Title: Confusion (aka Confusion of Feelings or Episode in the Early Life of Privy Councillor D.).
Author: Stefan Zweig.
Genre: Fiction, literature, novellas, homosexuality.
Publication Date: 1927.
Summary: A young man who is rapidly going to the dogs in Berlin is packed off by his father to a university in a sleepy provincial town. There a brilliant lecture awakens in him a wild passion for learning—as well as a peculiarly intense fascination with the graying professor who gave the talk. The student grows close to the professor, becoming a regular visitor to the apartment he shares with his much younger wife. He takes it upon himself to urge his teacher to finish the great work of scholarship that he has been laboring at for years and even offers to help him in any way he can. The professor welcomes the young man's attentions, at least on some days. On others, he rages without apparent reason or turns away from his disciple with cold scorn. The young man is baffled, wounded. He cannot understand. But the wife understands. She understands perfectly. And one way or another she will help him to understand, too.
My rating: 8.5
♥ Was that really my life, did it truly trace as purposeful a course with such ease, from the first to the present day, as the biographer describes, sorting the paper records into order? I felt exactly as I did when I first heard my own voice on a recording: initially I did not recognize it at all, for it was indeed my voice but only as others hear it, not as I hear it myself through my blood and within my very being, so to speak. And so I, who have spent a life-time depicting human beings in the light of their work, portraying the intrinsic intellectual structure of their worlds, was made aware again from my own experience of the impenetrability in every human life of the true core of its being, the malleable cell from which all growth proceeds. We live through myriads of seconds, yet it is always one, just one, that casts our entire inner world into turmoil, the second when (as Stendhal has described it) the internal inflorescence, already steeped in every kind of fluid, condenses and crystallizes—a magical second, like the moment of generation, and like that moment concealed in the warm interior of the individual life, invisible, untouchable, beyond the reach of feeling, a secret experienced alone. No algebra of the mind can calculate it, no alchemy of premonition divine it, and it can seldom perceive itself.
The book says not a word about this most secret factor in my mental development: that was why I couldn't help smiling. Everything it says is true—only what genuinely matters is missing. It merely describes me, it says nothing real about me. It speaks of me, but does not reveal what I am. The carefully compiled index comprises two hundred names—and the only one missing is the name of the man from whom all my creativity derived, who determined the course my life would take, and now calls me back to my youth with redoubled force. The book covers everything else, but not the man who gave me the gift of language and with whose tongue I speak: and suddenly I feel to blame for this craven silence. I have spent my life painting portraits of human beings, interpreting figures from past centuries for the benefit of today's sensibilities, and never thought of turning to the picture of the one most present to my mind. As in Homeric days, then, I will give that beloved shade my own blood to drink, so that he may speak to me again, and although he grew old and died long ago, be with me now that I too am growing old. I will add a page not previously written to those on open display, a confession of feelings to be set beside that scholarly book, and for his sake I will tell myself the true story of my youth.
♥ For the very reason that, as the son of a headmaster in our small North German town, I was familiar at home with education as a means of earning a living, I hated everything to do with languages and literature from childhood: Nature, true to her mystic task of preserving the creative instinct, always impels the child to reject and despise its father's inclinations. Nature does not want weak, conformist progeny, merely continuing from where the previous generation left off: she always sets those of a kind at loggerheads, allowing the later-born to return to the ways of their forefathers only after making a laborious but fruitful detour. My father had only to venerate scholarship for my self-assertive instinct to regard it as mere intellectual sophistry; he praised the classics as a model to be followed, so they seemed to me didactic and I hated them. Surrounded by books, I despised them; with my father constantly pressing intellectual pursuits on me, I felt furious dislike for every kind of knowledge passed on by written tradition; it was not surprising, therefore, that I barely scraped through my school-leaving examinations and then vigorously resisted any idea of continuing my studies.
♥ Nothing could be further from the truth in that curriculum vitae of mine, then, than the well-meant statement that thanks to the guidance of meritorious professors I grasped the basic principles of the study of the arts in my first term—what did my passion for liberty, now impetuously breaking out, care then for lectures and lecturers? ..The suspicion I had entertained even as a schoolboy that I had entered a morgue of the spirit, where uncaring hands anatomized the dead, was revived to an alarming degree in this factory churning out second-hand Alexandrian philosophy—and how intensely did I feel that instinct of rejection the moment the lecture I had sat through with such difficulty was over, and I stepped out into the streets of the city, the Berlin of those days which, surprised by its own growth, was bursting with a virility too suddenly attained, sparks flying from all its stones and all its streets, while the feverishly vibrant pace of life forced itself irresistibly on everyone, and in its avid greed greatly resembled the intoxication of my own only recently recognized sense of virility. Both the city and I had suddenly emerged from a repressive petit bourgeois atmosphere of Protestant orderliness, and were plunged too rapidly into a new delirium of power and opportunity—both of us, the city and I, a young fellow starting out in life, vibrated like a dynamo with restlessness and impatience. I never understood and loved Berlin as much as I did then, for every cell in my being was crying out for sudden expansion, just like every part of that overflowing, warm human honeycomb—and where could the patience of my forceful youth have released itself but in the throbbing womb of that heated giantess, that restless city radiating power? It grasped me and took me to itself, I flung myself into it, went down into its very veins, my curiosity rapidly orbiting its entire stony yet warm body—I walked its streets from morning to night, went out to the lakes, discovered its secret places: I was truly a man possessed as, instead of paying attention to my studies, I flung myself into the lively and adventurous business of exploration.
