her mother wouldn't allow that. She caused her all sorts manner of 
difficulties. She messed up her clothing and poured something into her 
mouth that couldn't keep anything in it any more. She rubbed her 
forehead with a liquid someone had given her and the moment the eyes 
rolled back a little she started shaking her to make them look 



forwards again. She screamed into those eyes that did not hear, she 
tugged the whole of the girl ' s body this way and that as if she were a 
doll, finally she brought up a hand and slapped the fat face with all 
her might so that it shouldn't die. That's when I took fright. 

But I'd been afraid even earlier. For example when my dog died. The 
same dog that made me feel blameworthy once and for all. He was very 
ill. I had been kneeling all day beside him when suddenly he gave a 
short jerky bark as he used to do whenever a stranger came into the 
room. It was the type of bark that was reserved for such occasions, so 
to speak, and I automatically glanced towards the door. But the bark 
was already inside him. Worriedly I searched his eyes and he searched 
mine; but not to say our goodbyes. He looked hard at me; he was 
displeased. He was accusing me of having let it in. He was convinced I 
could have prevented it. It was evident that he had always 
overestimated me. And there was no time left for me to explain. 
Disconsolate and lonely he kept his eyes fixed on me right to the end. 

Similarly I was afraid in autumn when the first flies came into the 
rooms and revived themselves one last time in the warmth. They were 
remarkably dried looking and were terrified by their own buzzing; you 
could see that they no longer knew quite what they were doing. For 
hours they never made a move until it occurred to them that they were 
still alive; then they flung themselves willy-nilly in any direction 
and had no idea what they should do when they arrived; you could hear 
them dropping down again here, there and everywhere. And they ended up 
crawling all over the place, slowly mortifying the whole room. 

But I could be afraid even when I was on my own. Why should I act as 
if those nights had never been, the nights when the fear of death 
caused me to sit up in bed clinging to the thought that sitting was at 
least something that only a living person could do; the dead couldn't 
sit up. This always took place in one of those chance rooms which 
deserted me immediately when things were going badly for me, as if 
they were afraid of being questioned and of being implicated my nasty 
affairs. There I sat and I probably looked so dreadful that there was 
nothing that had the courage to acknowledge me; never once did the 
candle, which I had obligingly lit, show it wanted anything to do with 
me. It shone as if it were in an empty room. My last hope every time 
was the window. I imagined that outside there still might be something 
that belonged to me, even now, even in my sudden desperate need in the 
face of death. But hardly had I looked towards the window when I 
wished that it had been barricaded, every inch, like the wall. For now 
I knew that out there things were going along with the same complete 
indifference, and that also out there was nothing except my 
loneliness. The loneliness that I had brought upon myself and to whose 
size my heart no longer bore any comparison. I thought of people I'd 
walked away from and I didn't understand how one could abandon people. 

My God, my God, if nights like this lay ahead of me grant me at least 
one of the thoughts I've now and then been able to think. What I'm 
asking for now is not so unreasonable; for I know that they come 
directly from my fear because my fear was so great. When I was a boy 
they hit me in the face and told me what a coward I was. That was 
because I was still bad at being afraid. But since then I've learnt to 
be afraid with the real fear that only increases when the power to 
produce it increases. We can have no idea of this power except in our 
fear. For it's so wholly incomprehensible, so completely opposed to us 
that our brain disintegrates at the point where we struggle to think 
about it. And yet, for a while now I have believed that it is our 
power, the whole of our power, that is too strong for us. It's true 
that we don't know it, but don't we know least what is rightly our 
own? Sometimes I think about how heaven came to be, and how death; 
because we've distanced ourselves from what is most valuable to us, 
because there were so many other things to do first and because we 
were too busy to safeguard it. The passage of time has now obscured 
this, and we have grown accustomed to lesser things. We no longer 
recognise what is ours, and we are appalled by its sheer magnitude. 
Can that not be so? 



Besides I now well understand someone carrying with him all these 
years deep in his wallet the description of another's last hour. It 
wouldn't even have to be anything specially chosen; they all have 
something that verges on the unusual. Can't you imagine, for example, 
someone copying out for themselves an account of how Felix Arvers 
died. It was in hospital. He was dying gently and composed, and the 
nun perhaps thought that he was further along his last journey than 
was. In a very loud voice she called out some instruction or other as 
to where they could find this and that. She was a somewhat uneducated 
nun; she had never seen the word 'corridor' written but she couldn't 
avoid using it at that moment; thus it happened that she said 
'collidor', thinking it was the way you said it. Whereupon Arvers 
postponed his dying. It seemed to him necessary that the matter be 
cleared up first. He became completely lucid and set her right: the 
word is 'corridor' . Then he died. He was a poet and hated 
approximates; or perhaps to him it had to do with truth; or maybe it 
bothered him to be taking with him as a last impression that of world 
continuing on its way so carelessly. One can no longer say. But one 
shouldn't mistake it for pedantry. Otherwise the same reproach would 
be levelled at the saintly Jean de Dieu, who as he was dying jumped 
up and still managed to cut down the man who had just hanged himself 
in the garden. In some miraculous way a message of what was about to 
happen had penetrated the hidden tension of the saint's agony. He too 
was concerned only with the truth. 



There exists a being that is perfectly harmless; if it comes into view 
you hardly notice it and you instantly forget it again. However, 
should it somehow invisibly invade your hearing, it starts to develop, 
it creeps out of itself, so to speak, and one has seen cases where it 
has got as far as the brain and has thrived in this organ with 
terrible effect resembling pneumococci in dogs that enter through the 
nose . 

This being is your neighbour. 

Now, because I'm never long in a particular place I've had countless 
neighbours; neighbours above and below me, neighbours on my right and 
on my left, and sometimes at all four places together. I could easily 
write the history of my neighbours; it would take a whole lifetime. 
Admittedly it would be more the history of the symptoms they have 
produced in me; but what they share with all such beings is that they 
can be detected only in the disturbances they give rise to in certain 
tissues . 

I've had very unpredictable neighbours and very regular ones. I have 
sat and tried to find out the principle of the first ones because it 
was obvious that even they had a principle. And whenever my punctual 
neighbours stayed out in the evening I've pictured to myself things 
that could have happened to them and I've kept my candle burning and 
worried like a young wife. I've had neighbours who were downright 
hateful towards each other and neighbours who had become involved in 
an intense love affair; and I've known one of them turn over to the 
other in the middle of the night, and then, of course, sleep was out 
of the question. One can make the general observation that sleep is by 
no means as frequent as one thinks. My two neighbours in St. 
Petersburg, for example, didn't set much store by sleep. One of them 
played the violin standing and I'm sure that as he played he looked 
across into the over-wakeful houses that never stopped being brightly 
lit during those improbable August nights. 

I know for a fact that my neighbour on the right lay in bed; while I 
was there he never got up at all. He even kept his eyes closed; but 
you couldn't say he was sleeping. He lay there and recited poems, 
poems by Pushkin and Nekrassov, with the intonation children have when 
they're asked to recite. And despite the music from my neighbour on 
the left it was this neighbour with the poems who spun a cocoon inside 
my head and God knows what would have crawled out of it if the student 



who visited him occasionally hadn't one day got the wrong door. He 
told me his friend's story, and in a way it proved reassuring. Anyway 
it was a literal, unambiguous story which caused the teeming maggots 
of my conjectures to perish. 

This humble civil servant next door had the idea one Sunday morning to 
solve a curious problem. He assumed that he would live for a very long 
time, say another fifty years. The generosity he thus showed himself 
put him in a splendid mood. But now he intended to surpass himself. He 
reasoned that these years could be changed into days, into hours, into 
minutes, and even (if you could bear it) into seconds; and he 
calculated and calculated and came up with a figure such as he had 
never before seen. It made him giddy. He needed a little time to 
recover. Time is money he had always heard said, and it surprised him 
that a man with such a lot of time wasn't guarded night and day. How 
easily he could be robbed. But then his almost exuberantly good mood 
returned: he put on his fur coat to appear somewhat broader and more 
imposing and made a present to himself of the whole fabulous capital, 
addressing himself a little condescendingly: 

'Nikolai Kusmitsch, ' he said benevolently and imagined himself, still 
the same but without the fur coat, thin and sickly on the horsehair 
sofa, 'I hope, Nikolai Kusmitsch, that you won't let your riches go to 
your head. You must always bear in mind that they're not the chief 
thing, there are poor people who are thoroughly respectable; there are 
even impoverished noble folk and generals ' daughters who go round the 
streets selling things. ' And the benefactor gave him all kinds of 
examples that were familiar all over the city. 

The other Nikolaj Kusmitsch, the one on the horsehair sofa, the 
recipient, didn't look the least bit full of himself; one could take 
it that he was going to be sensible. In fact he made no changes to his 
modest and regular way of life and he now passed his Sundays putting 
his accounts in order. But after a few weeks he noticed that he was 
spending an incredible amount. I'll economise, he thought. He got up 
earlier, washed less thoroughly, drank his tea standing up, ran all 
the way to the office, and arrived far too early. Everywhere he saved 
a little bit of time. But on Sunday there was nothing left of all that 
he'd saved. Then he saw that he'd been deceived. I shouldn't have 
switched over, he told himself. How long one has in a year like this. 
But this infernal small change, it just disappears, goodness knows 
how. And one nasty afternoon he sat in the corner of the sofa awaiting 
the gentleman in the fur coat from whom he would demand his time back. 
He would bolt the door and not let him go until he'd coughed up. 'In 
notes', he wanted to say. 'Ten-year ones, whatever. Four notes at ten 
per cent and one at five, and he could keep the rest, devil take it. ' 
Yes, he was prepared to make him a present of the rest, so long as 
there were no difficulties. Irritated he sat on the horsehair sofa and 
waited, but the gentlemen didn't show up. And he, Nikolai Kusmitsch, 
who, a couple of weeks previously, had seen himself sitting there 
without a care in the world, was now, when he actually sat there, 
unable to visualise the other Nikolai Kusmitsch, the one in the fur 
coat, the magnanimous one. Heaven only knows what had become of him, 
probably his fraud had been traced and he was now sitting in detention 
somewhere. Surely it was not only on him that the man had brought 
misfortune. Con men like him always operate on a grand scale. 

It occurred to him that there must be some government bureau, some 
kind of time bank where he could change at least part of his paltry 
seconds. After all they were genuine. He'd never heard of such an 
establishment but there would certainly be something of the kind in 
the directory under ' T' or perhaps it was also called 'Bank for Time'; 
he could easily look under 'B' . Maybe he could also consider the 
letter ' I ' for he assumed it was an imperial institution; that would 
accord with its importance. 

Later Nikolai Kusmitsch would always assure people that although he 
was understandably in a very depressed mood that Sunday evening, he'd 
not had a single drink. He was, therefore, completely sober when the 
following incident took place, so far as one can really say what did 
happen. Perhaps he'd drifted off for a few minutes in his usual corner 



of the sofa, which would be most likely. At first this little nap 
afforded him pure relief. I've been getting myself in a mess, he told 
himself. It's just that I don't understand a thing about numbers. But 
clearly they shouldn't be granted too much importance; they are, so to 
speak, only some arrangement introduced by the government. Yet no one 
has ever seen them anywhere except on paper. In a group of people it 
was impossible to meet, for example, a seven or a twenty-five. There 
simply aren't any. And that was how this slight mix-up had come about 
through sheer absent-mindedness: time and money, as if you couldn't 
tell them apart. Nikolai Kusmitsch nearly laughed. It was really good 
to have found the flaw, and at the right time, that was the main 
thing, at the right time. Now things would be different. Time, yes, 
that was very embarrassing. But could he be the only one that this had 
happened to? Didn't time pass for other people as well in the same way 
he'd discovered, in seconds, even when they didn't know it? 

Nikolaj Kusmitsch wasn't entirely free from enjoying other people's 
misfortune: Anyhow, let it--, he was just about to think when 
something peculiar happened. It suddenly wafted across his face, it 
passed by his ears, he felt it on his hands. He opened his eyes wide. 
The window was closed tight. And as he sat there in the dark room with 
his eyes wide open he began to understand that what he was feeling now 
was real time passing. He actually recognised all these seconds, all 
tepid, uniform, but fast, fast. Heaven only knew what they still 
intended to do. Why did it have to be him in particular to whom every 
sort of wind felt like an insult? He would now sit there and it would 
go on blowing ceaselessly his whole life long. He could foresee all 
the attacks of neuralgia he'd get; he was beside himself with rage. He 
jumped up, but the surprises weren't yet finished. Under his very feet 
there was something like a movement, not just one but several strange 
movements interlocking confusedly. He was rigid with terror: could it 
be the earth? Certainly, it was the earth. Yes of course it moved. 
He'd heard about it at school, but the topic had been dealt with 
rather cursorily and later it had been readily hushed up as it wasn't 
considered suitable for discussion. But now that he'd grown more 
sensitive he could even feel it. Did the others feel it? Possibly, but 
they gave no indication of it. Perhaps, being sailors, they didn't 
mind. Of all people Nikolai Kusmitsch was somewhat sensitive on this 
point, he avoided even the trams. He staggered about in his room as if 
he were on deck and needed to to hold on right and left. Unfortunately 
he recalled something else about the tilt of the earth's axis. No, he 
couldn't bear all these movements. He felt ill. Lie down and rest he'd 
read somewhere. And since then Nikolai Kusmitsch had been lying down. 

