5.25.2017 Doc of the Day

1. Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1841.
2. Oscar Wilde, 1888.
3. Eve Ensler, 2010.
4. J.K. Fowler, 2013.

Numero Uno“I read the other day some verses written by an eminent painter which were original and not conventional.  The soul always hears an admonition in such lines, let the subject be what it may.  The sentiment they instill is of more value than any thought they may contain.  To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men,—that is genius.  Speak your latent conviction, and it shall be the universal sense; for the inmost in due time becomes the outmost,—and our first thought is rendered back to us by the trumpets of the Last Judgment.  Familiar as the voice of the mind is to each, the highest merit we ascribe to Moses, Plato, and Milton is, that they set at naught books and traditions, and spoke not what men, but what they thought.  A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the luster of the firmament of bards and sages.  Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his.  In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.  Great works of art have no more affecting lesson for us than this.  They teach us to abide by our spontaneous impression with good-humored inflexibility then most when the whole cry of voices is on the other side.  Else, to-morrow a stranger will say with masterly good sense precisely what we have thought and felt all the time, and we shall be forced to take with shame our own opinion from another.There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till.  The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried.  Not for nothing one face, one character, one fact, makes much impression on him, and another none.  This sculpture in the memory is not without preëstablished harmony.  The eye was placed where one ray should fall, that it might testify of that particular ray.  We but half express ourselves, and are ashamed of that divine idea which each of us represents.  It may be safely trusted as proportionate and of good issues, so it be faithfully imparted, but God will not have his work made manifest by cowards.  A man is relieved and gay when he has put his heart into his work and done his best; but what he has said or done otherwise shall give him no peace.  It is a deliverance which does not deliver.  In the attempt his genius deserts him; no muse befriends; no invention, no hope.

Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string.  Accept the place the divine providence has found for you, the society of your contemporaries, the connection of events.  Great men have always done so, and confided themselves childlike to the genius of their age, betraying their perception that the absolutely trustworthy was seated at their heart, working through their hands, predominating in all their being.  And we are now men, and must accept in the highest mind the same transcendent destiny; and not minors and invalids in a protected corner, not cowards fleeing before a revolution, but guides, redeemers, and benefactors, obeying the Almighty effort, and advancing on Chaos and the Dark.

What pretty oracles nature yields us on this text, in the face and behavior of children, babes, and even brutes! That divided and rebel mind, that distrust of a sentiment because our arithmetic has computed the strength and means opposed to our purpose, these[158] have not. Their mind being whole, their eye is as yet unconquered, and when we look in their faces we are disconcerted. Infancy conforms to nobody: all conform to it, so that one babe commonly makes four or five[159] out of the adults who prattle and play to it. So God has armed youth and puberty and manhood no less with its own piquancy and charm, and made it enviable and gracious and its claims not to be put by, if it will stand by itself. Do not think the youth has no force, because he cannot speak to you and me. Hark! in the next room his voice is sufficiently clear and emphatic. It seems he knows how to speak to his contemporaries. Bashful or bold, then, he will know how to make us seniors very unnecessary.

The nonchalance[160] of boys who are sure of a dinner, and would disdain as much as a lord to do or say aught to conciliate one, is the healthy attitude of human nature. A boy is in the parlor what the pit is in the playhouse;[161] independent, irresponsible, looking out from his corner on such people and facts as pass by, he tries and sentences them on their merits, in the swift, summary way of boys, as good, bad, interesting, silly, eloquent, troublesome. He cumbers himself never about consequences about interests; [83] he gives an independent, genuine verdict. You must court him: he does not court you. But the man is, as it were, clapped into jail by his consciousness. As soon as he has once acted or spoken with éclat[162] he is a committed person, watched by the sympathy or the hatred of hundreds, whose affections must now enter into his account. There is no Lethe[163] for this. Ah, that he could pass again into his neutrality! Who[164] can thus avoid all pledges, and having observed, observe again from the same unaffected, unbiased, unbribable, unaffrighted innocence, must always be formidable. He would utter opinions on all passing affairs, which being seen to be not private, but necessary, would sink like darts into the ear of men, and put them in fear.

These are the voices which we hear in solitude, but they grow faint and inaudible as we enter into the world. Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of everyone of its members. Society is a joint-stock company, in which the members agree, for the better securing of his bread to each shareholder, to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater. The virtue in most request is conformity. Self-reliance is its aversion. It loves not realities and creators, but names and customs.

Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist.[165] He who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness.[166] Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind. Absolve you to yourself, [84] and you shall have the suffrage[167] of the world. I remember an answer which when quite young I was prompted to make to a valued adviser, who was wont to importune me with the dear old doctrines of the church. On my saying, What have I to do with the sacredness of traditions, if I live wholly from within? my friend suggested: “But these impulses may be from below, not from above.” I replied: “They do not seem to me to be such; but if I am the Devil’s child, I will live then from the Devil.” No law can be sacred to me but that of my nature. Good and bad are but names very readily transferable to that or this;[168] the only right is what is after my constitution, the only wrong what is against it. A man is to carry himself in the presence of all opposition, as if everything were titular and ephemeral but he. I am ashamed to think how easily we capitulate to badges and names, to large societies and dead institutions. Every decent and well-spoken individual affects and sways me more than is right. I ought to go upright and vital, and speak the rude truth in all ways. If malice and vanity wear the coat of philanthropy, shall that pass? If an angry bigot assumes this bountiful cause of Abolition, and comes to me with his last news from Barbadoes,[169] why should I not say to him: “Go love thy infant; love thy wood-chopper: be good-natured and modest: have that grace; and never varnish your hard, uncharitable ambition with this incredible tenderness for black folk a thousand miles off. Thy [85] love afar is spite at home.” Rough and graceless would be such greeting, but truth is handsomer than the affectation of love. Your goodness must have some edge to it,—else it is none. The doctrine of hatred must be preached as the counteraction of the doctrine of love when that pules and whines. I shun father and mother and wife and brother, when my genius calls me. I would write on the lintels of the door-post, Whim.[170] I hope it is somewhat better than whim at last, but we cannot spend the day in explanation. Expect me not to show cause why I seek or why I exclude company. Then, again, do not tell me, as a good man did to-day, of my obligation to put all poor men in good situations. Are they my poor? I tell thee, thou foolish philanthropist, that I grudge the dollar, the dime, the cent, I give to such men as do not belong to me and to whom I do not belong. There is a class of persons to whom by all spiritual affinity I am bought and sold; for them I will go to prison, if need be; but your miscellaneous popular charities; the education at college of fools; the building of meeting-houses to the vain end to which many now stand; alms to sots; and the thousand-fold Relief Societies;—though I confess with shame I sometimes succumb and give the dollar, it is a wicked dollar which by and by I shall have the manhood to withhold.