♥ It sometimes seems to me that a young man never wasted his time more stupidly than I did in those months. I never read a book, I am sure I never spoke a sensible word or entertained a thought worth the name—instinctively I avoided all cultivated society, merely in order to let my recently aroused body savour all the better the piquancy of the new and hitherto forbidden. This self-intoxication, this waste of time in wreaking havoc on oneself, may come naturally to every strong young man suddenly let off the leash—yet my peculiar sense of being possessed by it made this kind of dissolute conduct dangerous, and nothing was more likely than that I woulds have frittered away my life entirely, or at least have fallen victim to a dullness of feeling, had not chance suddenly halted my precipitous mental decline.
♥ My father retained his composure on this difficult situation, and I still privately thank him for it. Whenever I wish to remember him—and he died long ago—I refuse to see him from the viewpoint of the schoolboy who liked to despise him as no more than a correcting machine, constantly carping, a schoolmaster bent on precision; instead, I always conjure up his picture at this most human of moments, when deeply repelled, yet restraining himself, the old man followed me without a word into the oppressive atmosphere of my room.
♥ Then he pulled up a chair, sat down, looked at me gravely but without any reproach in his eyes, and asked: "Well, what do you think about all this? What now?"
This calm question floored me. Everything in me had been strung up—if he had spoken in anger, I would have let fly arrogantly in return, if he had admonished me emotionally I would have mocked him. But this matter-of-fact question broke the back of my defiance: its gravity called for gravity in return, its forced calm demanded respect and a readiness to respond.
♥ I felt strong enough to give up all lesser pleasures for the act of will demanded of me, I was impatient to turn my wasted abilities to intellectual pursuits, I felt an avid wish for gravity, sobriety, disciple and severity. It was now that I vowed myself entirely to study, as if to a monastic ritual of sacrifice, although unaware of the transports of delight awaiting me in scholarship, and never guessing that adventures and perils lie ready for the impetuous in that rarefied world of the intellect as well.
♥ I came closer, not just to hear him but also to see the remarkably graceful, all-embracing movements of his hands which, when he uttered a word with commanding emphasis, sometimes parted like wings, rising and fluttering in the air, and then gradually sank again harmoniously, with the gesture of an orchestral conductor muting the sound. The lecture became evermore heated as the professor, in his animated discourse, rose rhythmically from the hard surface of desk as if from the back of a galloping horse, his tempestuous train of thought, shot through with lightning images, racing breathlessly on. I had never heard anyone speak with such enthusiasm, so genuinely carrying the listeners away—for the first time I experienced what Latin scholars call a raptus, when one is taken right out of oneself; the words uttered by his quick tongue were spoken not for himself, nor for the others present, but poured out of his mouth like fire from a man inflamed by internal combustion.
I had never before known language as ecstasy, the passion of discourse as an elemental act, and the unexpected shock of it drew me closer.
♥ ..obviously one of the students had made some comment on Shakespeare, describing him as a meteoric phenomenon, which had made the man perched on the desk eager to explain that Shakespeare was merely the strongest manifestation, the psychic message of a whole generation, expressing, through the senses, a time turned passionately enthusiastic. In a single outline he traced the course of that great hour in England's history, that single moment of ecstasy which can come unexpectedly in the life of every nation, as in the life of every human being, a moment when all forces work together to forge a way strongly forward into eternity. Suddenly the earth has broadened out, a new continent is discovered, while the oldest power of all, the Papacy, threatens to collapse; beyond the seas, now belonging to the English since the Spanish Armada foundered in the wind and waves, new opportunities arise, the world has opened up, and the spirit automatically expands with it—it too desires breadth, it too desires extremes of good and evil; it wishes to make discoveries and conquests like the conquistadors of old, it needs a new language, new force. And overnight come those who speak that language, the poets, fifty or a hundred in a single decade, wild, boisterous fellows who do not, like the court poetasters before them, cultivate their little Arcadian gardens and verify on elegant mythological themes—no, they storm the theatre, they set up their standard in the wooden buildings that were once merely the scene of animal shows and bloodthirsty sports, and the hot odour of blood still lingers in their plays, their drama itself is a Circus Maximus where the wild beasts of emotion fall ravenously on one another. These unruly and passionate hearts rage like lions, each trying to outdo the others in wild exuberance; all is permitted, all is allowed on stage: incest, murder, evildoing, crimes, the boundless tumult of human nature indulges in a heated orgy; as the hungry beasts once emerged from their cages, so do the inebriated passions now race into the wooden-walled arena, roaring and dangerous. It is a single outburst exploding like a petard, and it lasts for fifty years: a rush of blood, an ejaculation, a uniquely wild phenomenon prowling the world, seizing on it as its prey—in this orgy of power you can hardly hear individual voices or make out individual figures. Each strikes sparks off his neighbour, they learn and they steal from each other, they strive to outdo one another, to surpass each other's achievement, yet they are all only intellectual gladiators in the same festive games, slaves unchained and urged on by the genius of the hour. It recruits them from dark, crooked rooms on the outskirts of the city, and from palaces too: Ben Jonson, the mason's grandson; Marlowe, the son of a cobbler; Massinger, the offspring of an upper servant; Philip Sidney, the rich and scholarly statesman—but the seething whirlpool flings them all together; today they are famous, tomorrow they die, Kyd and Heywood in dire poverty, starving like