He lay and kept his eyes closed. There were times, during the less 
choppy days, so to speak, when it was quite bearable. And then to help 
him he had thought up this procedure in regard to poems. It was 
unbelievable how much it did help him. To recite a poem slowly, 
maintaining a consistent stress on the end-rhyme, one produced, to a 
certain extent, a kind of stability that was visible and gave one 
inner understanding. By a happy chance he knew all the poems. But he 
had always been especially interested in literature. I was assured by 
the student who had known him a long time that he didn't complain 
about his situation. Only, in the course of time an exaggerated 
admiration had developed in him for those who, like the student, 
walked around and endured the motion of the earth. 

I remember this story in such precise detail because I found it 
extraordinarily soothing. I can even say that I've never since had 
such an agreeable neighbour as this Nikolai Kusmitsch who, to be sure, 
would also have admired me. 



Following this experience I resolved in similar cases to go straight 
for the facts. I realised how simple and easy they were as opposed to 
suppositions. As if I hadn't known that all our insights are entered 
up later, settling our account, no more than that. Immediately 
afterwards a totally different page begins, with nothing carried 
forward. What are helping me now in the present case are the few facts 
that have been child's play establishing them. I will list them the 



moment I've explained my immediate concern: that these facts, if 
anything, have increased the burden of my situation which (I admit) 
was already very great. 

It could be laid to my credit that I did a lot of writing in those 
days: I wrote frantically. Mind you, when I went out I didn't like the 
idea of coming back to the house. I even made slight detours and by 
doing so lost half an hour during which time I could have been 
writing. I admit, this was a weakness. But once back in my room my 
conscience was clear. I wrote, I had my life and the life next door 
was a totally different life, one with which I had nothing in common: 
the life of a medical student who was was studying for his exams . I 
had nothing like that before me; a distinct difference. And in other 
ways our circumstances were as different as they could possibly be. 
All of that was glaringly obvious to me. Until the moment when I knew 
it would come; then I forgot that there was nothing we had in common. 
I listened so hard that my heart started beating very loudly. I 
stopped all I was doing and listened. And then it came: I've never 
been mistaken. 

Nearly everyone will be acquainted with the noise any round tin thing 
makes--say, the lid of a tin--when it slips from your grasp. Usually 
it doesn't actually make a very loud sound when it hits the floor; 
just a short one before it rolls along on its edge and it doesn't 
offend until it stops travelling forward and rocks and clangs before 
coming to rest. Well, that's the whole story; some such tinny object 
fell next door, rolled, then, after pitching about at certain 
intervals, lay there. Like all sounds that assert themselves 
repeatedly, this one too had its own internal organisation, it 
modified itself, it was never exactly the same. But that spoke well 
for its law-governed regularity. It could be violent or mild or 
melancholic; it could, as it were, pass by in a rush, or glide as if 
into infinity before it came to rest. And the final wobble was always 
an unexpected surprise. By contrast the ensuing stamp that came right 
at the end seemed almost mechanical. But it always had a different 
time marking; that appeared to be its purpose. I'm now able to have a 
much better overall view of these details; the room next to me is 
empty. He's gone home, somewhere out in the country. He needed to 
recuperate. I live on the topmost floor. To the right is another 
building. No one has yet taken the room below me: I'm without a 
neighbour . 

This being the state of things it's almost surprising that I didn't 
take the matter more lightly. Although my instinct warned me in 
advance every time. I could have taken advantage of it. Don't be 
frightened, I should have told myself, here it comes. I knew full well 
I was never mistaken. But maybe the reason for that were the facts 
that I'd been told about him; when I'd learnt them I became even more 
nervous. Almost eerily the thought came to me that what triggered this 
sound was the small, slow, silent movement with which his eyelid would 
capriciously lower itself over his right eye and close while he was 
still reading. This was the essence of his story, a trifle. He'd 
already had to let exams go by a few times, he'd become touchy 
concerning his ambition, and probably those at home were putting 
pressure on him every time they wrote. What else could he do except 
pull himself together. But a few months before a decision had to be 
reached, this weakness became apparent; this stuff and nonsense about 
being tired, was as laughable as a window blind that won't stay up. 
I'm sure that for weeks he took the view that he should be able to 
control it. Otherwise I would not have had the idea of offering my 
will. You see, one day I realised that he had exhausted his own. And 
after that, whenever I felt it coming I would stand at my side of the 
wall and beg him to help himself to mine. And as time went on it 
became clear to me that he was doing so. Perhaps he shouldn't have 
done it, especially when one considers that it didn't actually help in 
any way. Even assuming that we delayed matters a little it's still 
questionable whether he was actually capable of making the best use of 
the moments we had gained in this way. And as far as my expenditure of 
will was concerned I was beginning to feel its toll on me. I know I 
was wondering if things could go on as they were on the very afternoon 
that someone arrived at our floor: this was because the narrow stairs 



always caused a lot of disturbance in the small hotel. A while later 
it seemed to me that someone was going into my neighbour's room. Ours 
were the last doors on the landing; his at an angle to mine and right 
next to it. I knew that friends of his occasionally called to see him 
but I took no interest at all in his affairs. It's possible his door 
opened several more times and that people came and went; I wasn't 
actually responsible for that. 

But later that evening it was worse than ever. It wasn't very late yet 
but I'd been tired and had already gone to bed; I thought I'd probably 
fall asleep. Then I woke up with a start; it was as if I'd been 
touched. Immediately afterwards it broke out. 

It leapt and rolled and ran into things and staggered and rattled. The 
stamping was horrible. While this was happening someone on a floor 
below was banging distinctly and angrily on his ceiling. Of course, 
the new tenant also was upset. Just now: that must have been his door. 
I was so wide awake I thought I heard his door, although he was being 
amazingly careful. He seemed to be coming nearer. It's certain he 
would be wanting to know which room the noise was coming from. But 
what displeased me was his exaggerated consideration. He couldn't 
have failed to notice, surely, that you wouldn't mistake this for a 
quiet house. Why in the world was he softening his tread. For a while 
I thought he was at my door; and then I heard him--there was no doubt 
about it--going into the room next door. Without hesitating he walked 
in. 

And now (well, how can I describe it?) , now it became still. Still as 
when a pain ceases. A strangely sensible, prickling stillness, like a 
wound healing. I could have slept instantly; I could have breathed in 
and gone to sleep. Only my amazement kept me awake. Someone was 
speaking in the room next door, but this was also part of the 
stillness. You need to have experienced what this stillness was like, 
it's impossible to explain it. Outside too it was as if everything had 
settled down. I sat up, I listened, it was like being in the country. 
Dear God, I thought, his mother's here. She was sitting by the lamp 
talking to him; perhaps his head was leant a little against her 
shoulder. Soon she would be putting him to bed. Now I understood how 
the footsteps outside in the passage came to be so soft. Ah, for this 
to be. A being such as this, before whom doors give way as they don't 
for the likes of the rest of us. Yes, now we could sleep. 



I've already almost forgotten my neighbour. I can well see that it 
wasn't real sympathy that I felt for him. Downstairs I do ask now and 
then as I go by what news there is of him, if there is any. And I'm 
pleased when there's good news. But I exaggerate: I don't really need 
to know. The fact that sometimes I feel a sudden impulse to enter next 
door no longer has any connection with him. It's only a step from my 
door to the other and the room isn't locked. It would be interesting 
to see what the room is really like. You can have a notion of what 
some room or other looks like and as often as not be pretty close. The 
room next door to one's own is the only kind that's totally different 
from what one thinks . 

I tell myself that this is what appeals to me in this case. But I know 
full well that what is waiting for me in there is a certain tin 
object. I've assumed that it's really all about the lid of a box, 
though of course I may be mistaken. That doesn't worry me. It simply 
accords with my disposition to put the blame on the lid of a box. 
There's the thought that he didn't take it with him. Probably the 
room's been tidied, the lid's been put on its can where it belongs. 
And now they both together form the concept 'box', 'round box' to be 
exact, a simple, very familiar concept. I seem to remember them 
standing on the mantelpiece, these two parts that make up the box; 
yes, even standing in front of the mirror so that behind it there's a 
second box, one that's deceptively similar, imaginary. A box, totally 
worthless to us but which a monkey, for example, would grab. Really 
there would even be two monkeys grabbing for it, since the monkey 
itself would be doubled as soon as it got to the edge of the 



mantelpiece. So then it's the lid of this box that's had it in for me. 

Let's agree on this: the lid of a box, of an undamaged box, whose edge 
curves no differently from its own should be aware of no other desire 
than to be on top of its box; this would have to be the very most it 
could imagine for itself; an unsurpassable satisfaction, the 
fulfilment of all its desires. What's more it verges on the ideal to 
be patiently and gently turned round, steadily coming to rest on the 
short length of projecting rim and feeling the interlocking edge 
elastic and just as sharp as the brink is for you when you're lying 
there on your own. Ah, but how few lids there are that can still 
appreciate this. Here the confusion caused among things by associating 
with human beings speaks for itself. You see, humans --if we're 
allowed, simply in passing, to compare them with tin lids-- humans 
sit on their occupations with the greatest reluctance and ill-humour. 
Some because in their hurry they didn't land on the right one; some 
because an agry person put them on crooked; some because the 
corresponding rims have been buckled, each in a different way. Let's 
be perfectly honest and say: basically they're thinking of only one 
thing which is jumping down as soon as they can and roll about and 
make tinny sounds. Otherwise where do all these so-called diversions 
and the sounds they make come from? 

For centuries now things have been looking on at them. Small wonder 
that they're depraved, that they lose the taste for their natural, 
deep purpose and want to exploit existence in the way they see it 
exploited all around them. They make attempts to shirk their duties, 
they become listless and slipshod, and people are not at all surprised 
when they catch them running riot. People know that very well from 
their own experience. They get annoyed because they are the stronger 
ones, because they think they have more right to change because they 
feel mimicked; but they let the matter go, as they let themselves go. 

But where you have someone who pulls himself together, for example a 
solitary person, who wants to be wholly content in himself day and 
night it immediately provokes the opposition, the scorn, and the 
hatred of of those degenerate items which, in bad conscience, can no 
longer bear to think that something can actually keep itself together 
and strive to follow its own significance . They join forces in order to 
cause trouble, to frighten, to mislead, and they know that they can do 
it. Winking to one another they begin their seduction which then grows 
to immeasurable proportions and carries along with it all creatures 
and even God himself against the solitary one, the one who will 
perhaps survive: the saint. 



How I understand now the strange pictures in which things of limited 
and everyday use attempt to stretch out lecherously and inquisitively 
to one another, twitching in the indiscriminate depravity of their 
diversions. These vessels that go about boiling, these pistons that 
are getting all sorts of ideas, and the idle funnels that, for their 
pleasure, force their way into a hole. And there too, thrown up by the 
jealous void, are limbs with organs among them and faces that vomit 
warmly into them and windy rumps that add to their pleasure. 

And the saint writhes and contracts; but in his eyes there was still a 
look which conveyed the thought that this was possible; he had seen 
it. And already his desires are being precipitated out of the pale 
solution of his soul. Already his prayer is shedding its leaves and 
showing itself in his mouth like a withered bush. His heart has 
tumbled over and emptied itself into the gloom. The lash of his 
scourge is as weak as a tail chasing away flies. His sex is once more 
in one place only and when a woman holding herself erect comes forward 
through the hustle with her naked bosom full of breasts it points at 
her like a finger. 

There were times when I thought these images antiquated. Not that I 
had any doubts about them. I could imagine them happening now and 
again to saints who were zealous and in a hurry, who wanted to begin 
their life with God whatever it cost. We no longer expect so much from 



ourselves. We suspect he's too difficult for us, that we must put him 
off for a while so that we can take our time with the task that 
separates us from him. I now know, however, that this task is as 
fraught with difficulties as is sainthood; for that reason it appears 
all round everyone who is solitary just as it shaped itself in the 
past round God's solitaries in their caves and empty shelters. 

Whenever one speaks of lonely people one takes too much for granted. 
One thinks people all know what they're dealing with. No, they do not. 
They've never seen a lonely person, they've simply hated him without 
knowing him. They've been his neighbours of his who who've used him 
up, they were the voices in the next room who tempted him. They roused 
things up against him, getting them to make a din and drown him out. 
Children ganged up against him when he was a tender child, and at 
every stage of his growing up he grew hostile to grown-ups . They 
tracked him to his hiding-place like an animal of chase and throughout 
his long youth there was no closed season. And when he didn't allow 
himself to be worn out so that he got away they yelled about what came 
forth from him and called it ugly and were suspicious of it. And as he 
didn't stop they grew more obvious and gobbled up his food and 
breathed up his air and spat into his poverty so that he himself 
became disgusted at it. They brought him into disrepute as if he were 
a contagion and threw stones at him to speed his departure. And they 
were right to follow their age-old instinct: because he really was 
their enemy. 

But then when he didn't look up they had second thoughts. They 
suspected that in all of this they had acted as he had willed them to 
act; they had strengthened him in his solitude and had helped him 
separate himself from them for ever. And now they'd changed their 
method and and were bringing to bear the ultimate form of opposition: 
fame. And at this clamour practically everyone looked up and let 
themselves be entertained. 