Virtues are, in the popular estimate, rather the exception than the rule. There is the man and his virtues. Men do what is called a good action, as some [86] piece of courage or charity, much as they would pay a fine in expiation of daily non-appearance on parade. Their works are done as an apology or extenuation of their living in the world,—as invalids and the insane pay a high board. Their virtues are penances. I do not wish to expiate, but to live. My life is for itself and not for a spectacle. I much prefer that it should be of a lower strain, so it be genuine and equal, than that it should be glittering and unsteady. I wish it to be sound and sweet, and not to need diet and bleeding.[171] I ask primary evidence that you are a man, and refuse this appeal from the man to his actions. I know that for myself it makes no difference whether I do or forbear those actions which are reckoned excellent. I cannot consent to pay for a privilege where I have intrinsic right. Few and mean as my gifts may be, I actually am, and do not need for my own assurance or the assurance of my fellows any secondary testimony.

What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think. This rule, equally arduous in actual and in intellectual life, may serve for the whole distinction between greatness and meanness. It is the harder, because you will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it. It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.[172]

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The objection to conforming to usages that have become dead to you is, that it scatters your force. It loses your time and blurs the impression of your character. If you maintain a dead church, contribute to a dead Bible-society, vote with a great party either for the government or against it, spread your table like base housekeepers,—under all these screens I have difficulty to detect the precise[173] man you are. And, of course, so much force is withdrawn from your proper life. But do your work, and I shall know you.[174] Do your work, and you shall reinforce yourself. A man must consider what a blindman’s-buff is this game of conformity. If I know your sect, I anticipate your argument. I hear a preacher announce for his text and topic the expediency of one of the institutions of his church. Do I not know beforehand that not possibly can he say a new and spontaneous word? Do I not know that, with[175] all this ostentation of examining the grounds of the institution, he will do no such thing? Do I not know that he is pledged to himself not to look but at one side,—the permitted side, not as a man, but as a parish minister? He is a retained attorney, and these airs of the bench[176]are the emptiest affectation. Well, most men have bound their eyes with one or another handkerchief,[177] and attached themselves to some one of these communities of opinion.[178] This conformity makes them not false in a few particulars, authors of a few lies, but false in all particulars. Their every truth is not quite true. Their two is not[88] the real two, their four not the real four; so that every word they say chagrins us, and we know not where to begin to set them right. Meantime nature is not slow to equip us in the prison-uniform of the party to which we adhere. We come to wear one cut of face and figure, and acquire by degrees the gentlest asinine expression. There is a mortifying experience in particular which does not fail to wreak itself also in the general history; I mean “the foolish face of praise,” the forced smile which we put on in company where we do not feel at ease in answer to conversation which does not interest us. The muscles, not spontaneously moved, but moved by a low usurping willfulness, grow tight about the outline of the face with the most disagreeable sensation.

For nonconformity the world whips you with its displeasure.[179] And therefore a man must know how to estimate a sour face. The bystanders look askance on him in the public street or in the friend’s parlor. If this aversation had its origin in contempt and resistance like his own, he might well go home with a sad countenance; but the sour faces of the multitude, like their sweet faces, have no deep cause, but are put on and off as the wind blows and a newspaper directs.[180] Yet is the discontent of the multitude more formidable than that of the senate and the college. It is easy enough for a firm man who knows the world to brook the rage of the cultivated classes. Their rage is decorous and prudent, for they are timid as being very vulnerable themselves. But [89] when to their feminine rage the indignation of the people is added, when the ignorant and the poor are aroused, when the unintelligent brute force that lies at the bottom of society is made to growl and mow, it needs the habit of magnanimity and religion to treat it godlike as a trifle of no concernment.

The other terror[181] that scares us from self-trust is our consistency;[182] a reverence for our past act or word, because the eyes of others have no other data for computing our orbit[183] than our past acts, and we are loth to disappoint them.

But why should you keep your head over your shoulder? Why drag about this corpse of your memory, lest you contradict somewhat[184] you have stated in this or that public place? Suppose you should contradict yourself; what then? It seems to be a rule of wisdom never to rely on your memory alone, scarcely even in acts of pure memory, but to bring the past for judgment into the thousand-eyed present, and live ever in a new day. In your metaphysics you have denied personality to the Deity; yet when the devout motions of the soul come, yield to them heart and life, though they should clothe God with shape and color. Leave your theory, as Joseph his coat in the hand of the harlot, and flee.[185]

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with the shadow on the wall. Speak what you think [90] now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict everything you said to-day.—”Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.”—Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras[186] was misunderstood, and Socrates,[187] and Jesus, and Luther,[188] and Copernicus,[189] and Galileo,[190] and Newton,[191] and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.

I suppose no man can violate his nature. All the sallies of his will are rounded in by the law of his being, as the inequalities of Andes[192] and Himmaleh[193] are insignificant in the curve of the sphere. Nor does it matter how you gauge and try him. A character is like an acrostic or Alexandrian stanza;[194]—read it forward, backward, or across, it still spells the same thing. In this pleasing, contrite wood-life which God allows me, let me record day by day my honest thought without prospect or retrospect, and, I cannot doubt, it will be found symmetrical, though I mean it not, and see it not. My book should smell of pines and resound with the hum of insects. The swallow over my window should interweave that thread or straw he carries in his bill into my web also. We pass for what we are. Character teaches above our wills. Men imagine that they communicate their virtue or vice only by overt actions, and do not see that virtue or vice emit a breath every moment.