Spenser in King Street, none of them living respectable lives, ruffians, whore-masters, actors, swindlers, but poets, poets, poets every one. Shakespeare is only at their centre, "the very age and body of the time", but no one has the time to mark him out, so stormy is the turmoil, so vigorously does work spring up beside work, so strongly does passion exceed passion. And as suddenly as it vibrantly arose that magnificent eruption of mankind collapses again, twitching; the drama is over, England exhausted, and for another hundred years the damp and foggy grey of the Thames lies dull upon the spirit again. A whole race has scaled the heights and depths of passion in a single onslaught, feverishly spewing the overflowing, frenzied soul from its breast—and there the land lies now, weary, worn out; pettifogging Puritanism closes the theatres and thus silences the impassioned language, the Bible alone is heard again, the word of God, where the most human word of all had made the most fiery confessions of all time, and a single ardent race lived for thousands in its own unique way.
And now, with a sudden change of direction, the dazzling discourse is turned on us: "So now do you see why I don't begin my course of lectures in chronological order, with King Arthur and Chaucer, but with the Elizabethans, in defiance of all the rules? And do you see that what I most want is for you to be familiar with them, get a sense of that liveliest of periods? One can't have literary comprehension without real experience, more grammatical knowledge of the words is useless without recognition of their values, and when you young people want to understand a country and its language you should start by seeing it at its most beautiful, in the strength of its youth, as its most passionate. You should begin by hearing the language in the mouths of the poets who create and perfect it, you must have felt poetry warm and alive in your hearts before we start anatomizing it. That's why I always begin with the gods, for England is Elizabeth, is Shakespeare and the Shakespeareans, all that comes earlier is preparation, all that comes afterwards pale imitation of that true bold leap into infinity—but here, and you must feel it for yourselves, young people, here is the most truly alive youthfulness in the world. All phenomena, all humanity is to be recognized only in its fiery form, only in passion. For the intellect arises from the blood, thought from passion, passion from enthusiasm—so look at Shakespeare and his kind first, for they alone will make you young people genuinely young! Enthusiasm first, then diligence—enthusiasm giving you the finest, most extreme and greatest tutorial in the world, before you turn to studying the words.
♥ But no sooner did he appear, rapidly striding closer with a smile, than his presence dispelled all my awkwardness, and I confessed unasked (unable to conceal anything about myself from him) to the way in which I had wasted my first term. "Well, music has rests as well as notes," he said with an encouraging smile..
♥ The first thing I did was to take the Shakespeare I happened to have packed out of my case and read it impatiently, for the first time in years. That lecture had aroused my passionate curiosity, and I read the poet's words as never before. Can one account for such transformations? A new world suddenly opened up on the printed page before me, the words moved vigorously towards me as if they had been seeking me for centuries; the verse coursed through my veins in a fiery torrent, carrying me away, inducing the same strange sense of relaxation behind the brow as one feels in a dream of flight. I shook, I trembled, I felt the hot surge of my blood like a fever—I had never had such an experience before, yet I had done nothing but listen to an impassioned lecture. ..and passionate as I was by nature, I had discovered a new passion, one which has remained with me to the present day: a desire to share my enjoyment of all earthly delights in the inspired poetic word. By chance I had come upon Coriolanus, and as if reeling in a frenzy I discovered in myself all the characteristics of that strangest of the Romans: pride, arrogance, wrath, contempt, mockery, all the salty, leaden, golden, metallic elements of the emotions. What a new delight it was to divine and understand all this at once, as if by magic!
♥ Soon what began as mere intellectual conversation became electrical excitement and took fire, with his skilful hand fanning the flames—forceful argument countered claims made casually, sharp and keen interjections heated the discussion until the students were almost at loggerheads with each other. Only once the sparks were really flying did he intervene, calming the overexcited atmosphere and cleverly bringing the debate back to its subject, but at the same time giving it stronger intellectual stimulus by moving it surreptitiously into a timeless dimension—and there he suddenly stood amidst the play of these dialectical
flames, in a state of high excitement himself both urging on and holding back the clashing opinions, master of a stormy wave of youthful enthusiasm which broke over him too. ..And suddenly he could do it no longer, he flung himself into the debate like a swimmer into the flood—raising his hand in an imperious gesture he halted the tumult as if with a conductor's baton; everyone immediately fell silent, and now he summed up all the arguments in his own vaulting fashion. And as he spoke the countenance he had worn yesterday re-emerged, wrinkles disappeared behind the flickering play of nerves, his throat arched, his whole bearing was bold and masterful, and abandoning his quiet, attentive attitude he flung himself into the talk as if into a torrent. Improvisation carried him away—now I began to guess that, sober-minded in himself, when he was teaching a factual subject or was alone in his study he lacked that spark of dynamite which here, in our intense and breathlessly spellbound company, broke down his inner walls; he needed—oh yes, I felt it—he needed our enthusiasm to kindle his own, our receptive attitude for his own extravagance, our youth for his own eager hands, his discourse became ever grander, ever more ardent, ever more colourful as his words grew more fervent, and the deeper our silence (I could not help feeling that we were all holding our breath in that room) the more elevated, the more intense was his performance, the more did it sound like an anthem. In those moments we were all entirely his, all ears, immersed in his exuberance.