Last night my thoughts turned again to the little green book that must 
have been in my possession at one time when I was a boy; and I don't 
know why I imagine that it had originally belonged to Mathilde Brahe . 
It didn't interest me when I first got it and I didn't read it until 
several years later at Ulsgaard one holiday time, I think. But it was 
important to me from the first moment I saw it. It was filled with 
references through and through, including its covers. The green of its 
binding denoted something and you immediately understood that what was 
written inside had to be as it was. As if it had been arranged 
beforehand there came first the smooth white-in-watered white endpaper 
and then the title page signifying mystery. There could well have been 
illustrations inside but there were none and you had to concede, 
almost reluctantly perhaps, that this too was perfectly in keeping. It 
was a compensation in a way to find at a certain place the narrow 
woven bookmark, worn and a little askew, touchingly confident that it 
was still pink, lying as it had between the same two pages since God 
knows when. Perhaps it had never been used and the bookbinder working 
speedily had, without looking, caused it to slip into the pages. But 
it's possible it wasn't accidental. It could be that someone had 
stopped reading at that place, someone who had never returned to the 
book; fate at that moment could have knocked on his door calling him 
elsewhere where hed be kept busy far from all his books, which, after 
all, are not life. You couldn't tell if more of the book had been 
read. But it could also be that it had been opened again and again at 
this place and that this had happened at whatever time, sometimes 
until late into the night. Anyway, looking at the two pages made me 
feel shy with the sort of shyness you get standing in front of a 
mirror. I never read the two pages. I don't actually know if I read 
the whole book. It wasn't very thick but there were lots of stories in 
it, especially in the afternoon; then there was always one I didn't 
know. 

I remember only two of them. I'll say which they are: 'The End of 
Grisha Otrepyov' and 'Charles the Bold's Downfall'. 



God knows if it made any impression on me at the time. But now after 
so many years I still remember the description of how the corpse of 
the false Tsar was thrown among the pile of others and lay there for 
three days torn to pieces with stab wounds all over and a mask on its 
face. Of course there isn't the faintest prospect of the little book 
ever coming into my hands again. But this marked passage must have 
been remarkable. 

I would also have liked to re-read the passage that told of his 
meeting with his mother. He must have felt very secure because he let 
her come to Moscow; I'm even convinced that he believed in himself so 
strongly at that time that he thought that it was in fact his mother 
he was summoning. And this Marie Nagori, who arrived from her 
miserable convent after travelling at great speed for three days, had 
indeed everything to gain by giving her assent. But didn't this 
uncertainty stem from the very fact that she acknowledged him? I'm not 
disinclined to believe that the power of his transformation came from 
his no longer being anybody's son. 

[Written on the margin of the MS : 

That, in the end, is the strength of all young people who have left 

home . ] 

The fact that the people wanted him and had no other in mind left him 
all the more free and less restricted in his possibilies. But the 
mother's declaration, even if it was a conscious deception still had 
the power to diminish him; she lifted him out of the richness of his 
invented self, she it confined him to a tired imitation; she reduced 
him to the individual he had not been; she turned him into an 
impostor . 

And now in addition there was this Marina Mniczek who, breaking him 
down more quietly, denied him in her own way, as it later proved, by 
believing not in him but in anyone. I can't possibly say, of course, 
to what extent all that was taken into account in the stories but it 
seems to me that all of it should have been told. 

But even apart from that what occurred has not aged at all . Time now 
perhaps for a narrator, one who would handle the last moments with 
great care; he wouldn't be wrong doing so. There's lots of things 
happening: as when from deepest sleep he jumps to the window and 
through it into the courtyard and the guards. He can't get to his 
feet; they have to help him. It's likely his foot is broken. Leaning 
on two of the men he has the feeling that they believe in him. He 
looks around: the others believe in him too. They almost feel sorry 
for him, these enormous streltsy; how things must have changed: they 
had known Ivan Grozny in all his reality, and they now they believe in 
him. He would have tried to explain but if he opened his mouth he 
would simply let out a scream. The pain in his foot is driving him mad 
and he thinks so little of himself at the moment that he's conscious 
of nothing except the pain. And then there's no time left. Others are 
forcing their way in; he can see Schuisky and all those behind him. It 
will be over quickly. But now his guards close round him. They're not 
going to give him up. And a miracle happens. The faith of these 
old men spreads; suddenly there is no one who wants to step forward. 
Schuisky, right in front of him, in desperation calls up to an upper 
window. The impostor doesn't look round. He knows who's standing 
there. He realises silence will fall, it will happen abruptly. Now the 
voice will come that he knows from former times; the high, false voice 
that overstrains itself. And then he hears the Tsarina Mother 
repudiate him. 

This far the story has told itself, but now, please, a narrator, a 
narrator: because from the few lines remainingn there has to come 
forth a mighty force that will transcend any opposition. Whether or 
not it's been said, you must swear that between voice and pistol shot, 
infinitely compressed, there was once again inside him the will and 
power to be everything. Otherwise people don't understand how 
brilliantly consistent it is that they bored through his nightshirt 
and stabbed him all over as if they were trying to strike the hardness 
of a person. And that in death he wore the mask for three whole days, 



the mask he had almost already dispensed with. 



When I think about it now, it seems strange to me that in this same 
book the tale would be told of the last days of a man had been one and 
the same all his life, hard and unchangeable like granite and weighing 
more and more heavily on all those who could put up with him. There's 
a picture of him in Dijon. But he was known, anyway, to be short, 
thick-set, truculent and prey to despair. His hands are perhaps the 
only thing about him that we might not have thought of. They're 
terribly warm hands that are constantly trying to cool themselves and 
of their own accord, fingers outspread with air between them, they 
come to rest on anything that's cold. His blood could shoot into these 
hands as it might rush up into another's head; and when clenched they 
were actually like the heads of madfolk raging with crazy notions. It 
took an unbelievable amount of caution to live with this blood. The 
Duke was locked in with it inside him and at times when it wandered 
around, dark and crouching, he was afraid of it. Even to him it could 
seem to be gruesomely alien, this agile half-Portuguese blood he 
scarcely knew. He was often frightened it might attack him as he slept 
and tear him to pieces. He pretended it had been subdued but he always 
stood in fear of it. He never dared love a woman lest it became 
jealous; and so rapacious was it that wine never passed his lips; 
instead of drinking he pacified it with rose-leaf jam. But he did 
drink once, when he was in camp at Lausanne following the loss of 
Granson; he was ill at the time and on his own and he drank a lot of 
undiluted wine. But that was when his blood was asleep. In his useless 
last years he would sometimes fall into this heavy bestial sleep. It 
then became clear how great was its power over him; for when it 
stopped he was nothing. Then none of the people he had around him was 
allowed to enter; he didn't understand what they were talking about. 
Being so dull meant he couldn't show himself to foreign envoys, 
receive foreign envoys. He'd sit and wait for it to awaken. And more 
often than not it would run and jump up and burst out of his heart and 
bellow. 

For the sake of this blood he dragged around with him all the things 
that didn't matter to him. The three large diamonds and all the 
precious stones; the Flemish lace and the Arras tapestries all in 
piles. His silken tented pavilion with its spun-gold cords and the 
four hundred tents for his retinue. And pictures painted on wood and 
the Twelve Apostles all in silver. And the Prince of Tarent and the 
Duke of Cleve and Phillip von Baden and the Master of Chateau-Guyon . 
Because he wanted to make his blood think he was emperor and that 
there was nothing above him: so that it would fear him. But his blood 
didn't believe him, despite all proofs of this kind; for it was a 
mistrustful blood. Perhaps he kept it in doubt for a while longer. But 
the Horns of Uri gave him away. From that time onwards his blood knew 
it was inside a lost man and it wanted to leave. 

That's how I see it now but back then what impressed me most was 
reading that it was the Day of Epiphany when they went to look for 
him. searched for him. 

The young Lorrainian prince, who on the previous day, straight after 
his remarkably hurried battle had ridden in to his wretched city of 
Nancy, had wakened the entourage and asked for the Duke. Messenger 
after messenger was dispatched and the Prince himself from time to 
time appeared, restless and anxious, at the window. He didn't always 
recognise those who were being fetched in on carts and stretchers, he 
only saw it wasn't the Duke. He wasn't among the wounded and no one 
had seen him among the prisoners who were constantly being led along. 
Refugees gave varying reports on all sides and were confused and 
easily startled as if they were afraid of running into him. It was 
already growing dark and nothing had been heard of him. During the 
long winter evening the news that he had disappeared had time to 
spread. And wherever it went it produced in everyone a sudden 
exaggerated confidence in his still being alive. Never, perhaps, as on 
that night had the Duke been so real in everyone's imagination. There 
wasn't a house where people weren't awake, waiting for him and 



imagining his knock on the door. And if he didn't come it was because 
he had already gone by. 

It froze that night and it was as if the idea that he was still alive 
had frozen as well, so firm it was. And years and years went by before 
it melted away. Without proper knowledge of the facts, all these 
people were now insistent that he was alive. The fate he had brought 
upon them was made bearable only by means of his image. It had been 
hard for them learning that he continued to be; but once they had done 
that they found it easy to keep him in their minds and not forget. 

But, all the same, the next morning, the seventh of January, a 
Tuesday, the search began again. And this time there was a guide. It 
was one of the Duke's pages and he was said to have seen, from a 
distance, his master fall; now he was to show them the place. He 
himself had said nothing, the Duke of Campobasso had brought him and 
had spoken for him. Now he was walking in front and the others kept 
close behind him. Anyone looking at him now, muffled up and oddly 
unsure of himself would have had trouble believing that it was 
actually Gian-Battista-Colonna, the page who was as beautiful and 
slender-limbed as a young girl. He was shivering with cold; the air 
was stiff with the night frost, and underfoot the snow sounded like 
teeth grinding together. 

Indeed they were all freezing. Only the Duke's fool, known by the 
nickname of Louis-Onze, kept himself on the move. He pretended to be a 
dog, running on ahead, coming back, and toddling along for a while on 
all fours close to the boy; but whenever he saw a corpse in the 
distance he bounded across to it, bent over and told it to pull itself 
together and be the one they were searching for. He gave it a little 
time to consider, then made a sullen return to the others, threatening 
and cursing and complaining about the stubbornness and lethargy of the 
dead. Thus they kept on walking on without any sign of an end. The 
city could hardly be seen for in the meantime, despite the cold, bad 
weather had closed in, and the air had become grey and dense. The 
countryside lay flat and indifferent and the little close-knit group 
looked to be straying the further it moved along. No one spoke; there 
was just one old woman who had kept up with them, muttering something 
and shaking her head; perhaps she was praying. 

Suddenly the one furthest ahead stood still and looked around. Then he 
turned abruptly to Lupi, the Portuguese doctor, and pointed to 
something in front. A few steps further on there was a stretch of ice, 
a kind of pond or pool and in it, half fallen through the ice lay ten 
or twelve bodies . They were almost completely stripped of their 
clothes and belongings . Lupi went from one to the other bending over 
and examining them. And now Olivier de la Marche and the chaplain 
could be seen doing the same separately. But the old woman was already 
kneeling in the snow and whimpering as she bent over a large hand 
whose rigid splayed fingers gaped at her. All the rest came running 
over. Lupi with some servants tried to turn the body over because it 
was lying on its front. But the face was frozen into the ice and when 
they dragged it out one cheek, thin and brittle, peeled away and one 
could see that the other cheek had been torn off by dogs or wolves, 
and the whole head had been split by a large wound that ran from ear 
to ear so that there was really no face to speak of. 

One after another the men looked around, each thinking to find the 
Roman behind him. But they only saw the fool who came running towards 
them angry and bloodstained. He was holding out a cloak and shaking it 
as if expecting something to fall out of it; but the cloak was empty. 
So they set about searching for any known markings, and some were 
found. They had made a fire and had washed the body in warm water and 
wine. The scar on the neck appeared and the locations of two large 
abscesses . The doctor was no longer in any doubt. But they still 
looked for other confirmations. A few steps further on Louis-Onze had 
discovered the carcase of Moreau, the large black stallion the Duke 
had ridden that day from Nancy. He was astride it with his short legs 
hanging down. Blood was still running from his nose into his mouth and 
one saw that he was tasting it. One of the servants across the other 
side remembered there was an ingrowing toenail on the Duke's left 



foot; now everyone looked for the nail. But the Fool wriggled as if he 
itched and cried out: 'Ah, Monseigneur, forgive all these idiots for 
revealing your unsightly blemishes and for not recognising you in my 
long face where your virtues abide. ' 

[Written on the margin of the MS : 

The Duke's Fool was also the very first to see the corpse when it was 
laid out. It was in the house of a certain Georg Marguis, though no 
one knew why. The pall had not yet been put on so he was able to take 
in the whole scene. The white of the doublet and the crimson of the 
cloak stood in harsh and forbidding contrast with the two blacks of 
canopy and couch. Placed in front pointing towards him were scarlet 
highboots with their large gilded spurs . And that up there was a 
head--no disputing that when you saw the crown on it. It was a large 
ducal crown with some kinds of precious stones . Louis-Onze walked 
about and had a close look at everything. He even felt the satin 
although he understood very little about it. It could be good satin, 
perhaps a tiny bit cheap for the House of Burgundy. He stepped back to 
survey the whole scene one more time. In the light coming off the snow 
the colours were in a strange way at odds with one another. He 
committed every single feature to memory. 'Well arranged, ' he said in 
a final acknowledgement, 'perhaps a touch too obvious. ' Death seemed 
to him like a puppeteer in sudden need of a duke.] 



Without regretting facts or even simply judging them one does well, 
with certain things, simply to recognise that they're not going to 
change, ever. An instance is my realising that I was never a proper 
reader. As a child it seemed to me like a profession to be taken up 
sometime later when one by one all the professions came to be 
considered. To tell the truth I had no particular idea when that might 
be. I relied on being able to tell when life turned about, so to 
speak, and came only from outside just as it had previously come from 
inside. I imagined it would then become clear, unambiguous with no 
misunderstandings possible. Definitely not simple; on the contrary, 
very demanding, complicated and, as far as I'm concerned, difficult, 
but always visible. Then I would have been able to withstand the 
strange unconfined world of childhood, its lack of proportion, it's 
never foreseeing properly. True, I can't actually see how I could have 
done it. Basically it kept on increasing and closed itself off on all 
sides and the more I looked outside the more I stirred up what was 
inside me. God knows where it came from. But it probably grew to its 
furthest limits and then, at a stroke, ceased. It was easy to see that 
grownups were only slightly disturbed by it. They went round judging 
and dealing with matters and whenever they got into difficulties they 
put it down to external circumstances. 