There will be an agreement in whatever variety of [91] actions, so they be each honest and natural in their hour. For of one will, the actions will be harmonious, however unlike they seem. These varieties are lost sight of at a little distance, at a little height of thought. One tendency unites them all. The voyage of the best ship is a zigzag line of a hundred tacks.[195] See the line from a sufficient distance, and it straightens itself to the average tendency. Your genuine action will explain itself, and will explain your other genuine actions. Your conformity explains nothing. Act singly, and what you have already done singly will justify you now. Greatness appeals to the future. If I can be firm enough to-day to do right, and scorn eyes,[196] I must have done so much right before as to defend me now. Be it how it will, do right now. Always scorn appearances, and you always may. The force of character is cumulative. All the foregone days of virtue work their health into this. What makes the majesty of the heroes of the senate and the field, which so fills the imagination? The consciousness of a train of great days and victories behind. They shed an united light on the advancing actor. He is attended as by a visible escort of angels. That is it which throws thunder into Chatham’s[197] voice, and dignity into Washington’s port, and America into Adams’s[198] eye. Honor is venerable to us because it is no ephemeris. It is always ancient virtue. We worship it to-day because it is not of to-day. We love it and pay it homage, because it is not a trap for our love [92] and homage, but is self-dependent, self-derived, and therefore of an old immaculate pedigree, even if shown in a young person.

I hope in these days we have heard the last of conformity and consistency. Let the words be gazetted and ridiculous henceforward. Instead of the gong for dinner, let us hear a whistle from the Spartan[199] fife. Let us never bow and apologize more. A great man is coming to eat at my house. I do not wish to please him; I wish that he should wish to please me. I will stand here for humanity, and though I would make it kind, I would make it true. Let us affront and reprimand the smooth mediocrity and squalid contentment of the times, and hurl in the face of custom, and trade, and office, the fact which is the upshot of all history, that there is a great responsible Thinker and Actor working wherever a man works; that a true man belongs to no other time or place, but is the center of things. Where he is, there is nature. He measures you, and all men, and all events. Ordinarily, everybody in society reminds us of somewhat else, or of some other person. Character, reality, reminds you of nothing else; it takes place of the whole creation. The man must be so much, that he must make all circumstances indifferent. Every true man is a cause, a country, and an age; requires infinite spaces and numbers and time fully to accomplish his design;—and posterity seem to follow his steps as a train of clients. A man Cæsar[200] is born, and for ages after [93]we have a Roman Empire. Christ is born, and millions of minds so grow and cleave to his genius, that he is confounded with virtue and the possible of man. An institution is the lengthened shadow of one man; as Monachism, of the hermit Antony;[201] the Reformation, of Luther; Quakerism, of Fox;[202] Methodism, of Wesley;[203] Abolition, of Clarkson.[204] Scipio,[205] Milton called “the height of Rome”; and all history resolves itself very easily into the biography of a few stout and earnest persons.

Let a man then know his worth, and keep things under his feet. Let him not peep or steal, or skulk up and down with the air of a charity-boy, a bastard, or an interloper, in the world which exists for him. But the man in the street, finding no worth in himself which corresponds to the force which built a tower or sculptured a marble god, feels poor when he looks on these. To him a palace, a statue, a costly book, have an alien and forbidding air, much like a gay equipage, and seem to say like that, “Who are you, Sir?” Yet they all are his, suitors for his notice, petitioners to his faculties that they will come out and take possession. The picture waits for my verdict: it is not to command me, but I am to settle its claims to praise. That popular fable of the sot who was picked up dead drunk in the street, carried to the duke’s house, washed and dressed and laid in the duke’s bed, and, on his waking, treated with all obsequious ceremony like the duke, and assured that he had been insane,[206] owes its popularity to the fact[94] that it symbolizes so well the state of man, who is in the world a sort of sot, but now and then wakes up, exercises his reason, and finds himself a true prince.

Our reading is mendicant and sycophantic. In history, our imagination plays us false. Kingdom and lordship, power and estate, are a gaudier vocabulary than private John and Edward in a small house and common day’s work; but the things of life are the same to both; the sum total of both is the same. Why all this deference to Alfred,[207]and Scanderbeg,[208] and Gustavus?[209] Suppose they were virtuous; did they wear out virtue? As great a stake depends on your private act to-day, as followed their public and renowned steps. When private men shall act with original views, the luster will be transferred from the actions of kings to those of gentlemen.

The world has been instructed by its kings, who have so magnetized the eyes of nations. It has been taught by this colossal symbol the mutual reverence that is due from man to man. The joyful loyalty with which men have everywhere suffered the king, the noble, or the great proprietor to walk among them by a law of his own, make his own scale of men and things, and reverse theirs, pay for benefits not with money but with honor, and represent the law in his person, was the hieroglyphic[210] by which they obscurely signified their consciousness of their own right and comeliness, the right of every man.

The magnetism which all original action exerts is explained when we inquire the reason of self-trust. [95] Who is the Trustee? What is the aboriginal Self, on which a universal reliance may be grounded? What is the nature and power of that science-baffling star, without parallax,[211] without calculable elements, which shoots a ray of beauty even into trivial and impure actions, if the least mark of independence appear? The inquiry leads us to that source, at once the essence of genius, of virtue, and of life, which we call Spontaneity or Instinct. We denote this primary wisdom as Intuition, whilst all later teachings are tuitions. In that deep force, the last fact behind which analysis cannot go, all things find their common origin. For the sense of being which in calm hours rises, we know not how, in the soul, is not diverse from things, from space, from light, from time, from man, but one with them, and proceeds obviously from the same source whence their life and being also proceed. We first share the life by which things exist, and afterwards see them as appearances in nature, and forget that we have shared their cause. Here is the fountain of action and of thought. Here are the lungs of that inspiration which giveth man wisdom, and which cannot be denied without impiety and atheism. We lie in the lap of immense intelligence, which makes us receivers of its truth and organs of its activity. When we discern justice, when we discern truth, we do nothing of ourselves, but allow a passage to its beams. If we ask whence this comes, if we seek to pry into the soul that causes, all philosophy is at fault. Its [96] presence or its absence is all we can affirm. Every man discriminates between the voluntary acts of his mind, and his involuntary perceptions, and knows that to his involuntary perceptions a perfect faith is due. He may err in the expression of them, but he knows that these things are so, like day and night, not to be disputed. My willful actions and acquisitions are but roving;—the idlest reverie, the faintest native emotion, command my curiosity and respect. Thoughtless people contradict as readily the statement of perceptions as of opinions, or rather much more readily; for, they do not distinguish between perception and notion. They fancy that I choose to see this or that thing. But perception is not whimsical, it is fatal. If I see a trait, my children will see it after me, and in course of time, all mankind,—although it may chance that no one has seen it before me. For my perception of it is as much a fact as the sun.