♥ I was at his door at seven o'clock precisely, and with what trepidation did I, a mere boy as I was, cross that threshold for the first time! Nothing is more passionate than a young man's veneration, nothing more timid, more feminine than its uneasy sense of modesty.
♥ ..and I assured this stranger of my secret vow to devote myself to my studies with the utmost application. He looked at me, as if moved. Then he said: "Not just with application, my boy, but above all with passion. If you do not feel impassioned you'll be a schoolmaster at best—one must approach these things from within and always, always with passion." His voice grew warmer and warmer, the room darker and darker. He told me a great deal about his own youth, how he too had begun foolishly and only later discovered his own inclinations—I must just have courage, he said, and he would help me as far as lay within him; I must not scruple to turn to him with any questions, ask anything I wanted to know. No one had ever before spoken to me with such sympathy, with such deep understanding; I trembled with gratitude, and was glad of the darkness that hid my wet eyes.
♥ This man, with his open, very expansive disposition, had no friends of any kind; his students alone provided him with company and comfort. No relationship but correct civility linked him to his university colleagues, he never attended social occasions; often he did not leave home for days on end to go anywhere but the twenty steps or so it took him to reach the university. He buried everything silently within him, entrusting his thoughts neither to any other human being nor to writing. And now, too, I understood the volcanic, fanatically exuberant nature of his discourse in his circle of students—after being dammed up for days his urge to communicate would break out, all the ideas he carried silently within him rushed forth, with the uncontrollable force known to horsemen when a mount is fresh from the stable, breaking out of the confines of silence into this headlong race of words.
♥ For the closer I came to his life the more strongly was I oppressed by the almost three-dimensional deep shadows on my teacher's much-loved face, by that noble melancholy—noble because nobly controlled—which never lowered itself to abrupt sullenness or unthinking anger; if he had attracted me, a stranger, on that first occasion by the volcanic brilliance of his discourse, now that I knew him better I was all the more distressed by his silence and the cloud of sadness resting on his brow. Nothing has such a powerful effect on a youthful mind as a sublime and virile despondency: Michelangelo's Thinker staring down into his own abyss, Beethoven's mouth bitterly drawn in, those tragic masks of suffering move the unformed mind more than Mozart's silver melody and the radiant light around Leonardo's figures. Being beautiful in itself, youth needs no transfiguration: in its abundance of strong life it is drawn to the tragic, and is happy to allow melancholy to suck sweetly from its still inexperienced bloom, and the same phenomenon accounts for the eternal readiness of young people to face danger and reach out a fraternal hand to all spiritual suffering.
♥ He rose, turned away, and said nothing for some time. The room seemed suddenly too full of twilight and silence.
♥ For this remarkable man constructed it all out of his musicality of feeling: he always needed some vibrant note to set his ideas flowing. Usually it was an image, a bold metaphor, a situation visualized in three dimensions which he extended into a dramatic scene, involuntarily working himself up as he went rapidly along. Something of all that is grandly natural in creativity would often flash from the swift radiance of these improvisations: I remember lines that seemed to be from a poem in iambic metre, others that poured out like cataracts in magnificently compressed enumerations like Homer's catalogue of ships or the barbaric hymns of Walt Whitman. For the first time it was granted to me, young and new to the world as I was, to glimpse something of the mystery of the creative process—I saw how the idea, still colourless, nothing but pure and flowing heat, streamed from the furnace of his impulsive excitement like the molten metal to make a bell, then gradually, as it cooled, took shape, I saw how that shape rounded out powerfully and revealed itself, until at last the words rang from it and gave human language to poetic feeling, just as the clapper gives the bell its sound. And in the same way as every single sentence rose from the rhythm, every description from a picturesquely visualized image, so the whole grandly constructed work arose, not at all in the academic manner, from a hymn, a hymn to the sea as infinity made visible and perceptible in earthly terms, its waves reaching from horizon to horizon, looking up to heights, concealing depths—and among them, with crazily sensuous earthly skill, ply the tossing vessels of mankind. Using this maritime simile in a grandly constructed comparison, he presented tragedy as an elemental force, intoxicating and destructively overpowering the blood. Now the wave of imagery rolls towards a single hand—England arises, an island eternally surrounded by the breakers of that restless element which perilously encloses all the ends of the earth, every zone and latitude of the globe. There, in England, it sets up its state—there the cold, clear gaze of the sea penetrates the glassy housing of the eye, eyes grey and blue; every man is both a man of the sea and an island, like his own country, and strong, stormy passions, represented by the storms and danger of the sea, are present in a race that had constantly tried its own strength in centuries of Viking voyaging. But now peace lies like a haze over this land surrounded by surging breakers; accustomed to storms as they are, however, its people would like to go to sea again, they want headlong, raw events attended by daily danger, and so they re-created that rising, lashing tension for themselves in bloody and tragic spectacles. The wooden trestles are constructed for baiting animals and staging fights between them. Bears bleed to death, cockfights arouse a bestial lust for horror; but soon more elevated minds wish to draw a pure and thrilling tension from heroic human conflicts. Then, building on the foundations of religious spectacle and ecclesiastical mystery plays, there arises that other great and surging drama of humanity, all those adventures and voyages return, but now to sail the seas of the heart, a new infinity, another ocean with its spring tides of passion and swell of the spirit to be navigated with excitement, and to be ocean-tossed in it is the new pleasure of this later but still strong Anglo-Saxon race: the national drama of England emerges, Elizabethan drama.