As well as other things I put off reading to the time when such 
changes should start to happen. When the time came I would treat books 
as I treated friends: there would be time for them, a definite, 
regular and pleasant allocation of time, exactly as suited me. 
Naturally there would be some who were closer to me than others, and 
this is not to say that I could be sure of not being delayed by them, 
now and again, for half an hour when I was going for a walk, keeping 
an appointment, arriving in time at the theatre or writing an urgent 
letter. The chances of a person's hair being put out of shape and 
tousled as if he'd been lying on it, of his ears becoming burning hot 
and his hands as cold as metal, of a large candle beside him burning 
down into the candlestick--all were, thank God, completely out of the 
guestion. 

I cite these aspects because I experienced them personally and in 
rather striking ways during those holidays at Ulsgaard when I so 
suddenly took to reading. It was obvious rightaway that I couldn't do 
it. Admittedly I'd begun reading before the time I had originally 
planned. But the year I spent at Soro among nothing but boys of 
roughly my own age had made me distrustful of such calculations. There 
were a number of rapid, unexpected experiences that caught up with me, 
and it was clear that the other boys treated me as a grownup. The 
experiences were as large as life and made themselves as heavy as they 



were. But to the same degree that I understood their actual truth, my 
eyes also opened to the boundless reality of my childhood. I knew it 
wouldn't cease just because the other was beginning. I told myself 
that everyone was free to make dividing lines but that they were made 
up. And it turned out that I wasn't clever enough to think it out for 
myself. But if I insisted that my chilhood was past then at the same 
moment all that is coming is also gone and I'm left with no more to 
stand on than a tin soldier has . 

Understandably, making this discovery isolated me even more. It 
preoccupied me inside myself and filled me with a kind of final joy 
which I took to be sadness because it was way beyond my years. It also 
unsettled me, I remember, to think that, since nothing was destined 
for me for a definite period of time, there were so many things that I 
could miss entirely. And so, when I returned to Ulsgaard and saw all 
the books, I pounced on them in a real hurry and with an almost bad 
conscience. At that time I somehow had a presentiment, which I so 
often felt later on, that we didn't have the right to open a book if 
we weren't committed to reading all of them. With every line you broke 
off a piece of the world. Before books the world was unharmed and 
perhaps in time it would be whole again. But how could I, unable to 
read, be a match for them all? There they stood, in such a hopeless 
bulk even in that modest library. Defiant and desperate I flung myself 
from book to book and fought my way through the pages like one who has 
to carry out a task that ' s too big for him. During that time I read 
Schiller and Baggesen, Ohlenschlager and Schack-Staf f eldt , whatever I 
could find by Walter Scott and Calderon. Many a book that came into my 
hands were ones that, one might say, I should have read already, while 
for other ones it was still too early; there was almost nothing 
contemporary. And I read on regardless. 

In later years it occasionally happened that I would wake in the night 
and the stars that were out would look so real, making their way so 
meaningfully that I couldn't understand how people could bring 
themselves to miss so much world. So similar was the feeling I had, I 
think, whenever I looked up from the books and glanced outside where 
summer was and where Abelone was calling me. It came as a great 
surprise to us both that she should be calling and that I didn't even 
answer. It was in the middle of our most blissful time together. But 
because it was then that reading first held me in its grip I clung 
desperately to it and in my self-importance I obstinately hid myself 
away from our daily holidaying. Unskilled though I was at taking 
advantage of the many and often homely opportunities to enjoy a 
natural happiness, I promised myself, not reluctantly, future 
reconciliations from our growing discord, reconciliations that were 
becoming all the more charming the longer they were postponed. 

As it happened, one day my reading sleep ended as suddenly as it had 
begun; and then it was we made each other thoroughly angry. For 
Abelone didn't spare me any of her ridicule and superiority and 
whenever I met her in the summerhouse she would make out she was 
reading. One particular Sunday morning her book was next to her and in 
fact it was closed but she seemed inordinately occupied with the 
redcurrants which she carefully stripped from their little clusters 
with a fork. 

It must have been one of those early mornings that July brings— hours 
when things are rested and there's something joyful and spontaneous 
happening everywhere. Millions of small irrepresible movements collect 
in the most convincing mosaic of Being; things leap and merge into one 
another and soar high in the sky, and their coolness makes the shadows 
distinct and gives the sun a light spiritual appearance. In the garden 
there is nothing that stands out from the rest, the effect is overall 
and you need to be in everything and to not miss any of it. 

And the whole scene was played out again in Abelone 's natural little 
movements. There was such a happy inventiveness in what she did and 
and likewise in the way she worked. Her hands looked bright in the 
shade and worked together so easily and knowingly; the round berries 
leapt mischievously from the fork into the bowl lined with dewhazed 
vineleaves, adding to the others already piled there, red ones and 



white ones, glistening, the seeds intact within the tiny tart globes. 
All I wanted then and there was just to stand and watch; but since I'd 
likely be told off and also because I wanted to appear casual, I 
grabbed the book, sat down at the other side of the table and without 
leafing through it for too long picked a place at random. 

'You could at least read out loud, bookworm, ' said Abelone after a 
while. The tone was no longer quite so querelsome and since, in my 
opinion, it really was time we made up I immediately began to read out 
loud, going to the end of a section and continuing to the next 
heading: 'To Bettina'. 

'No, not the replies, ' said Abelone interrupting me, and all of a 
sudden, as if she were exhausted, she set the fork down, following it 
straightaway with a laugh when she saw the way I was looking at her. 

'My God, but you read that badly, Malte.' 

I had to admit that not for a moment had I followed what I was 
reading. 'I was only reading so that you'd interrupt me, ' I confessed, 
becoming hot, and turning back to the title page of the book. It 
wasn't until then that I knew what it was. 'Why not the replies?' I 
asked, curious. 

It seemed as if Abelone hadn't heard me. She sat there in her bright 
dress as if she were becoming quite dark inside her: as dark as her 
eyes were becoming. 

'Give it to me, ' she said suddenly as if in anger, and took the book 
out of my hand and opened it right at the page she wanted. And then 
she read one of Bettina 's letters. 

I don't know how much of it I understood but it was as if I'd received 
a formal promise that one day I would understand it all. And while her 
voice grew until eventually it was almost the same voice I knew from 
her singing, I was ashamed that my scheme for our reconciliation had 
been so weak. For I well understood that it was. But now it was 
happening on a grand scale somewhere far above me, somewhere beyond my 
reach . 



The promise is still fulfilling itself; at some time or other that 
same book turned up among my books, among the few that I never part 
with. Now it opens for me too, at the very places I'm thinking of, and 
when I read them I can't make my mind up if I'm thinking of Bettina or 
of Abelone. No, Bettina is the one who has become more real in me; 
Abelone, who I knew, was like a preparation for her and for me now she 
had disappeared into Bettina as if into her own instictive self. This 
strange Bettina, with all her letters, had brought space, had given 
form measureless space. From the start she had spread herself out 
whole as if she had died. She had put herself deeply everywhere into 
being, had become part of it and no matter what happened to her was, 
in her nature, from eternity; it was where she recognised herself and 
detached herself from it, almost with pain; she took trouble to guess 
her way back as if she were revisiting like an enduring spirit. 

There you were just now; I can recognise you. Isn't the earth still 
warm from you and don't the birds still leave room for your voice? The 
dew is a different dew but the stars are still the stars of your 
nights. And isn't the world altogether yours? For how often have you 
set it on fire with your love and seen it blaze and burn itself out; 
and how often have you secretly, while everyone slept, replaced it 
with another. You felt so fully in harmony with God when every morning 
you asked him for a new earth, so that all the ones he had made could 
have its turn. It seemed small-minded to keep them and repair them; 
you used them up and held out your hands for more worlds. For your 
love had grown in all ways . 

How is it possible that the story of your love is still not on 
everybody's lips? What has happened since then that was more 



extraordinary? What are they busying themselves with? You yourself 
knew the value of your love; you shouted it from the rooftops to your 
greatest poet so that he would make it human for it was still 
elemental. But by writing to you he led people away. They have all 
read his answers and believe them more because the poet is more 
recognizable to them than is nature. But someday, perhaps, it will be 
shown that they mark the limit of his greatness. This woman in love 
was imposed upon him and he couldn't match up to her. What does it 
mean, his not being able to respond to her love? It contains both call 
and answer; it answers to itself. But he should have humbled himself 
before her in all his finery and should have written what she dictated 
with both hands like John on Patmos on his knees . But there was no 
choice in respect of this voice that 'served the angel's part' and had 
come to enfold him and take him away into eternity. Here was the 
chariot for his fiery ascension. Here, prepared against his death was 
the dark myth he left empty. 



Fate loves to invent patterns and designs. Its difficulty dwells in 
its complexity. But life itself is hard because of its simplicity. It 
has only a few things whose magnitude is beyond our measure. The 
saint, while rejecting Fate, chooses them for his godly purpose. But 
the fact that the woman, following her own nature, must make the same 
choice with regard to the man, calls up the catastrophe inherent in 
all love relationships: determined and fated like an immortal, she 
stands beside the one who is transformed. The woman who is in love 
always surpasses the man she loves because life is greater than fate. 
Her devotion wants to be immense: this is her bliss. But the nameless 
sorrow of her love has always been this: that what is asked of her is 
that her devotion be kept within limits . 

Women have poured out their sorrow for no other reason: Helolse's 
first two letters of contain only this, and five hundred years later 
it rises from the letters of the Portuguese nun; it's as recognisable 
as a bird-call. And suddenly through the bright space of this 
knowledge passes the remotest figure of Sappho whom the centuries 
never found because they looked for her in fate. 



I have never dared to buy a newspaper from him. I'm not sure he always 
actually has copies with him when he moves slowly back and forth all 
evening outside the Jardin de Luxembourg. He turns his back to the 
railings and his hand rubs along the stone coping from which the bars 
rise. He makes himself so flat that every day people go past and never 
see him. True, he still has what's left of his voice and he calls out 
to remind people of this, but it's no different from the sound from a 
lamp or a stove or from drips falling at odd intervals in a cave. And 
the world is ordered in such a way that there are people who, their 
whole life long, go past in the intervals when he, making less sound 
than anything that moves continually like the hands of a clock, like 
shadows, like time. 

How wrong it was of me to be reluctant to look at him. I'm ashamed to 
write that when I approached him I adopted the way other people 
walked: as if I didn't know he was there. Then I heard something 
inside him say 'La Presse' and say it again immediately after that and 
then a third time, rapidly with hardly a breath between. And the 
people near me looked about them trying to locate the voice. My own 
reaction was to hurry on, leaving the others behind, as if I hadn't 
noticed anything, as if I were greatly preoccupied. 

As in fact I was . I was busy picturing him in my mind and the the 
sweat from the effort was running off me. For I had to construct him 
as they construct a dead man for whom there is no evidence are no 
remains proofs, no integral parts, absolutely nothing to go on. I know 
now that it helped me a little to remember all the many figures of 
Christ made from striated ivory that had been taken down and that lie 
around in all antigue shops. The memory of some or other Pieta came 
and went--: all no doubt to help me recall a certain tilt of the long 



face, the grim stubble in the shadows of his cheeks, and the 
definitively painful blindness of his locked expression that slanted 
upwards. But, nevertheless, there was so much that belonged to him; 
for even then I could tell there was was nothing trivial about him: 
not the way his jacket or his coat stood away from the back of his 
neck and let his collar show all the way round--that low collar, that 
formed a wide arc round his stretched and pitted neck without touching 
it; not the greenish black tie hanging slack all the way round; and 
especially not the hat, an old high-crowned stiff felt hat which he 
wore the way all blind men wear their hats : bearing no relation to the 
lines of the face and without the possibility of deriving anything 
from this and developing for themselves a new outward unity; but no 
different from any old accepted deviation. My cowardly refusal to look 
at him grew to such a pitch that eventually the image of this man, 
often for no cause at all, severely and painfully contracted inside me 
into to such a harsh misery that, driven by this, I resolved to scare 
and get rid of the increasing skill at imagining things that were 
foreign to me. It was getting towards evening. I would immediately 
walk past him and take a good look at him. 

Now it's important to know that it would soon be Spring. That day the 
wind had died down, the streets were long and contented; at the end of 
each street houses gleamed, looking as new as fresh cuts into a white 
metal. But it was a metal that surprised you by its lightness. In the 
wide endless roads there were throngs of people moving almost 
fearlessly among the vehicles, which were very few. It must have been 
a Sunday. The topmost parts of the towers of St.Sulpice stood out 
cheerfully and unexpectedly high in the still air and through the 
narrow, almost Roman streets you couldn't help looking out into the 
season. Inside the Luxembourg Gardens and in front there was so much 
movement that I didn't see him rightaway. Or was it that I didn't 
recognise him at first through the crowd. 

I knew immediately that my picture of him was worthless. His very 
abandonment to poverty, unconfined by any wariness or feigning, went 
beyond my scope. I had understood neither the angle at which his head 
inclined nor the horror with which the inside of his eyelids filled 
him. I had never given a thought to his mouth which was drawn in like 
a drain spout. He may possibly have had memories but now there never 
came anything into his soul other than the shapeless feel of the 
stonework that trailed behind him and wore away at him. I had stopped 
and all the while I was watching everything almost simultaneously, I 
sensed that he was wearing a different hat and a necktie that 
doubtless was kept for Sundays; it had a diagonal pattern of yellow 
and violet checks, and as for the hat, it was a cheap new straw hat 
with a green band. The colours, of course, are of no account and it's 
small-minded of me to have remembered them. I just want to say that on 
him they were like the softest down on a bird's front. He himself got 
no pleasure from the colours, and whoever among all the people there 
(I looked around me) could have thought that this finery was for their 
sake? 