The relations of the soul to the divine spirit are so pure, that it is profane to seek to interpose helps. It must be that when God speaketh he should communicate, not one thing, but all things; should fill the world with his voice; should scatter forth light, nature, time, souls, from the center of the present thought; and new date and new create the whole. Whenever a mind is simple, and receives a divine wisdom, old things pass away,—means, teachers, texts, temples, fall; it lives now, and absorbs past and future into the present hour. All things are [97] made sacred by relation to it,—one as much as another. All things are dissolved to their center by their cause, and, in the universal miracle, petty and particular miracles disappear. If, therefore, a man claims to know and speak of God, and carries you backward to the phraseology of some old moldered nation in another country, in another world, believe him not. Is the acorn better than the oak which is its fullness and completion? Is the parent better than the child into whom he has cast his ripened being?[212] Whence, then, this worship of the past?[213] The centuries are conspirators against the sanity and authority of the soul. Time and space are but physiological colors which the eye makes, but the soul is light; where it is, is day; where it was, is night; and history is an impertinence and an injury, if it be anything more than a cheerful apologue or parable of my being and becoming.

Man is timid and apologetic; he is no longer upright; he dares not say “I think,” “I am,” but quotes some saint or sage. He is ashamed before the blade of grass or the blowing rose. These roses under my window make no reference to former roses or to better ones; they are for what they are; they exist with God to-day. There is no time to them. There is simply the rose; it is perfect in every moment of its existence. Before a leaf-bud has burst, its whole life acts; in the full-blown flower there is no more; in the leafless root there is no less. Its nature is satisfied, and it satisfies nature, in all moments alike. [98] But man postpones, or remembers; he does not live in the present, but with a reverted eye laments the past, or, heedless of the riches that surround him, stands on tiptoe to foresee the future. He cannot be happy and strong until he too lives with nature in the present, above time.

This should be plain enough. Yet see what strong intellects dare not yet hear God himself, unless he speak the phraseology of I know not what David, or Jeremiah, or Paul. We shall not always set so great a price on a few texts, on a few lives.[214] We are like children who repeat by rote the sentences of grandames and tutors, and, as they grow older, of the men and talents and characters they chance to see,—painfully recollecting the exact words they spoke; afterwards, when they come into the point of view which those had who uttered those saying, they understand them, and are willing to let the words go; for, at any time, they can use words as good when occasion comes. If we live truly, we shall see truly. It is as easy for the strong man to be strong, as it is for the weak to be weak. When we have new perception, we shall gladly disburden the memory of its hoarded treasures as old rubbish. When a man lives with God, his voice shall be as sweet as the murmur of the brook and the rustle of the corn.

And now at last the highest truth on this subject remains unsaid; probably cannot be said; for all that we say is the far-off remembering of the intuition. That thought, by what I can now nearest approach [99] to say it, is this. When good is near you, when you have life in yourself, it is not by any known or accustomed way; you shall not discern the footprints of any other; you shall not see the face of man; you shall not hear any name;—the way, the thought, the good, shall be wholly strange and new. It shall exclude example and experience. You take the way from man, not to man. All persons that ever existed are its forgotten ministers. Fear and hope are alike beneath it. There is somewhat low even in hope. In the hour of vision, there is nothing that can be called gratitude, nor properly joy. The soul raised over passion beholds identity and eternal causation, perceives the self-existence of Truth and Right, and calms itself with knowing that all things go well. Vast spaces of nature, the Atlantic Ocean, the South Sea,—long intervals of time, years, centuries,—are of no account. This which I think and feel underlay every former state of life and circumstances, as it does underlie my present, and what is called life, and what is called death.

Life only avails, not the having lived. Power ceases in the instant of repose; it resides in the moment of transition from a past to a new state, in the shooting of the gulf, in the darting to an aim. This one fact the world hates, that the soul becomes; for that forever degrades the past, turns all riches to poverty, all reputation to shame, confounds the saint with the rogue, shoves Jesus and Judas[215] equally aside. Why, then, do we prate of self-reliance? Inasmuch [100] as the soul is present, there will be power not confident but agent.[216] To talk of reliance is a poor external way of speaking. Speak rather of that which relies, because it works and is. Who has more obedience than I masters me, though he should not raise his finger. Round him I must revolve by the gravitation of spirits. We fancy it rhetoric, when we speak of eminent virtue. We do not yet see that virtue is Height, and that a man or a company of men, plastic and permeable to principles, by the law of nature must overpower and ride all cities, nations, kings, rich men, poets, who are not.

This is the ultimate fact which we so quickly reach on this, as on every topic, the resolution of all into the ever-blessed One. Self-existence is the attribute of the Supreme Cause, and it constitutes the measure of good by the degree in which it enters into all lower forms. All things real are so by so much virtue as they contain. Commerce, husbandry, hunting, whaling, war eloquence, personal weight, are somewhat, and engage my respect as examples of its presence and impure action. I see the same law working in nature for conservation and growth. Power is in nature the essential measure of right. Nature suffers nothing to remain in her kingdoms which cannot help itself. The genesis and maturation of a planet, its poise and orbit, the bended tree recovering itself from the strong wind, the vital resources of every animal and vegetable, are demonstrations of the self-sufficing, and therefore self-relying soul.

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Thus all concentrates: let us not rove; let us sit at home with the cause. Let us stun and astonish the intruding rabble of men and books and institutions, by a simple declaration of the divine fact. Bid the invaders take the shoes from off their feet, for God is here within.[217] Let our simplicity judge them, and our docility to our own law demonstrate the poverty of nature and fortune beside our native riches.