..Now he turned to the drama itself, a genre finally settling down after all its vagabond wanderings, its rides across country in carts, building itself a home licensed by right and privilege, first the Rose Theatre and the Fortuna, wooden houses for plays that were wooden themselves, but then the workmen build a new wooden structure to match the broader breast of the new poetic genre, grown to virility; it rises on the banks of the Thames, on piles thrust into the damp and otherwise unprofitable muddy ground, a massive wooden building with an ungainly hexagonal tower, the Globe Theatre, where Shakespeare, the great master, will strut the stage. As if cast up by the sea like a strange ship, with a piratical red flag on the topmost mast, it stands there firmly anchored in the mud. The groundlings push and shove noisily on the floor of the theatre, as if in harbour, the finer folk smile down and chat idly with the players. Impatiently, they call for the play to begin. They stamp and shout, bang the hilts of their daggers on the boards, until at last a few flickering candles are brought out to illuminate the stage below, and casually costumed figures step forward to perform what appears to be an improvised comedy. And then—I remember his words to this day—"a storm of words suddenly blows up, the sea, the endless sea of passion, sends its bloody waves surging out from these wooden walls to reach all times, all parts of the human heart, inexhaustible, unfathomable, merry and tragic, full of diversity, a unique image of mankind—the theatre of England, the drama of Shakespeare."
♥ I felt a storm surging over me, the breaking surf of the ocean's lip powerfully uttered its echoing word; bending over the desk, I felt as if I were standing among the dunes of my home again, with the great surge of a thousand waves coming up and sea pray flying in the wind. All the sense of awe that surrounds both the birth of a man and the birth of a work of literature broke for the first time over my amazed and delighted mind at this time.
If my teacher ended his dictation at the point where the strength of his inspiration tore the words magnificently away from their scholarly purpose, where thought became poetry, I was left reeling. A fiery weariness streamed through me, strong and heavy, not at all like his own weariness, which was a sense of exhaustion or relief, while I, over whom the storm had broken, was still trembling with all that had flowed into me. Both of us, however, always needed a little conversation afterwards to help us find sleep or rest. I would usually read over what I had taken down in shorthand, and curiously enough, no sooner did my writing become spoken words than another voice breathed through my own and rose from it, as if something had transformed the language in my mouth. And then I realized that, in repeating his own words, I was scanning and forming his intonations with such faithful devotion that he might have been speaking out of me, not I myself—so entirely had I come to echo his own nature. I was the resonance of his words. All this is forty years ago, yet still today, when I am in the middle of a lecture and what I am saying breaks free from me and spreads its wings, I am suddenly, self-consciously aware that it is not I myself speaking, but someone else, as it were, out of my mouth. Then I recognize the voice of the beloved dead, who now has breath only on my lips; when enthusiasms comes over me, he and I are one. And I know that those hours formed me.
♥ And the way he blew hot and cold, sometimes coming so close as to cast me into turmoil, sometimes coming so close as to cast me into turmoil, sometimes fending me off in annoyance, utterly confused my unruly feelings which longed—but I was never able to say clearly what it was I really longed for, what I wanted, what I required and aspired to, what sign of his regard I hoped for in my enthusiastic devotion. For if one feels reverent passion even of a pure nature for a woman, it unconsciously strives for physical fulfilment; nature has created an image of ultimate union for it in the possession of the body—but how can a passion of the mind, offered by one man to another and impossible to fulfil, ever find complete satisfaction? It roams restlessly around the revered figure, always flaring up to new heights of ecstasy, yet never assuaged by any final act of devotion. It is always in flux but can never flow entirely away; like the spirit, it is eternally insatiable. So when he came close it was never close enough for me, his nature was never entirety revealed, never really satisfied me in our long conversations; even when he cast aside all his aloofness I knew that the next moment some sharp word or action could cut through our intimacy.