My God, I thought impetuously, so you exist, then. There are proofs of 
your existence. I have forgotten them all and have never even wanted 
them, for what a dreadful obligation would lie in your own certainty. 
And yet that's what's being indicated to me now. This is what you 
relish, what you take pleasure in. That we learn to endure everything 
and not to judge. What are the difficult things? What are the gracious 
things? Only you know that. 

When it's winter again and I need a new coat — grant that I wear it 
like that for as long as it ' s new. 



It ' s not that I want to draw a distinction between me and them when I 
walk around in better clothes--that were mine from the beginning— and 
insist on having some place to live. It's that I haven't got as far as 
they have. I haven't the courage to live their kind of life. If my arm 
withered I think I'd hide it. But she (apart from this I don't know 
who she was) , she appeared every day in front of the cafe terraces and 



although it was very hard for her to take off her coat and extricate 
herself from the blur of various clothes beneath, she didn't spare 
herself the time or trouble of slowly removing one article after 
another even though the anticipation was scarcely bearable. And there 
she stood, in front of us, modestly, with her dried, wasted stump and 
you could see it was something rare. 

No, it's not that I want to set myself apart; but I would be 
considering myself superior if I tried to be like them. I'm not. I 
would have neither their strength nor their measure. I keep myself fed 
and from one meal to the next I don't make a secret of what I'm doing; 
but they keep themselves alive as if they were immortals . They stand 
at their daily corners, even in November, and don't cry out when 
winter comes. The fog comes and makes them hard to see so you're not 
sure: they're there, nevertheless. I went on a long journey. I fell 
ill, a lot of things happened to me; but they haven't died. 

[Written on the margin of the MS: 

I don't even know how it's possible for schoolchildren to get up in 
little rooms full of grey-smelling cold; who keeps giving them the 
strength, these tumbling skeletons, to run out into the grown-up city, 
into the cheerless dregs of the night, into the everlasting school 
day, still small, full of foreboding, always late. I can't imagine the 
huge amount of help that is constantly being consumed.] 

The city is full of others who are slowly sliding down to their level. 
Most are reluctant at first; but then there are these fading, ageing 
girls who constantly let themselves go over the edge without 
resisting, strong girls, still unused in their innermost selves, who 
have never been loved. 

Perhaps, Lord, you mean me to leave everything and go love them. 
Otherwise why is it so difficult for me not to follow them when they 
pass me in the street? Why do I suddenly invent the sweetest, most 
nocturnal words, and why does my voice settle sweetly inside me 
between my throat and heart? Why do I imagine how I, with unutterable 
caution, would hold them to my breath, these dolls that life has been 
playing with, flinging their arms apart springtime after springtime 
for nothing, and again for nothing, until they became slack in the 
shoulders. They've never fallen from a very high hope, so they're not 
broken; but they're badly chipped already and too far gone. Only stray 
cats come to them in the evening in their rooms and keep giving them 
furtive scratches and then sleep on top of them. Sometimes I follow 
one of them down a couple of streets. They walk past the houses, 
people are continually coming along who blot them out, they go on 
fading until they are nothing. 

And yet I know that if someone was loving towards them, they would 
weigh upon him like people who have walked too far and are going to 
stop. I believe only Jesus could bear them, he who still has 
resurrection in all his limbs but he's not interested in them. Only 
women in love tempt him, not those who wait with a small talent for 
being loved, as it is with a lamp that has turned cold. 



I know that if I'm destined for the highest things, then it won't help 
me in any way to disguise myself in my better clothes. When he was in 
his kingdom did he not float down to be amongst the lowest? He, who 
instead of rising sank all the way to the bottom. It's true that at 
times I've believed in other kings although their parklands don't 
prove anything any more. But it's night, it's winter, I'm freezing, I 
believe in him. For glory lasts only for a moment and we have never 
seen anything more lasting than wretchedness. But the King shall 
endure . 

Isn't he the only one who bore up beneath his madness like wax flowers 
under a glass cover? They prayed for others in the churches that they 
might have long lives, but Chancellor Jean Charlier Gerson demanded 
that he have eternal life and that was when he was already the 
neediest one, ill and living in abject poverty, despite his crown. 



It was in the days when, from time to time, men, strangers with 
blackened faces, would pounce upon him in his bed in order to tear off 
his shirt which had rotted into his ulcers that for a long time now he 
had regarded as part of himself. In the room the darkness had deepened 
and they ripped off the putrid tatters from under his stiff arms. 
Then one of them brought a light and it was only then they discovered 
the suppurating wound on his chest where the iron amulet had sunk in 
because every night he would force it in with all his strength; it was 
now deeply embedded, this awful priceless thing edged with pearls of 
puss like a miraculous remnant in the hollow of a religuary. Hard- 
bitten fellows had been picked but they weren't inured to the sight of 
maggots, disturbed, rearing up and reaching across to them from the 
Flemish fustian and dropping from the folds started to work up their 
sleeves. Without a doubt he had got into a worse state since the days 
of the 'little queen' for she, young and clear-headed as she was, 
still wanted to lie by his side. Then she died and now no one dare put 
another bedfellow beside this rotting carcass. She'd bequeathed to no 
one the words and tendernesses with which she had soothed the king. 
There was no one whose voice could now be heard in the wilderness of 
his mind, no one to help him out of the ravines of his soul, no one 
who could understand when he suddenly walked out of them of his own 
accord, feasting his eyes like an animal going to pasture. And when he 
recognised the pre-occupied face of Juvenal he was reminded of the 
kingdom and how it had been before. And he wanted to make good that 
which he had neglected. 

But in keeping with those times nothing was spared when events were 
retold. When something happened it happened with full force and was 
all of a piece with other things that were spoken of. How could you 
cancel out the fact that his brother had been murdered; that yesterday 
Valentina Visconti, whom he had always called his sweet sister, had 
knelt before him and had done nothing more than lift her veil away 
from the lament and accusation that disfigured her face. And today a 
tenacious and verbose lawyer had stood for hours and had proved that 
the princely murderer had been justified to the point where the 
blemish of a crime became a transparency and seemed like a bright 
light heavenbound. And justice meant allowing everyone to be in the 
right; for Valentina von Orleans died of grief although she had been 
promised revenge. And what was the use of pardoning the Burgundian 
duke only to pardon him again; and for weeks now, visited by the 
rutting passion of despair he had been living in a tent deep in the 
Forest of Argilly and declared that what gave him relief was having to 
listen to the deer belling in the night. 

If one had thought about it, over and over right to the end, brief as 
it was, people craved to see a person; and see him they did: 
perplexed. But people were gladdened by the sight; they realised that 
this was the King: this quiet, patient man who was there only to let 
God in His overdue patience have sway over him. In his lucid moments 
on the balcony of his palace at Saint-Pol, perhaps the King had 
inklings of the secret progress he had made; he would remember the day 
at Roosbeke when his uncle, the Duke of Berry, had taken him by the 
hand and had led him to the site of his first out-and-out victory; 
there in the strangely prolonged November light he surveyed the bodies 
of the Ghentians so tightly massed together that they were choked by 
the cavalry attacks from all sides. Intertwined with one another like 
an enormous brain they lay there in the clumps they had formed in 
order to keep tightly together. It took one's own breath away to see 
their smothered faces; one couldn't help imagining the air being 
driven far above these huddled upright bodies by the sudden expulsion 
of so many despairing souls. 

This had been impressed upon him as the beginning of his glory. And it 
stayed with him. But if that battle had been the triumph of death, 
standing here like this, weak in the knees but upright in the view of 
everybody: this was the mystery of love. He had seen that to others 
this battlefield, immense as it was, could be understood. But this 
scene here refused to be understood; it was just as marvellous as the 
stag with the golden collar that he had seen all that time ago in the 
Forest of Senlis. Except that now he was the apparition and others' 



eyes were upon him. And he didn't doubt that they were breatless and 
had the same broad expectations that had overtaken him as a youth out 
on a day's hunting when that calm face had eyed him as it came out of 
the branches. The miracle of his materializing was spread all over his 
gentle form; he didn't stir for fear of fading away; the thin smile on 
his broad, simple face took on a natural permanence as if it were on 
the stone statue of a saint and need not trouble itself to move. That 
way he held out and it was one of those moments that are eternity writ 
small. The crowd could hardly bear it. Nourished and strengthened with 
an inexhaustible and increasing consolation it broke through the 
silence with its cry of joy. But on the balcony above only Juvenal des 
Ursins was left and he shouted into the next lull in the shouting from 
the crowd that the King would be coming to the Passion Brotherhood in 
the rue Saint-Denis to see the mysteries. 

On days like this the King's consciousness was filled with a gentle 
awareness. Had a painter of that time been searching for some clue as 
to what being in paradise looked like he couldn't have found a more 
perfect model than the still figure of the King as it stood beneath 
the curve of its shoulders in one of the high windows of the Louvre. 
He was leafing through the little book by Christine de Pisan, which is 
called 'The Way of Long Study' and was dedicated to him. He wasn't 
reading the scholarly polemics of that allegorical parliament which 
had set itself the task of finding the prince worthy to rreign over 
the world. The book always opened for him at the simplest passages: 
where it spoke of the heart which for thirteen years had been like a 
retort over the fire of pain which had served only to distil the water 
of bitterness for the eyes; he understood that true consolation only 
began when happiness was sufficiently faded to be gone forever. 
Nothing was dearer to him than this solace. And while his gaze 
seemingly embraced the bridge beyond he loved to see the world through 
Christine ' s heart which had been seized by the powerful Cunaean and 
taken along the great pathways of heaven; he loved to see the world as 
it was at that time: seas to be ventured upon, strangely towered 
cities shut tight by their remoteness, the ecstatic solitude of the 
assembled mountains and the skies that were explored in fear and doubt 
and were only now closing like an infant's skull. 

But whenever anyone entered the room the King gave a start, and his 
mind slowly receded. He was content for them to lead him away from the 
window and give him something to do. They'd got him used to spending 
hours at a time going over illustrations and he was satisfied with 
that; only one thing piqued him: it was that when he turned the pages 
he could never have a number of pictures together in front of him 
because they were all bound into the folios and couldn't be moved 
about. Then someone remembered a pack of playing cards that had been 
completely forgotten and the King indicated his royal pleasure to the 
man who brought it; so dear to his heart were these individual pieces 
of card that were full of images done in bright colours. And although 
card-playing became the custom among courtiers, the King sat in his 
library and played alone. Just as he now turned up two kings, side by 
side, so God had recently brought him and Emperor Wenzel together; 
sometimes a queen died and then he would put an ace of hearts on her 
like a gravestone. It didn't surprise him that there were several 
popes in this game; he set Rome over by the edge of the table and here 
on his right was Avignon. Rome didn't interest him, for some reason or 
other he imagined it to be round and left it at that. But Avignon was 
somewhere he knew. And no sooner had the thought occurred t him when 
his memory— before it overtaxed itself— showed him again the lofty 
hermetic palace. He closed his eyes and needed to take a deep breath. 
He feared he would have bad dreams that night. 

But on the whole it was a soothing occupation and they were right to 
keep bringing him back to it. The hours spent like this confirmed him 
in the view that he was the King, he was King Charles VI. That is not 
to say that he was exaggerating his own importance; he was far from 
thinking that he was anything more than one of those pieces of card; 
but he had a growing certainty that he too was a particular card-- 
perhaps a bad one, one that had been played in anger, and that always 
lost: but always the same card: never any other. And yet, when a week 
had gone by, steadily gaining confidence like this, he began to 



experience inside him a feeling of restriction. There was a tightness 
around his forehead and in the back of his neck as if he suddenly felt 
his own too-defined outline. No one knew what temptation he was 
yielding to when he then asked about the mysteries and could hardly 
wait for them to begin. And once that time had arrived he lived more 
in the rue Saint-Denis than in his palace at Saint-Pol. 

What was fateful about these dramatic poems was that they continually 
added to and extended themselves so that time in them eventually 
became real time; rather as if someone were to make a globe as big as 
the earth. The hollow podium, with Hell beneath, had above it built 
onto a pillar and denoting the level of Paradise, the unbalustraded 
framework of a balcony which only served to weaken the illusion. For 
that century had in fact made heaven and hell earthly; it lived by the 
power of both so that it might survive its own self. 

Those were the days of Avignonese Christendom when, a generation 
before, so many followers in involuntary need of refuge had gathered 
around John the Twenty Second, that at the site of his pontificate, 
immediately after his arrival, the mass of this palace had been 
built, closed and heavy like a protective outer body for all the 
homeless souls. But he himself, this small, slight, spiritual old man 
still lived out in the open. He had scarcely arrived when he began 
without delay to deal with matters on all sides swiftly and summarily, 
and all the while, there appeared on his table dishes of food spiced 
with poison; the first cup always had to be tipped out since the piece 
of unicorn was discoloured when the cupbearer took it out again. The 
seventy year old man was at a loss; he had no idea where to hide the 
wax images that his enemies had made so they could destroy him; he was 
also being scratched by the long needles that were stuck through them. 
They could be melted down; however, he had been so horror-stricken by 
these secret simulcra that against his powerful will he found himself 
several times thinking that such an action might be fatal for him and 
that he could disappear like the wax in the fire. Horror made his 
shrunken body drier still and more durable. But now it was the body of 
his empire that was being attacked; from Grenada the Jews had been 
incited to kill off all Christians and this time they had hired 
mercenaries of a more terrible kind. Right from the very first rumours 
no one doubted the plot by the lepers; already several people had seen 
them throwing horrible decomposing bundles into the wells. It wasn't 
due to any credulity on their part that people immediately thought it 
possible; faith, on the other hand, had become so ponderous that it 
had dropped from those shivering hands and gone straight to the very 
bottom of the wells . And once again the zealous old man had to keep 
poison away from his blood. During his bouts of superstition he had 
prescribed the Angelus for himself and his entourage to ward off the 
demons of twilight; and now every evening across the whole agitated 
world the bells rang out for that calming prayer. With the exception, 
however, of all the bulls and epistles he sent out which were more 
like spiced wine than herb tea. The empire had not committed itself to 
his care for treatment; but he didn't tire of inundating it with 
proofs of its sickness; and already people from the farthest east 
consulted this imperious physician. 