But now we are a mob. Man does not stand in awe of man, nor is his genius admonished to stay at home to put itself in communication with the internal ocean, but it goes abroad to beg a cup of water of the urns of other men. We must go alone. I like the silent church before the service begins, better than any preaching. How far off, how cool, how chaste the persons look, begirt each one with a precinct or sanctuary! So let us always sit. Why should we assume the faults of our friend, or wife, or father, or child, because they sit around our hearth, or are said to have the same blood? All men have my blood, and I have all men’s.[218] Not for that will I adopt their petulance or folly, even to the extent of being ashamed of it. But your isolation must not be mechanical, but spiritual, that is, must be elevation. At times the whole world seems to be in conspiracy to importune you with emphatic trifles. Friend, client, child, sickness, fear, want, charity, all knock at once at thy closet door, and say, “Come out unto us.” But keep thy state; come not into their confusion. The power men possess to annoy men, I give [102] them by a weak curiosity. No man can come near me but through my act. “What we love that we have, but by desire we bereave ourselves of the love.”

If we cannot at once rise to the sanctities of obedience and faith, let us at least resist our temptations; let us enter into the state of war, and wake Thor and Woden,[219]courage and constancy, in our Saxon breasts. This is to be done in our smooth times by speaking the truth. Check this lying hospitality and lying affection. Live no longer to the expectation of these deceived and deceiving people with whom we converse. Say to them, O father, O mother, O wife, O brother, O friend, I have lived with you after appearances hitherto. Henceforward I am the truth’s. Be it known unto you that henceforward I obey no law less than the eternal law. I will have no covenants but proximities.[220] I shall endeavor to nourish my parents, to support my family, to be the chaste husband of one wife,—but these relations I must fill after a new and unprecedented way. I appeal from your customs. I must be myself. I cannot break myself any longer for you, or you.[221] If you can love me for what I am, we shall be the happier. If you cannot, I will still seek to deserve that you should. I will not hide my tastes or aversions. I will so trust that what is deep is holy, that I will do strongly before the sun and moon whatever inly rejoices me, and the heart appoints. If you are noble, I will love you; if you are not, I will not hurt you and myself [103] by hypocritical attentions. If you are true, but not in the same truth with me, cleave to your companions; I will seek my own. I do this not selfishly, but humbly and truly. It is alike your interest, and mine, and all men’s however long we have dwelt in lies, to live in truth. Does this sound harsh to-day? You will soon love what is dictated by your nature as well as mine, and, if we follow the truth, it will bring us out safe at last.[222] But so may you give these friends pain. Yes, but I cannot sell my liberty and my power, to save their sensibility. Besides, all persons have their moments of reason, when they look out into the region of absolute truth; then will they justify me, and do the same thing.

The populace think that your rejection of popular standards is a rejection of all standard, and mere antinomianism;[223] and the bold sensualist will use the name of philosophy to gild his crimes. But the law of consciousness abides. There are two confessionals, in one or the other of which we must be shriven. You may fulfill your round of duties by clearing yourself in the direct, or in the reflex way. Consider whether you have satisfied your relations to father, mother, cousin, neighbor, town, cat, and dog; whether any of these can upbraid you. But I may also neglect this reflex standard, and absolve me to myself. I have my own stern claims and perfect circle. It denies the name of duty to many offices that are called duties. But if I can discharge its debts, it enables me to dispense with the popular code. If [104] any one imagines that this law is lax, let him keep its commandment one day.

And truly it demands something godlike in him who has cast off the common motives of humanity, and has ventured to trust himself for a taskmaster. High be his heart, faithful his will, clear his sight, that he may in good earnest be doctrine, society, law, to himself, that a simple purpose may be to him as strong as iron necessity is to others!

If any man consider the present aspects of what is called by distinction society, he will see the need of these ethics. The sinew and heart of man seem to be drawn out, and we are become timorous, desponding whimperers. We are afraid of truth, afraid of fortune, afraid of death, and afraid of each other. Our age yields no great and perfect persons. We want men and women who shall renovate life and our social state, but we see that most natures are insolvent, cannot satisfy their own wants, have an ambition out of all proportion to their practical force,[224] and do lean and beg day and night continually. Our housekeeping is mendicant, our arts, our occupations, our marriages, our religion, we have not chosen, but society has chosen for us. We are parlor soldiers. We shun the rugged battle of fate, where strength is born.

If our young men miscarry in their first enterprises, they lose all heart. If the young merchant fails, men say he is ruined. If the finest genius studies at one of our colleges, and is not installed in an office within one year afterwards in the cities or [105] suburbs of Boston or New York, it seems to his friends and to himself that he is right in being disheartened, and in complaining the rest of his life. A sturdy lad from New Hampshire or Vermont, who in turn tries all the professions, who teams it, farms it,[225] peddles, keeps a school, preaches, edits a newspaper, goes to Congress, buys a township, and so forth, in successive years, and always, like a cat, falls on his feet, is worth a hundred of these city dolls. He walks abreast with his days, and feels no shame in not “studying a profession,” for he does not postpone his life, but lives already. He has not one chance, but a hundred chances. Let a Stoic[226] open the resources of man, and tell men they are not leaning willows, but can and must detach themselves; that with the exercise of self-trust, new powers shall appear; that a man is the word made flesh,[227] born to shed healing to the nations,[228] that he should be ashamed of our compassion, and that the moment he acts from himself, tossing the laws, the books, idolatries and customs out of the window, we pity him no more, but thank and revere him,—and that teacher shall restore the life of man to splendor, and make his name dear to all history.

It is easy to see that a greater self-reliance must work a revolution in all the offices and relations of men; in their religion; in their education; in their pursuits; their modes of living; their association; in their property; in their speculative views.