♥ Looking sideways, I glanced surreptitiously at him—there was something curiously radiant about him today, a restlessness devoid of anything nervous, like the movement of those summer clouds. Sometimes he took his wine glass and held it up to the light to appreciate the colour, and when my happy glance followed that gesture he smiled slightly and raised the glass to me. I had seldom seen his face so untroubled, his movements so smooth and composed; he sat there in almost solemn cheerfulness, as if he heard music in the street outside, or were listening to some unseen conversation. His lips, around which tiny movements usually played, were still and soft as a peeled fruit, and his forehead when he turned it gently to the window took on the refraction of the mild light and seemed to me nobler than ever. It was wonderful to see him at peace like that: I did not know whether it was the reflection of the pure summer evening, whether the mild, soft air did him good, or whether some pleasant thought were illuminating him from within. But used as I was to reading his countenance like a book, I felt that today a kinder God had smoothed out the folds and crevices of his heart.
♥ He saw his own hidden pride, deeply concealed and dammed up as it was, reflected in my joy; touched, he looked at me with a smile. Then he slowly came very, very close to me, put out both hands and took mine; unmovingly, he looked at me. Gradually his pupils, which usually held only a quivering and sporadic play of colour, filled with that clear and radiant blue which, of all the elements, only the depths of water and of human feeling can represent. And this brilliant blue shone from his eyes, blazed out, penetrating me; I felt its surge of warmth moving softly to my inmost being, spreading there, extending into a sense of strange delight; my whole breast suddenly broadened with that vaulting, swelling power, and I felt an Italian noonday sun rising within me. "I know," said his voice, echoing above this brilliance, "that I would never have begun this work without you. I shall never forget what you have done. You gave my tired mind the spur it needed, and what remains of my lost, wasted life you and you alone have salvaged! No one has ever done more for me, no one has helped me so faithfully. And so it is you," he concluded, changing from the formal Sie to the familiar du pronoun—"it is you whom I must thank. Come! Let us sit together like brothers for a while!"
..I was trembling with joy, for nothing more violently confuses one's inner senses than the sudden granting of an ardent wish. The sign of his confidence, the open sign for which I had unconsciously been longing, had found the best possible means of expression in his thanks: the fraternal us of du, offered despite the gulf of years between us, was made seven times more precious by the obstacle that gulf represented.
♥ What place had I reached? I had sensed the secret quite close, its hot breath already on my face, and now it had retreated again, but its shadow, its silent, opaque shadow still murmured in the air, I felt it as a dangerous presence in the house, stalking on quiet paws like a cat, always there, leaping back and forth, always touching and confusing me with its electrically charged fur, warm yet ghostly. And in the dark I kept feeling his encompassing gaze, soft as his proffered hand, and that other glance, the keen, threatening, alarmed look in his wife's eyes. What business did I have in their secret, why did the pair of them bring me into the midst of their passion with my eyes blindfolded, why were they chasing me into the preserves of their own unintelligible strife, each forcing a blazing accumulation of anger and hatred into my mind?
♥ Outside, the town lay peaceful under the summer clouds; windows were still lamplit, but the people sitting in them were united by calm conversation, cheered by a book or by domestic music-making. And surely calm sleep reigned where darkness already showed behind the white window frames. Above all these resting rooftops, mild peace hovered like the moon in silvery mists, a relaxed and gentle silence, and the eleven strokes of the clock striking from the tower fell lightly on all their ears, whether they chanced to be listening or were dreaming. Only I still felt wide awake, balefully beset by strange thoughts. Some inner sense was feverishly trying to make out that confused murmuring.
♥ What I set out to do that afternoon and evening seems so ridiculous and childish that for years I have blushed to think of it—indeed, internal censorship was quick to blot out its memory. Well, today I am no longer ashamed of my clumsy foolishness—on the contrary, how well do I understand the impulsive, muddled ideas of the passionate youth who wanted to vault over his own confused feelings by main force.
♥ I have always had a horror of adultery, but not for any self-righteous moral reasons, not our of prudery and convention, not so much because taking possession of a strange body is theft committed in the dark, but because almost every woman will give away he husband's most intimate secrets at such moments—every one of them is a Delilah stealing his most human secret from the man she is deceiving and casting it before a stranger, the secret of his strength or of his weakness. The betrayal, it seems to me, is not that a woman gives herself of her own free will but then, to justify herself, she will uncover her husband's loins and expose him unknown to himself, as if in his sleep, to the curiosity of another man, and to scornfully relished laughter.
It is not, therefore, that when confused by blind and angry desperation I took refuge in his wife's first sympathetic and only then tender embrace—ah, how fatefully swift is the move from one feeling to the other—it is not what I still feel today was the worst thing I ever did in my life (for it happened in spite of ourselves, we both lunged unconsciously, unknowingly, into those burning depths), but the fact that among the tumbled pillows I let her tell me intimate details of him, that I allowed her, all on edge as she was herself, to give away the innermost secrets of her marriage. Why did I suffer her, without repelling her, to tell me that he had not touched her physically for years, and to indulge in dark hints: why did I not command her to keep silent over this most intimate core of his being? But I was so eager to know his secret myself, so anxious to feel that he had injured me, her, everyone, that I dizzily accepted her angry confession of his neglect of her—after all, it was so like the sense of rejection I had felt myself! And so it was that the two of us, out of a shared and confused hatred, performed an act that looked like love, but while our bodies sought each other and came together we were both thinking and speaking of him all the time, of nothing but him. Sometimes what she said hurt me, and I was ashamed to be involved with what I disliked. But my body no longer obeyed my will, and instead wildly sought its own pleasure. Shuddering, I kissed the lips which were betraying the person I most loved.