But then the incredible happened. On All Saints Day he had preached 
longer and more fervently than usual; prompted by a sudden need to 
look over it again himself he had revealed his faith; he had lifted it 
slowly with all his strength out of its eighty-five years old 
tabernacle and had exhibited it in the pulpit. They had all yelled at 
him. All Europe yelled out: this was a poor faith. 

Then the Pope disappeared. For days no instructions were issued by 
him; he kept to his prayer room, remaining on his knees and exploring 
the mystery of those who by their actions do harm to their souls. 
Eventually he reappeared, exhausted by his arduous self-examination, 
and recanted. Time and again he recanted. It became the senile passion 
of his mind to recant. It wasn't unheard of for him to wake the 
cardinals in the night so that he could talk with them about his 
repentance. And perhaps what kept him alive well beyond his allotted 
span was, in the end, simply the hope even then of humbling himself 
before Napoleon Orsini who hated him and would not come. 



Jakob von Cahors had recanted. And one might think that God himself 
had wanted to prove the Pope's error, because so soon afterwards he 
took to himself that son of Grafen von Ligny who seemed to await his 
coming-of-age on earth only so that he could take up the soul's 
sensuous pleasures as a grown man. There were many still living who 
could remember this serene boy when he was in his cardinalate and 
could recall how, at the beginning of his adolescence, he was made 
bishop and died in an ecstasy of fulfilment when he was barely 
eighteen. One still met those who had been brought back to life: for 
in the air at his graveside there was pure life that had become free 
and had a long-lasting effect on corpses. But wasn't there something 
desperate even in this precocious saintliness? Wasn't a wrong done to 
everyone by the way the clean fabric of this soul, which had had only 
a brief immersion in life, was dyed in the intense scarlet of the time 
to make it shine? Didn't it feel something like a counter-thrust when 
this young prince leapt from this earth into his passionate ascension? 
Why didn't these givers of light go and live among the toiling 
candlemakers? Wasn't it this darkness that had brought John XXII to 
declare that before the Last Judgement there can be no perfect bliss 
anywhere, not even among the blessed? And indeed, how much self- 
opinionated determination did it take to imagine that, while such 
dense confusion existed here, somewhere there were already faces 
bathed in the light of God, leant on angels and calmed by the 
inexhaustible vision of Him. 



Here I sit in the cold night, writing, and knowing all this. I know it 
perhaps because I met that man when I was little. He was very tall, 
I'd even say he must have been strikingly tall. 

Unlikely as it may be, I'd somehow managed some time towards evening 
to get away from the house by myself; I was running; I turned a corner 
and at the same instant I ran straight into him. I don't understand 
how what had occurred at that moment could take place within about 
five seconds. The telling of it, however concisely, takes much longer. 
I had hurt myself colliding with him; I was little and I felt I 
already deserved a lot of praise for not crying; naturally I also 
expected to be comforted. As he wasn't doing that I supposed he was 
embarrassed. I took it that he couldn't think of the right sort of 
joke that would relieve the situation. I was quite happy to help him 
but that would have meant looking him in the face. I've said he was 
tall. Now, he hadn't bent over me which would have been the natural 
thing to do; he stayed at the height I couldn't deal with. In front of 
me was nothing but the smell and the peculiar hardness of his suit, 
which I had felt. Suddenly his face appeared. What was it like? I 
don't know. I don't want to know. It was the face of an enemy. And 
next to this face, right next to it, at the same height as his 
terrifying eyes, like a second head was his fist. Before I even had 
time to lower my face I had already taken to my heels, slipping away 
to the left and down this empty, horrible street in a city I didn't 
know, a city where nothing was ever forgiven. 

It was then that I experienced what I now understand: that heavy, 
massive, desperate period in time. That age when the kiss of 
reconciliation between two men was simply the signal for the murderers 
stationed about. They drank from the same cup, mounted the same horse 
while everyone looked on, and the news spread how they would be 
sleeping in the same bed that night: but with every contact their 
distaste for each other was so strong that whenever one of them saw 
the pulsing veins of the other a sickly revulsion caused him to jerk 
backwards as if he'd seen a toad. The age when brother attacked 
brother and held him prisoner because of the other's larger share of 
their inheritance; true, the King interceded on behalf of the ill- 
treated younger brother and managed to get his freedom and property 
restored to him; and the elder brother occupied, as fate would have 
it, with matters far away, sent him greetings of peace and in his 
letters repented of the wrong he had done. But after all that had 
happened the freed man was never himself again. 



The century slows him in pilgrim's clothes, wandering from church to 
church making up wondrous vows. With amulets hanging from his neck he 
whispered his fears to the monks of Saint-Denis and for a long time 
their records showed the hundred-pound wax candle that he had thought 
good to dedicate it to Saint Louis. He didn't get to have a life of 
his own; to the day he died he felt his brother's jealousy and anger 
as a warped constellation above his heart. And that Count de Foix, 
Gaston Phoebus, whom everyone admired— hadn ' t he openly killed his 
cousin Ernault the English King's captain at Lourdes? Yet what was 
this patent act of murder compared with the terrible accident that 
occurred because he hadn't put his sharp little penknife down before 
allowing his famously beautiful hand, now all a-twitch with reproach, 
to graze the bare throat of his sleeping son? The room was dark; they 
needed light to see the blood that had come from so far and was now, 
as it stole away from the tiny wound on this exhausted boy, leaving a 
magnificent lineage for ever. 

Who could be strong and refrain from murder? Who in that age didn't 
know that one couldn't avoid the extreme? Some place a strange 
presentiment would come over a man whose glance during the day had met 
the gauging glance of his murderer. He would withdraw and shut himself 
in, would write his will, ending with directions for a litter of woven 
willow twigs, the habit of a Celestine monk, and the scattering of 
ashes . Strange minstrels appeared in front of his castle and he paid 
them royally for their singing which was in accord with his vague 
forebodings. The dogs, looking up at him, showed doubt in their eyes 
and they were becoming less confident in reading his wishes. From the 
motto that had held good for him all his life there gently emerged a 
newer, clearer second meaning. Many longstanding habits appeared to 
have lost their relevance but there didn't seem to be any others 
developing that could replace them. Whenever plans were drawn up he 
dealt with them without really believing in them; on the other hand, 
certain acts of remembrance took on an unexpected finality. In the 
evening at the firesideone thought of abandoning oneself to them. But 
the night outside that no one knew any more all at once sounded quite 
loud in one ' s ears . The ear that was experienced in so many free or 
dangerous nights distinguished individual pieces of the silence. 

And yet this time it was different. Not the night between yesterday 
and today: a night. Night. Beau Sire Dieu, and then the Resurrection. 
Praisings of a loved one scarcely reached him at times like these: for 
him the women were all turned out in aubades or the submissive songs 
of troubadours, now incomprehensible with their long, convoluted showy 
calls. Best suited to the dark, like the full feminine, upward gaze of 
a bastard son. 

And then, before the late supper, this pensiveness over the hands in 
the silver washbasin. One's own hands. Could a coherence be conveyed 
to them? An ordered sequence to reaching for things or leaving them 
be? No. Everyone tried both the part and the counterpart. The one 
cancelled the other. There was no line of action. 

The only exception were the missionary brothers. When the King had 
seen how they conducted themselves he devised the charter for them 
himself. He spoke of them as his dear brothers; never had anyone 
affected him so deeply. They were given verbal permission to go in 
their own guise among the worldly; for the King wished for nothing 
more than that they might infect many others with their zeal and draw 
them enraptured into their powerful movement where order dwelt. As for 
himself, he so longed to learn from them. Didn't he wear, exactly as 
they did, the symbols and clothes that held meaning? When he watched 
them he found it possible to believe that these things might be 
learned: how to come and go, how to speak out and how to turn away so 
that no one could be in any doubt. Enormous hopes spread across his 
heart. Every day he sat in the best seat in the fitful light of the 
strangely characterless hall of the Hospital of the Trinity and he 
would stand up out of sheer excitement and then pull himself together 
in the way schoolboys do. Others wept but he was inwardly filled with 
shining tears and pressed his cold hands together only to bear it all. 
Sometimes at heightened moments when one of the card players left the 
game and suddenly stepped out of his wide gaze, the King lifted up his 



face and was afraid: how long had he been there: Monseigneur Saint 
Michel, up there, had advanced to the edge of the scaffolding in his 
dazzling silver armour. 

At moments like this he would sit bolt upright. He would look around 
as if he were trying to make a decision. He was very close to seeing 
the counterpart to this sort of dramatic action: the great, uneasy, 
profane passion play he acted in. But suddenly it was gone. Open 
torches came towards him, throwing their formless shadows onto the 
vaulted ceiling. Men unknown to him were tugging at him. He wanted to 
act his part but nothing came from his mouth, his movements produced 
no actorly gestures. People were crowding around him so oddly that it 
occurred to him that he should be carrying the cross . And he wanted to 
wait for them to bring it. But they were stronger and slowly they 
pushed him out . 

Outside much has changed. I don't know how. But within and before 
thee, Lord, within and before thee, Thou who looks on: are we without 
a line of action? We indeed discover that we don't know our role; we 
look for a mirror, we'd like to remove our make-up and take off all 
that's false and become real. But somewhere there's still a piece of 
our disguise clinging to us that we've forgotten about. There's a 
trace of exaggeration on our eyebrows; we don't notice that the 
corners of our mouths are twisted. And this is how we go around, an 
absolute laughing-stock: neither a real being nor an actor. 



It was in the amphitheatre at Orange. Without taking a proper look 
upwards and being aware only of the rustic cleft that now locates the 
facade, I had entered by the caretaker's little glass door. I found 
myself among bodies of columns lying on the ground and small althaea 
trees, but it was only for a moment that they hid from me open mussel 
shell of the sloping auditorium lying there divided by the afternoon 
shadows like a gigantic concave sundial. I quickly went towards it. As 
I climbed between the rows of seats I felt how I was diminishing in 
this setting. 

A little further up a few foreigners were standing around, poorly set 
out, idly curious; their clothing was unpleasantly eye-catching, and 
its quality wasn't worth discussing. For a while they looked straight 
at me, astonished at my smallness. That made me turn round. 

Oh, I was totally unprepared. A play was being performed. A huge, 
superhuman drama was in progress, the drama of this vast backdrop 
which had three roles in that it resounded with grandeur, was almost 
annihilating, and suddenly brought to scale what was excessive. 

I was carried away by a joyful alarm. Towering there with the face- 
like arrangement of its shadows gathered at the centre in the dark of 
its mouth, and bordered above by cornices adorned with a wreathed 
symmetry of coif fed curls. This was the all-disguising mask of 
antiquity behind which the world fits together as a face. Here in this 
great inward-curving seating space reigned an expectant, empty, 
intaking entity: everything took place across there: gods and fate. 
And from there (looking upwards) came, lightly, over the topmost part 
of the wall, the never ending entrance of the sky. 

That hour, I realise now, turned me away from our theatres for ever. 
What am I supposed to do in them? What should I do in front of a 
stage-set where this wall (the icon screen in Russian churches) has 
been dismantled because the strength is no longer there to press 
through its hardness the gaseous plot that comes out in big, heavy, 
drops of oil. 

Nowadays plays now fall in lumps through the torn coarse sieve of the 
the stages and pile up and cleared away when there's enough. It's the 
selfsame raw reality that lies around on the streets and in houses 
except that more of it gathers there than would fit into a single 
evening. 



[Written on the margin of the MS : 

Let's be frank, we don't have a theatre, any less than we have a God: 
for those you need community. Everyone has special ideas and fears of 
their own and reveal only so much of them to others as they need to or 
as suits them. We're continually diluting our understanding just so 
there's enough to go round instead of wailing our common needs towards 
the wall behind which the incomprehensible would have time to gather 
its strength and exert it.] 



Were we to have a theatre would you, woman of tragedy, stand there 
again and again—so slender, so pure, as yet so unmoulded--in front of 
those who delight their hurried curiosity with the pain you display? 
You move us in ways we cannot express, you foresaw the reality of your 
own suffering that time in Verona when, appearing on the stage while 
you were almost still a child all you simply held roses before your 
face like a mask meant to hide your new stature. 

It's true, you were a child of the theatre and whenever your parents 
performed they wanted to be seen; but that was not your way. This 
profession was to become for you what becoming a nun was, without her 
knowing it, for Marianna Alcoforado, a disguise, dense and 
sufficiently lasting to be relentlessly miserable behind, yet with the 
fervour with which invisible blessed ones are blest. In all the cities 
you came to people would describe your gestures; but they didn't 
understand how you, growing helpless daily, held a poem up in front of 
you to see if it might hide you. You held your hands, your hair or 
anything opaque in front of where you shone through. You breathed on 
those places; you made yourself small; you hid the way children do, 
and then you gave that short, happy outburst and nothing lower than an 
angel should have been allowed to look for you. But next, when you 
looked up cautiously there was no doubt that they had watched you the 
whole time, all of them in that ugly, hollow space filled with eyes: 
you, you, you, and nothing else. 