1. In what prayers do men allow themselves![229] [106] That which they call a holy office is not so much as brave and manly. Prayer looks abroad and asks for some foreign addition to come through some foreign virtue, and loses itself in endless mazes of natural and supernatural, and mediatorial and miraculous. Prayer that craves a particular commodity,—anything less than all good,—is vicious. Prayer is the contemplation of the facts of life from the highest point of view. It is the soliloquy of a beholding and jubilant soul.[230] It is the spirit of God pronouncing his works good. But prayer as a means to effect a private end is meanness and theft. It supposes dualism and not unity in nature and consciousness. As soon as the man is at one with God, he will not beg. He will then see prayer in all action. The prayer of the farmer kneeling in his field to weed it, the prayer of the rower kneeling with the stroke of his oar, are true prayers heard throughout nature, though for cheap ends. Caratach,[231]in Fletcher’s Bonduca, when admonished to inquire the mind of the god Audate, replies,—

“His hidden meaning lies in our endeavors;  Our valors are our best gods.”

Another sort of false prayers are our regrets. Discontent is the want of self-reliance; it is infirmity of will. Regret calamities, if you can thereby help the sufferer; if not, attend your own work, and already the evil begins to be repaired. Our sympathy is just as base. We come to them who weep foolishly, and [107] sit down and cry for company, instead of imparting to them truth and health in rough electric shocks, putting them once more in communication with their own reason. The secret of fortune is joy in our hands. Welcome evermore to gods and men is the self-helping man. For him all doors are flung wide: him all tongues greet, all honors crown, all eyes follow with desire. Our love goes out to him and embraces him, because he did not need it. We solicitously and apologetically caress and celebrate him, because he held on his way and scorned our disapprobation. The gods love him because men hated him. “To the persevering mortal,” said Zoroaster,[232] “the blessed Immortals are swift.”

As men’s prayers are a disease of the will, so are their creeds a disease of the intellect. They say with those foolish Israelites, “Let not God speak to us, lest we die. Speak thou, speak any man with us, and we will obey.”[233] Everywhere I am hindered of meeting God in my brother, because he has shut his own temple doors, and recites fables merely of his brother’s, or his brother’s brother’s God. Every new mind is a new classification. If it prove a mind of uncommon activity and power, a Locke,[234] a Lavoisier,[235] a Hutton,[236] a Betham,[237] a Fourier,[238] it imposes its classification on other men, and lo! a new system. In proportion to the depth of the thought, and so to the number of the objects it touches and brings within reach of the pupil, is his complacency. But chiefly is this apparent in creeds and churches, which [108] are also classifications of some powerful mind acting on the elemental thought of duty, and man’s relation to the Highest. Such is Calvinism,[239] Quakerism,[240] Swedenborgism.[241] The pupil takes the same delight in subordinating everything to the new terminology, as a girl who has just learned botany in seeing a new earth and new seasons thereby. It will happen for a time, that the pupil will find his intellectual power has grown by the study of his master’s mind. But in all unbalanced minds, the classification is idolized, passes for the end, and not for a speedily exhaustible means, so that the walls of the system blend to their eye in the remote horizon with the walls of the universe; the luminaries of heaven seem to them hung on the arch their master built. They cannot imagine how you aliens have any right to see,—how you can see; “It must be somehow that you stole the light from us.” They do not yet perceive that light, unsystematic, indomitable, will break into any cabin, even into theirs. Let them chirp awhile and call it their own. If they are honest and do well, presently their neat new pinfold will be too strait and low, will crack, will lean, will rot and vanish, and the immortal light, all young and joyful, million-orbed, million-colored, will beam over the universe as on the first morning.

2. It is for want of self-culture that the superstition of Traveling, whose idols are Italy, England, Egypt, retains its fascination for all educated Americans. [109] They who made England, Italy, or Greece venerable in the imagination did so by sticking fast where they were, like an axis of the earth. In manly hours, we feel that duty is our place. The soul is no traveler; the wise man stays at home, and when his necessities, his duties, on any occasion call him from his house, or into foreign lands, he is at home still; and shall make men sensible by the expression of his countenance, that he goes the missionary of wisdom and virtue, and visits cities and men like a sovereign, and not like an interloper or a valet.

I have no churlish objection to the circumnavigation of the globe, for the purposes of art, of study, and benevolence, so that the man is first domesticated, or does not go abroad with the hope of finding somewhat greater than he knows. He who travels to be amused, or to get somewhat which he does not carry,[242] travels away from himself, and grows old even in youth among old things. In Thebes,[243] in Palmyra,[244] his will and mind have become old and dilapidated as they. He carries ruins to ruins.

Traveling is a fool’s paradise. Our first journeys discover to us the indifference of places. At home I dream that at Naples, at Rome, I can be intoxicated with beauty, and lose my sadness. I pack my trunk, embrace my friends, embark on the sea, and at last wake up in Naples, and there beside me is the stern fact, the sad self, unrelenting, identical, that I fled from.[245] I seek the Vatican,[246] and the palaces. I affect [110] to be intoxicated with sights and suggestions, but I am not intoxicated. My giant goes with me wherever I go.

3. But the rage of traveling is a symptom of a deeper unsoundness affecting the whole intellectual action. The intellect is vagabond, and our system of education fosters restlessness. Our minds travel when our bodies are forced to stay at home. We imitate; and what is imitation but the traveling of the mind? Our houses are built with foreign taste; our shelves are garnished with foreign ornaments; our opinions, our tastes, our faculties, lean, and follow the Past and the Distant. The soul created the arts wherever they have flourished. It was in his own mind that the artist sought his model. It was an application of his own thought to the thing to be done and the conditions to be observed. And why need we copy the Doric[247] or the Gothic[248] model? Beauty, convenience, grandeur of thought, and quaint expression are as near to us as to any, and if the American artist will study with hope and love the precise thing to be done by him considering the climate, the soil, the length of the day, the wants of the people, the habit and form of the government, he will create a house in which all these will find themselves fitted, and taste and sentiment will be satisfied also.