Next morning I crept up to my room, the bitter flavour of disgust and shame in my mouth. Now that the warmth of her body no longer troubled my senses I felt the glaring reality, the repulsive nature of my betrayal. I knew at once that I would never again be able to look him in the face, never again take his hand—I had robbed myself, not him, of what meant most to me.
♥ "..But before you leave I would like to talk to you once more. Come at seven, at our usual time, and we'll say goodbye man to man. No flight from ourselves, though, no letters... that would be childish and unworthy... and what I would like to tell you is not for pen and paper."
♥ At seven I entered that beloved room for the last time: early dusk filtered simply though the portières, the smooth stone of the marble statues scarcely gleamed from the back of the room, and the books slumbered, black behind the mother-of-pearl shimmer of the glass doors over the bookcase. Ah, secret place of my memories, where the word became magical to me and I knew the intoxication and enchantment of the intellect as nowhere else—I always see you as you were at that hour of farewell, and I still see the venerated figure slowly, slowly rising from his chair and approaching me, a shadowy form, only the curved brow gleaming like an alabaster lamp in the dim light, and the white hair of an old man waving above it like drifting smoke.
♥ "..Or does something else make you want to go? A woman... is it a woman?"
I said nothing. And that silence was probably so different in nature that he felt in it the positive answer to his question. He leaned closer and whispered very softly, but without agitation, without any agitation or anger at all:
"Is it a woman? Is it... my wife?"
I was still silent, and he understood. A tremor ran through my body: now, now, now he would burst out, attack me, strike me, chastise me... and I almost wanted him to whip me, the thief, the deceiver, whip me like a mangy dog from his desecrated home. But strangely, he remained entirely still... and he sounded almost relieved when he murmured as if to himself: "I might have known it." He paced up and down the room a couple of times. Then he stopped in front of me and said, as it seemed to me, almost dismissively:
"And that... that is what you take so hard? Didn't she tell you that she is free to do as she likes, take what she likes, that I have no rights over her? No right to forbid her anything, nor the least desire to do so... And why, for whose sake, should she have controlled herself, and for you of all people... you are young, you are bright, beautiful... you were close to us, how could she not love you, such a beautiful young man, how could she help but love you? For I..." Suddenly his voice began to falter, and he leaned close, so close that I felt his breath. Again I sensed the warm embrace of his gaze, again I saw that strange light in his eyes, just as it had been before in those rare and strange moments between us. He came ever closer.
And then he whispered softly, his lips hardly moving: "For I love you too."
♥ Since that evening when the man I so venerated opened up like a shell that had been tightly closed and told me his story, since that evening forty years ago, everything our writers and poets present as extraordinary in books, everything shown on stage as tragic drama, has seemed to me trivial and unimportant. Is it through complacency, cowardice, or because they take too short a view that they speak of nothing but the superficial, brightly lit plane of life where the senses openly and lawfully have room to play, while below in the vaults, in the deep caves and sewers of the heart, the true dangerous beasts of passion roam, glowing with phosphorescent light, coupling unseen and tearing each other apart in every fantastic form of convolution? Does the breath of those beasts alarm them, the hot and tearing breath of demonic urges, the exhalations of the burning blood, do they fear to dirty their dainty hands on the ulcers of humanity, or does their gaze, used to a more muted light, not find its way down the slippery, dangerous steps that drop with decay? And yet to those who truly know, no lust is like the lust for the hidden, no horror so primevally forceful as that which quivers around danger, no suffering more sacred than that which cannot express itself for shame.
But there a man was disclosing himself to me exactly as he was, opening up his inmost thoughts, eager to bare his battered, poisoned, burnt and festering heart. A wild delight like that of a flagellant tormented itself in the confession he had kept back for so many years. Only a man who had been ashamed all his life, cowering and hiding, could launch with such intoxication and so overwhelmed into so pitiless a confession. He was tearing the life from his breast piecemeal, and in that hour the boy I then was looked down for the first time into the unimaginable depths of human emotion.