I can still clearly remember once, long ago, at home, finding a jewel 
case; it was the size of a couple of hands, fan-shaped, with a border 
of flowers stamped into the dark green morocco leather. I opened it: 
it was empty. I can tell this now it's so long past. But at the time I 
opened it I saw only what its emptiness consisted of: there was 
velvet, a small mound of light-coloured velvet that had lost its 
newness; and there was the empty jewel groove running through leaving 
around it a hint of a lighter melancholy. For a moment one could bear 
it. But for those who are in love and who are left behind, it is 
perhaps always thus . 

Leaf back in your diaries. Wasn't there always a time around spring 
when the burgeoning year had a reproachful effect on you? There was a 
desire in all of you for happiness and yet, when you stepped out into 
spacious freedom there was something displeasing in the air and your 
steps were unsure as if you were on a ship. The garden was beginning 
but you (that was it) you dragged winter in as well as the year that 
had gone; for you it was at best a continuation. While you were 
waiting for your soul to take part, you suddenly felt the weight of 
your limbs; and something like the possibility of becoming ill entered 
your open anticipation. You put it down to your dress being too thin; 
you drew your shawl round your shoulders; you ran down the allee to 
the end, then you stood, your heart pounding, in the wide turning- 
circle, determined to be at one with it all. But a bird-call sounded, 
and was alone, and denied you. Ah, should you have been dead? 

Perhaps. Perhaps what is new is that what we survive are: the year and 
love. Flowers and fruit are ripe when they fall; animals go by what 
they feel, and they find each other, and are satisfied with that. But 
we who resolved to have God for ourselves, we can never finish. We 
throw off our nature; we need more time. What is a year to us? What 
are they all? We who began God ages ago, we are still praying to Him: 
see us safely through the night. And then illness. And then love. 

That Clemence de Bourges had had to die in the dawn of her life. She 



who was without equal; she who knew how to play instruments like no 
one else could make the most beautiful of them play unforgettably by 
the least sound of her voice. Her girlhood was one of such high 
resolve that one woman bounteously in love could dedicate to this 
rising heart the book of sonnets in which every line was unfulfilled. 
Louise Labbe wasn't afraid of frightening the child with her woeful 
accounts of love. She depicted the nightly heightening of her longing; 
she promised pain as if it were a wider world and suspected that the 
grief she herself had experienced would remain far behind the grief 
that was darkly anticipated and gave the young girl her beauty. 



Girls where I grew up. Say the most beautiful one among you had gone 
on a summer afternoon into the darkened library and had found the 
little book printed by Jan des Tournes in 1556. Say she took the cool 
polished leather volume out into the humming orchard or over to the 
phlox in whose oversweet scent can be found a residue of pure 
sweetness. Say she came upon the book early. In the days when her eyes 
are beginning to take note of what they see, while her younger mouth 
is still capable of biting from an apple pieces that are far too big, 
and be full. 

And then when the time of more emotional friendships comes along, it 
could be your secret, girls, to use the names Dika Anaktoria, Gyrinno 
and At this with one another. It might be a neighbour, an older man 
who travelled about when he was young and has long been regarded as an 
eccentric who betrays these names to you. Perhaps he sometimes invites 
you to his house to taste his famous peaches or to view upstairs in 
the white corridor his Ridinger equestrian engravings that are so much 
talked about that one had to have seen them. 

Perhaps you'll persuade him to tell you stories. There may be one 
among you who can get him to bring out his old travel diaries, who 
knows? This same girl may one day coax him into revealing that several 
fragments of Sappho's poetry have come down to us and the girl can't 
rest until she knows what is almost a secret: that this man who lives 
a secluded life liked now and then in his leisure time to turn to 
translating these pieces of verse. He has to admit that for a long 
time now he hasn't given them a thought and that what there is, he 
assures her, isn't worth mentioning. Still, if they really want him 
to, he'll happily recite a stanza to these guileless friends. He even 
discovers he remembers the Greek text and recites it because the 
translation doesn't capture, in his opinion, the meaning and because 
he wants to show these young people the beautiful authentic fragment 
of this massive adorned language, fashioned in such strong flames. 



All of this fans his love for his subject once more. Evenings become 
beautiful again and for him they could almost be the evenings in his 
youth, autumn evenings, for example which prelude hours and hours of 
peaceful night. Then the light burns long in his study. He doesn't 
stay bent over the pages all the time, he often leans back and closes 
his eyes over a line he has re-read and its meaning spreads through 
his blood. Never had he been so sure of antiquity. He might almost 
smile at the generations that mourned it like a lost play in which 
they would have liked to act. Now, he instantly understands the 
dynamic significance of that early world unity which was something 
like a new simultaneous incorporating of all human labours. He's not 
deterred by the fact that the consistent culture with its almost total 
openness appeared to many later eyes to form a whole, a whole that was 
wholly past. To be sure, in those days the ethereal half sphere of 
life did really fit that of existence and the two coming together 
formed one golden ball. Yet hardly had this happened when the spirits 
locked inside it felt that this entire achievement was nothing more 
than a comparison; the massive orb lost substance and rose into space 
and its golden curve dully reflected the sadness of everything that 
still could not be coped with. 

As he is thinking this, thinking and understanding it, the lonely man 
in his night notices a plate of fruit on the window-seat. 



Unconsciously he takes an apple and puts it in front of him on the 
table. He thinks: How my life is around this fruit. Around everything 
that is complete rises what is still to be done and adds to itself. 
And then beyond what is not done there arises before him, almost too 
quickly, the small figure that reaches out into infinity, the figure, 
whom (according to Galen's testimony) they all thought of when they 
said ' the poetess' . For in the same way that, after the labours of 
Heracles, the demolition and rebuilding of the world came about 
because it was earnestly desired, so too the ecstasies and despairs, 
which future ages would have to address, thronged to the deeds of her 
heart to be given life. 

All of a sudden he knows this resolute heart that was prepared to let 
the whole of love have its way to the last. It doesn't surprise him 
that people failed to recognise it: in this woman in love who was so 
very much the future they saw only excess, not the new measure of love 
and heart sorrow. It doesn't surprise him that they interpreted the 
inscription of her existence with exactly the same conviction it 
carried at the time, in that they finally included her death with the 
deaths of those women whom the god incites, individually, to pour 
themselves out in a love that is not returned. Perhaps even amongst 
the girls she had tutored there some close to her who didn't 
understand: that at her prime she lamented not one who had left her 
embrace empty but the one who was no longer possible, the one who had 
grown by their love. 

At this point the meditating man stands up and crosses to his window; 
his high-ceilinged room is too close for him, if it were possible he'd 
like to see the stars. He has no delusions about himself. 

All of a sudden he knows this resolute heart that was prepared to let 
the whole of love have its way to the last. It doesn't surprise him 
that people failed to recognise it: in this woman in love who was so 
very much the future they saw only excess, not the new measure of love 
and heart sorrow. It doesn't surprise him that they interpreted the 
inscription of her existence with exactly the same conviction it 
carried at the time, in that they finally included her death with the 
deaths of those women whom the god incites, individually, to pour 
themselves out in a love that is not returned. Perhaps even amongst 
the girls she had tutored there some close to her who didn't 
understand: that when in her prime she lamented not the one who had 
left her embrace empty but the one who was no longer possible, the one 
who had grown by their love. 

At this point the meditating man stands up and crosses to his window; 
his high-ceilinged room is too close for him, if it were possible he'd 
like to see the stars. He has no delusions about himself. He knows 
he's being led by emotion, because among the young girls of the 
neighbourhood there's one who matters to him. He has wishes (not for 
himself, but for her) ; at some fleeting moment in the night he 
understands the claim that love is making. He promises himself to say 
nothing of this . It appears to him the finest thing is to be by 
himself, wakeful, and thinking, on her account, how very right that 
woman in love had been in her knowledge that sexual union can have no 
meaning other than an increase in one's loneliness; that her breaking 
through the temporal aim of sex had an infinite purpose of its own; 
that in the depths of an embrace she delved not for satisfaction but 
for yearning; that she scorned the notion of one being either the 
lover or the loved; that before they left her, she had led the weak 
loved ones to her couch and imbued them with the ardour of lovers. By 
such noble partings her heart became part of Nature. She sang the 
bridal song about fate to her more mature favourites; exhalted their 
nuptials; exaggerated the qualities of the approaching bridegroom so 
that they might prepare themselves for him as for a god and might 
survive even his splendour. 



In recent years, Abelone, there was one occasion, when, unexpectedly, 
I felt your actual presence and understood you, even though you had 
not been in my thoughts for a long time. 



It was in Venice, in autumn, in one of those salons where foreign 
visitors foregather around a hostess who is as foreign as they are. 
These people stand about with their cup of tea and are delighted 
whenever a well-informed fellow-guest turns them swiftly and 
discreetly towards the door and whisper a name that sounds Venetian. 
They're ready for the most outlandish names; nothing can surprise 
them, for limited as their experience may be, in this city they 
blithely surrender to the most extravagant possibilities. In their 
normal day-to-day lives they are forever confusing what is 
extraordinary and what is forbidden, but here they grant themselves 
the expectation of something wonderful, which appears on their faces 
as an expression of coarse licentiousness. What might come over them 
only fleetingly at home--say at a concert or when quietly reading a 
book--they now, in this flattering setting, make show of as if by 
entitlement. Similarly, being unprepared for and ignorant of any 
danger they allow themselves to succumb to almost baneful musical 
outpourings as if they were yielding to a physical indiscretion, and 
thus they deliver themselves to the rewarding swoon of the gondola 
ride without coping in the least part with Venetian life. Couples, no 
longer newlyweds, who have spent their entire journey making nothing 
but spiteful exchanges now settle into a companionable silence; the 
pleasant fatigue of his ideals descends on the man while the woman 
feels young and nods cheerily to the indolent locals, giving them 
smiles as if she had teeth of sugar that were continually dissolving. 
And if you were to catch what was said, it turns out they are leaving 
tomorrow, or the day after, or at the end of the week. 

I now stood there among them, glad not to be leaving. It would shortly 
turn cold. The soft, opiate Venice of their preconceptions and 
requirements disappears with these somnolent foreigners, and one 
morning the other Venice is there, the real Venice, wideawake, brittle 
enough to shatter, not in any way the stuff of dreams, willed into 
being in the midst of the void, on sunken forests, finally forced into 
being here and now. The toughened body, stripped of inessentials, 
through which the ever wakeful arsenal drove the blood of its toil; 
and the spirit of this body which, more penetrating, incessantly 
expanding, was stronger than the fragrance of aromatic lands. The 
influential State which exchanged the salt and glass of its poverty 
for the treasures of nations. It is to the world's a counterweight of 
beauty and even within its ornamentation The beautiful counterweight 
to the world that even its ornamentation is full of latent energies 
that branch out ever more finely like nerves—this Venice. 

The realisation that I knew this came over me when I was in the midst 
of all these self-deluding people and so made my hackles rise that I 
looked up to see how I might somehow convey what was in me. Was it 
conceivable that in these rooms there wasn't a single person, who, 
without knowing it was waiting to be enlightened about the essential 
nature of his surroundings? Some young person who would immediately 
understand that what was being offered here wasn't a delight but an 
example of will-power more demanding and severe than could be found 
anywhere else. I walked around, my truth had made me restless. Because 
it had taken hold of me here among so many people, it brought with it 
the the desire to have it expressed, defended, proved. I had this 
grotesque notion in my head that in the next moment I would clap my 
hands out of hatred for all their chattering misunderstanding. 

It was while I was in this ridiculous mood that I noticed her. She was 
standing by herself in front of a window that was flooded with light, 
observing me, not really with her eyes which were serious and 
thoughtful but actually with her mouth which was ironically imitating 
the unmistakably annoyed expression on my face. I immediately felt the 
impatient tension in my features and affected a look of calm. 
Whereupon her mouth reverted to its natural haughtiness. Then, after a 
brief moment of reflection we smiled at each other. 

She brought into my mind, incidentally, a certain early portrait of 
the beautiful Benedicte von Qualen who played a role in Baggensen's 
life. It was impossible to note the depth of stillness of her eyes 
without presuming her voice to have a deep clarity. Moreover, the 
braiding of her hair and the style of the neckline of her dress were 



so very Copenhagen that I made up my mind to speak to her in Danish. 

But before I could get closer a stream of people had pushed towards 
her from the other side of the room; our warm-hearted Countess, 
carried away by her own delight, dashed over to her, accompanied by a 
number of those present, and led her off there and then to sing. I was 
sure the young girl would excuse herself by saying that no one in the 
company could be interested in listening to songs in Danish. And as 
soon as she got the chance to speak that is what she said. The crowd 
round this shining figure urged her all the more; someone knew she 
also sang in German. 'And in Italian, ' a laughing voice added with 
malign satisfaction. I don't know any excuse that I might have wished 
her to offer--but doubtless she would have resisted it anyway. It was 
when looks of dry-eyed offence were already appearing among the faces 
of the petitioners, now released from their prolonged smiling; and 
when the good Countess, to save herself embarrassment, had already 
taken a step back, sympathetically and with dignity, and when it was 
no longer at all necessary, that the young woman gave in. I felt 
myself grow pale with disappointment; reproach was written all over my 
face; but I turned away; there was no point letting her see. However, 
she broke away from the others and all of a sudden was at my side. Her 
dress shone onto me, the flowery scent of her warmth was around me. 

'I really want to sing, ' she said in Danish along my cheek, 'not 
because they want me to; not for appearance's sake: but because now I 
must sing . ' 

In her words one could hear the selfsame vicious intolerance from 
which she had just freed me. 