Insist on yourself; never imitate.[249] Your own gift you can present every moment with the cumulative force of a whole life’s cultivation; but of the adopted [111] talent of another, you have only an extemporaneous, half possession. That which each can do best, none but his Maker can teach him. No man yet knows what it is, nor can, till that person has exhibited it. Where is the master who could have taught Shakespeare?[250] Where is the master who could have instructed Franklin,[251] or Washington, or Bacon,[252] or Newton?[253] Every great man is a unique. The Scipionism of Scipio[254] is precisely that part he could not borrow. Shakespeare will never be made by the study of Shakespeare. Do that which is assigned to you, and you cannot hope too much or dare too much. There is at this moment for you an utterance brave and grand as that of the colossal chisel of Phidias,[255] or trowel of the Egyptians,[256] or the pen of Moses,[257] or Dante,[258] but different from all these. Not possibly will the soul all rich, all eloquent, with thousand-cloven tongue, deign to repeat itself; but if you can hear what these patriarchs say, surely you can reply to them in the same pitch of voice; for the ear and the tongue are two organs of one nature. Abide in the simple and noble regions of thy life, obey thy heart, and thou shalt reproduce the Foreworld[259] again.

4. As our Religion, our Education, our Art look abroad, so does our spirit of society. All men plume themselves on the improvement of society, and no man improves.

Society never advances. It recedes as fast on one side as it gains on the other. It undergoes continual [112] changes; it is barbarous, it is civilized, it is Christianized, it is rich, it is scientific; but this change is not amelioration. For everything that is given, something is taken. Society acquires new arts, and loses old instincts. What a contrast between the well-clad, reading, writing, thinking American, with a watch, a pencil, and a bill of exchange in his pocket, and the naked New Zealander,[260] whose property is a club, a spear, a mat, and an undivided twentieth of a shed to sleep under! But compare the health of the two men, and you shall see that the white man has lost his aboriginal strength. If the traveler tell us truly, strike the savage with a broad ax, and in a day or two the flesh shall unite and heal as if you struck the blow into soft pitch, and the same blow shall send the white to his grave.

The civilized man has built a coach, but has lost the use of his feet. He is supported on crutches, but lacks so much support of muscle. He has a fine Geneva[261] watch, but he fails of the skill to tell the hour by the sun. A Greenwich nautical almanac[262] he has, and so being sure of the information when he wants it, the man in the street does not know a star in the sky. The solstice[263] he does not observe; the equinox he knows as little; and the whole bright calendar of the year is without a dial in his mind. His notebooks impair his memory; his libraries overload his wit; the insurance office increases the number of accidents; and it may be a question whether machinery does not encumber; whether we have not [113] lost by refinement some energy, by a Christianity entrenched in establishments and forms, some vigor of wild virtue. For every Stoic was a Stoic; but in Christendom where is the Christian?

There is no more deviation in the moral standard than in the standard of height or bulk. No greater men are now than ever were. A singular equality may be observed between great men of the first and of the last ages; nor can all the science, art, religion, and philosophy of the nineteenth century avail to educate greater men than Plutarch’s[264] heroes, three or four and twenty centuries ago. Not in time is the race progressive. Phocion,[265] Socrates, Anaxagoras,[266] Diogenes,[267] are great men, but they leave no class. He who is really of their class will not be called by their name, but will be his own man, and, in his turn, the founder of a sect. The arts and inventions of each period are only its costume, and do not invigorate men. The harm of the improved machinery may compensate its good. Hudson[268] and Bering[269]accomplished so much in their fishing boats, as to astonish Parry[270] and Franklin,[271] whose equipment exhausted the resources of science and art. Galileo, with an opera-glass, discovered a more splendid series of celestial phenomena than any one since. Columbus[272] found the New World in an undecked boat. It is curious to see the periodical disuse and perishing of means and machinery, which were introduced with loud laudation a few years or centuries before. The great genius returns to essential [114] man. We reckoned the improvements of the art of war among the triumphs of science, and yet Napoleon[273] conquered Europe by the bivouac, which consisted of falling back on naked valor, and disencumbering it of all aids. The Emperor held it impossible to make a perfect army, says Las Casas,[274] “without abolishing our arms, magazines, commissaries, and carriages, until, in imitation of the Roman custom, the soldier should receive his supply of corn, grind it in his handmill, and bake his bread himself.”

Society is a wave. The wave moves onward, but the water of which it is composed does not. The same particle does not rise from the valley to the ridge. Its unity is only phenomenal. The persons who make up a nation to-day, next year die, and their experience with them.

And so the reliance on Property, including the reliance on governments which protect it, is the want of self-reliance.  Men have looked away from themselves and at things so long, that they have come to esteem the religious, learned, and civil institutions as guards of property, and they deprecate assaults on these, because they feel them to be assaults on property.  They measure their esteem of each other by what each has, and not by what each is.  But a cultivated man becomes ashamed of his property, out of new respect for his nature.  Especially he hates what he has, if he see that it is accidental,—came to him by inheritance, or gift, or crime; then he feels that it is not having; it does not belong to him, has no root in him, and merely lies there, because no revolution or no robber takes it away.  But that which a man is, does always by necessity acquire, and what the man acquires is living property, which does not wait the beck of rulers, or mobs, or revolutions, or fire, or storm, or bankruptcies, but perpetually renews itself wherever the man breathes.  ‘Thy lot or portion of life,’ said the Caliph Ali, ‘is seeking after thee; therefore be at rest from seeking after it.’  Our dependence on these foreign goods leads us to our slavish respect for numbers.  The political parties meet in numerous conventions; the greater the concourse, and with each new uproar of announcement, The delegation from Essex! The Democrats from New Hampshire! The Whigs of Maine! the young patriot feels himself stronger than before by a new thousand of eyes and arms.  In like manner the reformers summon conventions, and vote and resolve in multitude.  Not so, O friends! will the god deign to enter and inhabit you, but by a method precisely the reverse.  It is only as a man puts off all foreign support, and stands alone, that I see him to be strong and to prevail.  He is weaker by every recruit to his banner. Is not a man better than a town?  Ask nothing of men, and in the endless mutation, thou only firm column must presently appear the upholder of all that surrounds thee.  He who knows that power is inborn, that he is weak because he has looked for good out of him and elsewhere, and so perceiving, throws himself unhesitatingly on his thought, instantly rights himself, stands in the erect position, commands his limbs, works miracles; just as a man who stands on his feet is stronger than a man who stands on his head.