♥ ..The boy became a student in Berlin, and for the first time the underworld of the city offered him a chance to satisfy the inclinations he had so long controlled—but how soiled their satisfaction was by disgust, how poisoned by fear!—those surreptitious encounters on dark street corners, in the shadows of railway stations and bridges, how poor a thing was their twitching lust, how dreadful did the danger make them, most of them ending wretchedly in blackmail and always leaving a slimy snail-trail of cold fear behind for weeks! The way to hell lay between darkness and light—while the crystal element of the intellect cleansed the scholar in the bright light of the industrious day, the evening always impelled the passionate man towards the dregs of the outskirts of town, the community of questionable companions avoiding any policeman's spiked helmet, and took him into gloomy beer cellars whose dubious doors opened only to a certain kind of smile. And he had to steel his will to hide this double life with care, to conceal his Medusa-like secret from any strange gaze, to preserve the impeccably grave and dignified demeanour of a junior lecturer by day, only to wander incognito by night in the underworld of shameful adventures pursued by the light of flickering lamps. Again and again the tormented man strained to master a passion which diverged from the accustomed track by applying the lash of self-control, again and again his instincts impelled him towards the dark and dangerous. Ten, twelve, fifteen years of nerve-racking struggles with the invisibly magnetic power of his incurable inclination were like a single convulsion. He felt satisfaction without enjoyment, he felt choking shame, and came to be aware of the dark aspect, timidly concealed in itself, of his fear of his own passions.
♥ A junior lecturer, who soon became a full professor, he was professionally obliged to be constantly involved with young men, and temptation kept placing new blooms of youth in front of him, ephebes of an invisible gymnasion within the world of Prussian conventionality. And all of them—another curse, another danger!—loved him passionately without seeing the face of Eros behind their teacher's mask, they were happy when his comradely but secretly trembling hand touched them, they lavished enthusiasm on a man who had to keep strict control over himself. His were the torments of Tantalus: to be harsh to those who pressed their admiration on him, to fight a never-ending battle with his own weakness! And when he felt that he had almost succumbed to temptation he always suddenly took flight. Those were the escapades whose lightning advent and recurrence had so confused me: now I saw that the terrible way he took was a means of flight from himself, a flight into the horrors of chasms and crooked alleys. He always went to some large metropolis where he would find intimates haunting the wrong side of the tracks, men of the lower classes whose encounters besmirched him, whorish youths instead of young men of elevated and upright minds, but this disgust, this mire, this vileness, this poisonously mordant disappointment was necessary if he were to be sure of resisting the lure of his senses at home, in the close, trusting circle of his students. Ah, what encounters—what ghostly yet malodorously earthly figures his confession conjured up before my eyes! For this distinguished intellectual, in whom a sense of the beauty of form was as natural and necessary as breath, this master of all emotions was fated to encounter ultimate humiliation in low dives, smoky and smouldering, which admitted only initiates; he knew the impudent demands of rent boys with made-up faces, the sugary familiarity of perfumed barbers' assistants, the exited giggling of transvestites in women's skirts, the rabid greed of itinerant actors, the coarse affection of tobacco-chewing sailors—all these crooked, intimidated, perverse, fantastic forms in which the sexual instinct, wandering from the usual way, seeks and knows itself in the meaner areas of big cities. He had encountered all kinds of humiliation, ignominy and vileness on these slippery paths; several times he had been robbed of everything on him (being too weak and too high-minded to scuffle with a coarse groom), he had been left without his watch, without his coat, and in addition was spurned by his drunken comrade when he returned to their shady hotel on the city outskirts. Blackmailers had got their claws into him, one of them had dogged his footsteps at the university for months, sitting boldly in the front row of the audience and glancing up with a sly smile at the professor known all over town who, trembling to see the man's knowing winks, could deliver his lecture only with a great effort. Once—my heart stood still when he confessed this too—once he had been picked up by the police in a disreputable bar in Berlin at midnight with a whole gang of such fellows; a stout, red-cheeked sergeant took down the trembling man's name and position with the scornful, superior smile of a subaltern suddenly able to put on airs in front of an intellectual, graciously indicating at last that this time he was being let off with a caution, but hence-forward his name would be on a certain list.
♥ That voice in the darkness, ah, that voice in the darkness, how I felt in penetrate my inmost breast! There was a note in it such as I had never heard before and have never heard since, a note drawn from depths that the average life never plumbs. A man speaks thus only once in his life to another, to fall silent then for ever, as in the legend of the swan which is said to be capable of raising its hoarse voice in song only once, when it is dying. And I received that fervent, ardently urgent voice pressing on with its tale into me with a shuddering and painful sensation, as a woman takes a man into herself.
♥ As if impelled by some magic power I stumbled towards him. That smouldering light, usually hidden as if by drifting mists, was now glowing openly in his eyes; burning flames rose from them. He drew me close, his lips pressed mine thirstily, nervously, and with a trembling convulsion he held my body close to his.
It was a kiss such as I have never received from a woman, a kiss as wild and desperate as a deathly cry. The trembling of his body passed into me. I shuddered, in the strange grip of a terrible sensation—responding with my soul, yet deeply alarmed by the defensive reaction of my body when touched by a man—I responded with an eerie confusion of feeling which stretched those few seconds out into a dizzying length of time.
Then he let go of me—with a sudden movement as if a body were being violently torn apart—turned with difficulty and threw himself into his chair, his back to me.
♥ I never saw him again. I never received any letter or message. His work was never published, his name is forgotten; no one else knows anything about him, only I alone. But even today, as once I did when I was a boy still unsure of myself, I feel that I have more to thank him for than my mother and father before him or my wife and children after him. I have never loved anyone more.