I slowly followed the group that were leading her away. But I kept at 
the back by a tall door, allowing people to shift around before 
finally settling themselves. I leant against the black mirroring 
surface of the inner door and waited. Someone asked me what was 
happening, whether there was going to be any singing. I pretended not 
to know. Even as I told my lie she had already begun to sing. 

I couldn't see her. There was getting to be a space around one of 
those Italian songs which foreigners take to be the real thing because 
they so clearly follow conventions. And she who sang didn't believe in 
it. It was an effort for her to deliver it; her singing was far too 
laboured. One could tell it was over by the applause that came from 
the front. I was sad and ashamed. People began moving about and I 
decided that as soon as anyone left I would do the same. 

But suddenly the room fell silent. It was a silence that a moment 
before one wouldn't have thought possible; it went on, it intensified; 
and there rose from within it her voice. (Abelone, I thought, 
Abelone.) This time the voice was strong and full and not at all 
heavy; all of a piece, no break, seamless. It was an unknown German 
song. She sang it in a way that was both simple and strange, as if it 
were something vital. She sang: 

'You, whom I do not tell 
I lie weeping 
In the night, 
Lulled by your being, 
Like a child in a cradle. 
You do not tell me when it wakes, 
for my sake: 

What if this glory grew in our hearts 
And was not silent. ' 

(short pause and then hesitantly) : 

'See: with lovers 
When they start to confess, 
How soon they tell lies.' 

Again stillness. God knows who started it. Then people stirred, 
jostled one another, apologised, coughed. They were already thinking 



about joining in a general blurring of what had been heard when 
suddenly her voice burst forth, resolute, unconfined, urgent: 

'You leave me by myself alone 

But from the merest rustling 

Or wafted fragrance I can create you. 

In your arms everything falls from me 

But you alone are born anew. 

I do not cling to what is already in my heart. ' 

I almost believe so when I consider how women in love as naive as 
Mechthild, as passionate as Teresa of Avila, as wounded as the Blessed 
Rose of Lima, could swoon with relief, knowing they were in God's care 
and were loved. Ah, He who was a helper to the weak is an injustice to 
the strong such as they; when they were expecting nothing save an 
unending road there reappeared a known figure coming out to meet them 
in the thrilling forecourt of Heaven, cosseting them with lodgings and 
distracting them with masculinity. His heart's powerful refracting 
lens brings together once more the already parallel rays coming from 
theirs, and they whom the angels hoped to preserve intact for God 
flame up in the dryness of their longing. 

[Written on the margin of the MS: 

To be loved means to be consumed by fire. To love is: giving light 
with inexhaustible oil. To be loved is to pass away; to love is to 
endure . ] 

Nevertheless it's possible that in later years Abelone tried to think 
with her heart so as to enter directly and unobtrusively into 
relationship with God. I could imagine there being letters from her 
reminiscent of the considerate introspection of Princess Amalie 
Gallitzin; but if these letters were addressed to someone she'd been 
close to for years how pained he may have been by the change in her. 
And she herself: I suspect she feared nothing except the ghostly 
alteration which we in fact fail to take note of because all evidence 
of it seems so utterly foreign that we let it pass. 



It is difficult to persuade me that the story of the Prodigal Son is 
not the legend of one who didn't want to be loved. When he was a child 
everyone in the house loved him. He grew up knowing nothing different 
and, being a child, he grew accustomed to their tenderness of heart. 
But once he became a youth he wanted to cast all that aside. He 
wouldn't have been able to say it, but even when he spent the whole 
day wandering around outdoors he didn't want the dogs with him ever 
again because they loved him as well; because looking in their eyes he 
could read watchfulness, sympathy, expectation, and concern; because 
when they were with him there was nothing he could do that didn't 
either delight them or hurt their feelings. But what he was aiming for 
at the time was that indifference of heart which early in the morning 
out in the fields sometimes seized him inwardly and with such purity 
that he would start to run in order to leave himself no time or breath 
to be more than a weightless moment in the morning's returning 
consciousness . 

The mystery of his yet-to-be life spread itself out before him. For no 
reason he would guit the footpath and go on through the fields, his 
arms outstretched as if he were able to cope with several directions 
at once. And then he would fling himself down somewhere out of sight 
and no one would care a j ot about him. He would peel himself a flute, 
or fling a stone at a small predator, or bend down and force a beetle 
to turn around: none of this could count as destiny, and the sky 
passed over him as it passed over all nature. Eventually afternoon 
came and with it the chance to let his fancy roam; one could be a 
buccaneer on the island of Tortuga, and still be free of any 
obligation to actually be one; one could lay siege to Campeche, or 
capture Vera Cruz; one could be an entire army or a leader on 
horseback, or a ship at sea: whatever one felt like being. If it came 
into one's head to kneel, in a trice one was Deodat von Gozon and had 
slain the dragon and still hot from the struggle, had seen that his 



act of heroism lacked obedience and was really haughtiness . For one 
omitted nothing regarding subject matter. And, however much rein one 
allowed one's imagination, there were always intervals when one could 
simply be a bird, without specifying which kind. Then it was time to 
go home . 

Dear God! --how much there was to cast aside and forget; for it was 
right to forget; it was necessary; otherwise one would give oneself 
away if one were questioned closely. No matter how much one tarried 
and looked around, the gable eventually came into view. The topmost 
window gazed down; someone may well have been standing there. The dogs 
in whom expectation had been growing all day, tore through the shrubs 
and hustled one back into the figure they kept in their heads. And the 
house did the rest. One needed only to step into the fullness of its 
aroma for most things to be as they should be. Trivial matters could 
still change; but in all, here one was the person one was always taken 
to be; the one for whom they had long since structured a life out of 
one's small past and their own desires; the being they all shared and 
who day and night was subordinate to the influence of their love, 
between their hope and their doubt, their censure and their applause. 

There's no point taking infinite care climbing the steps. They'll all 
be in the sitting room, and the door has only to open for them to see 
him. He remains in the dark, anticipating their questions. But then 
the worst happens. They take him by both hands, lead him across to the 
table and all of them, every single one, line up, curious, in front of 
the lamp. It's all very well for them: they're in the shadow; it's on 
him alone the light falls as well as on all the disgrace of having a 
face . 

Will he stay and lie through his teeth about the general sort of life 
they'd assigned to him? Will he stay and come to resemble them in 
every part of his face? Can he divide himself between the tender 
truthfulness of his will and the crude deceit that spoils it for him? 
Will he abandon becoming something that might harm those of his family 
who have nothing left but a weak heart? No, he'll go away. It could be 
while they're busy with his birthday table, setting out those 
ill-chosen items that are meant once again to put everything to 
rights. He'll go away for good. Only long after will it become clear 
to him how great had been his resolve at that time never to love, so 
as not to put anyone in the appalling position of being loved. He will 
be reminded of this years later and like other good intentions this 
also will have been impossible to hold to. For in his loneliness, he 
had loved and loved again, each time wasting his whole nature and 
entertaining inexpressible fears for the freedom of the other person. 
Slowly he had learnt to shine the rays of his emotion into his beloved 
instead of consuming the emotion in her. And he was spoiled by the joy 
of recognising through her growing transparency the vistas she opened 
to his boundless urge to possess. 

How he could weep night after night, yearning to be filled with light 
himself. But a woman beloved, who yields, is still a long way from 
being a woman who loves. the nights of desolation when the gifts 
that had flooded from him were returned to him in pieces, heavy with 
the passing of time. How often he thought then of the troubadors, who 
feared nothing more than having their wishes granted. All the money he 
had acquired and increased he gave away to avoid having that same 
experience. He hurt her feelings with his ill-mannered payments, 
afraid every day that she might try to answer his love. For he had 
lost hope of ever meeting a woman whose love could pierce him. 

Even when poverty terrified him every day with new hardships, when his 
head was misery's favourite plaything and no longer any good, when 
sores were breaking out all over his body like emergency eyes coping 
with the blackness of affliction, when he was horrified at the filth 
to which he'd been abandoned because he himself was filthy: even then, 
when he thought about it, his greatest terror was that someone would 
respond to him. What were all the hellish times since then compared 
with the profound sorrow of those embraces in which he lost 
everything? Didn't he wake up feeling he had no future? Didn't he walk 
around with his mind vacant and without the right to all the dangers? 



Hadn't he had to promise a hundred times not to die? Perhaps it was 
the obstinacy of this terrible memory wanting a place in him to keep 
coming back to, that allowed him to continue his life amid squalor. 
Eventually he was found again. And not until then, not until his years 
as a shepherd did his crowded past come to rest. Who can describe what 
happened to him then? What poet's persuasion can reconcile the length 
of those days with the brevity of life? What art has scope enough to 
show simultaneously his thin cloaked form and the vast space of his 
colossal nights? 

That was the period which began with his feeling as ordinary and 
anonymous as a convalescent making slow progress. He didn't love- 
apart from, one could say: loving life. The simple love of his sheep 
didn't affect him; like light falling through clouds, it was scattered 
all about him and shimmered softly upon the meadows. Following in the 
innocent trail of their hunger, he strode silently over the pastures 
of the world. Strangers saw him on the Acropolis and for a long while 
perhaps he was one of the shepherds at Les Baux and saw petrified time 
outlasting that noble family, which, despite all their hard-won 
victories under the numbers seven and three, was not able to defeat 
the sixteen rays of its own stars. Or should I picture him at Orange, 
resting against the rustic triumphal arch? Should I see him in the 
soul-haunted shade of Alyscamps where among the tombs that lie open 
like the tombs of the resurrected, his eyes pursue a dragonfly? 

No matter. I see more than just him. I see his whole existence, which 
was then taking up the long love to God, the silent goalless toil of 
it. For he who had wanted to hold himself back forever was once more 
overcome by the increasing inability of his heart to wish it 
otherwise. And this time he hoped his wish would be granted. His 
entire being that through his long solitude had become more foreseeing 
and unwavering, promised him that He who now dominated his thoughts 
knew how to love with a love that was penetrating and radiant. But 
while he yearned to be loved at last so masterly, his emotion which 
was accustomed to things far off, understood the utter remoteness of 
God. There were nights when he had a mind to hurl himself into space 
towards God; hours full of discovery when he felt strong enough to 
dive back to the Earth and pull it up on the storm-tide of his heart. 
He was like someone who hears a wonderful language and feverishly 
resolves to write poetry in it. Still ahead of him lies the dismay he 
will experience at how difficult the language is; he was unwilling at 
first to believe that you could spend your whole life shaping your 
fist trial sentence only to find they didn't make sense. He launched 
himself into learning it like a runner starting a race, but the 
denseness of what had to be surmounted slowed him down. Anything more 
humiliating than this apprenticeship didn't bear thinking about. He 
had found the philosopher's stone and now he was being forced to 
ceaselessly convert the swiftly made gold of his good fortune into the 
lumpen lead of patience. He who had adapted himself to space now 
dragged hiself like a worm through crooked passageways without egress 
or direction. Now that he was learning, with so much difficulty and 
worry, to love, he was shown how careless and trivial all the love had 
been which he'd supposed he'd achieved. How nothing could have come 
from that kind of love because he hadn't begun to work on it and turn 
it into a reality. 

During those years great changes were taking place within him. Working 
hard to draw close to God, he almost forgot Him; and all that he 
perhaps hoped to attain in time was ' sa patience de supporter une 
ame ' * The accidents of fate which people go by had long since 
relinquished all meaning for him; and now even the spicy flavour 
that's essential to pleasure and pain became for him pure and 
nourishing. From the roots of his being grew a sturdy overwintering 
plant of a fruitful joyousness. He was completely absorbed in being 
master of what constituted his inner life. He wanted to leave nothing 
out, for he had no doubt that his love resided in all of this and was 
growing. Indeed his inner composure was so far-reaching that he 
decided to make up for the most important of the things he had merely 
endured. He thought mostly of his childhood, and the more calmly he 
tried to picture it the more incomplete it seemed to have been. All 
his memories of it had about them the vagueness of premonitions and 



the fact that they were taken as past virtually put them in the 
future. To really involve himself in all this once more was the reason 
why this erstwhile stranger returned home. We don't know if he stayed 
there: all we know is that he went back. 

*(his) patience to put up with a soul 

Those telling the story make an effort at this point to remind us 
about the house as it was; for by then only a short time had elapsed, 
only a small amount of measured time; everyone in the house would be 
able to say how much. The dogs are grown old but they're still living. 
Reportedy one of them howled. Everyone leaves what they're doing. 
Faces appear at the windows, old faces and grown up faces, all of them 
showing a touching likeness to faces remembered. And in one very old 
face recognition bursts forth. Recognition? Is it really just 
recognition?--Forgiveness . Forgiveness for what?--Love. My God: love. 

He, the one they recognised, no longer thought--his mind being so 
occupied--that love might still exist. With all that was happening at 
the time it's understandable that the only thing they would tell of 
later was what he did, the incredible action he performed, which no 
one had seen before: the gesture of supplication, in which he threw 
himself down before them, imploring them not to show love. Alarmed by 
this and shaking they raised him to his feet. They interpreted his 
impulsive behaviour in their own way, while at the same time forgiving 
him. He must have found it indescribably liberating to find that 
they'd all misunderstood him, despite his desperately explicit manner. 
It was likely they'd let him stay. As the days passed he came to see 
more clearly that the love they were so vain about and which they 
secretly encouraged in one another did not affect him. He almost had 
to smile at the trouble they took and it became obvious that their 
concern for him could not amount to much. 

What did they know about who he was? He was now so terribly difficult 
to love, and he felt there was only the One who was capable of it. But 
He was not yet willing. 



End of the Notebooks