So use all that is called Fortune.  Most men gamble with her, and gain all, and lose all, as her wheel rolls.  But do thou leave as unlawful these winnings, and deal with Cause and Effect, the chancelors of God.  In the Will work and acquire, and thou hast chained the wheel of Chance, and shalt sit hereafter out of fear from her rotations.  A political victory, a rise of rents, the recovery of your sick, or the return of your absent friend, or some other favorable event, raises your spirits, and you think good days are preparing for you.  Do not believe it.  Nothing can bring you peace but yourself.  Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles.”       Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self Reliance;” 1841, in Essays, 1914

CC BY by peggycadigan
CC BY by peggycadigan
Numero Dos“High above the city, on a tall column, stood the statue of the Happy Prince.  He was gilded all over with thin leaves of fine gold, for eyes he had two bright sapphires, and a large red ruby glowed on his sword-hilt.

 

He was very much admired indeed.  ‘He is as beautiful as a weathercock,’ remarked one of the Town Councillors who wished to gain a reputation for having artistic tastes; ‘only not quite so useful,’ he added, fearing lest people should think him unpractical, which he really was not.

‘Why can’t you be like the Happy Prince?’ asked a sensible mother of her little boy who was crying for the moon.  ‘The Happy Prince never dreams of crying for anything.’

‘I am glad there is some one in the world who is quite happy,’ muttered a disappointed man as he gazed at the wonderful statue.

‘He looks just like an angel,’ said the Charity Children as they came out of the cathedral in their bright scarlet cloaks and their clean white pinafores.

“How do you know?” said the Mathematical Master, “you have never seen one.”

“Ah! but we have, in our dreams,” answered the children; and the Mathematical Master frowned and looked very severe, for he did not approve of children dreaming.

One night there flew over the city a little Swallow.  His friends had gone away to Egypt six weeks before, but he had stayed behind, for he was in love with the most beautiful Reed.  He had met her early in the spring as he was flying down the river after a big yellow moth, and had been so attracted by her slender waist that he had stopped to talk to her.

“Shall I love you?” said the Swallow, who liked to come to the point at once, and the Reed made him a low bow.  So he flew round and round her, touching the water with his wings, and making silver ripples.  This was his courtship, and it lasted all through the summer.

“It is a ridiculous attachment,” twittered the other Swallows; “she has no money, and far too many relations”; and indeed the river was quite full of Reeds.  Then, when the autumn came they all flew away.

After they had gone he felt lonely, and began to tire of his lady-love.  “She has no conversation,” he said, “and I am afraid that she is a coquette, for she is always flirting with the wind.”  And certainly, whenever the wind blew, the Reed made the most graceful curtseys.  “I admit that she is domestic,” he continued, “but I love travelling, and my wife, consequently, should love travelling also.”

“Will you come away with me?” he said finally to her; but the Reed shook her head, she was so attached to her home.

“You have been trifling with me,” he cried.  “I am off to the Pyramids.  Good-bye!” and he flew away.

All day long he flew, and at night-time he arrived at the city.  “Where shall I put up?” he said; “I hope the town has made preparations.”

Then he saw the statue on the tall column.

“I will put up there,” he cried; “it is a fine position, with plenty of fresh air.”  So he alighted just between the feet of the Happy Prince.

“I have a golden bedroom,” he said softly to himself as he looked round, and he prepared to go to sleep; but just as he was putting his head under his wing a large drop of water fell on him.  “What a curious thing!” he cried; “there is not a single cloud in the sky, the stars are quite clear and bright, and yet it is raining.  The climate in the north of Europe is really dreadful.  The Reed used to like the rain, but that was merely her selfishness.”

Then another drop fell.

“What is the use of a statue if it cannot keep the rain off?” he said; “I must look for a good chimney-pot,” and he determined to fly away.

But before he had opened his wings, a third drop fell, and he looked up, and saw—Ah! what did he see?

The eyes of the Happy Prince were filled with tears, and tears were running down his golden cheeks.  His face was so beautiful in the moonlight that the little Swallow was filled with pity.

“Who are you?” he said.

“I am the Happy Prince.”

“Why are you weeping then?” asked the Swallow; “you have quite drenched me.”

“When I was alive and had a human heart,” answered the statue, “I did not know what tears were, for I lived in the Palace of Sans-Souci, where sorrow is not allowed to enter.  In the daytime I played with my companions in the garden, and in the evening I led the dance in the Great Hall.  Round the garden ran a very lofty wall, but I never cared to ask what lay beyond it, everything about me was so beautiful.  My courtiers called me the Happy Prince, and happy indeed I was, if pleasure be happiness.  So I lived, and so I died.  And now that I am dead they have set me up here so high that I can see all the ugliness and all the misery of my city, and though my heart is made of lead yet I cannot chose but weep.”

“What! is he not solid gold?” said the Swallow to himself.  He was too polite to make any personal remarks out loud.

“Far away,” continued the statue in a low musical voice, “far away in a little street there is a poor house.  One of the windows is open, and through it I can see a woman seated at a table.  Her face is thin and worn, and she has coarse, red hands, all pricked by the needle, for she is a seamstress.  She is embroidering passion-flowers on a satin gown for the loveliest of the Queen’s maids-of-honour to wear at the next Court-ball.  In a bed in the corner of the room her little boy is lying ill.  He has a fever, and is asking for oranges.  His mother has nothing to give him but river water, so he is crying.  Swallow, Swallow, little Swallow, will you not bring her the ruby out of my sword-hilt?  My feet are fastened to this pedestal and I cannot move.”

“I am waited for in Egypt,” said the Swallow.  “My friends are flying up and down the Nile, and talking to the large lotus-flowers.  Soon they will go to sleep in the tomb of the great King.  The King is there himself in his painted coffin.  He is wrapped in yellow linen, and embalmed with spices.  Round his neck is a chain of pale green jade, and his hands are like withered leaves.”

“Swallow, Swallow, little Swallow,” said the Prince, “will you not stay with me for one night, and be my messenger?  The boy is so thirsty, and the mother so sad.”

“I don’t think I like boys,” answered the Swallow.  “Last summer, when I was staying on the river, there were two rude boys, the miller’s sons, who were always throwing stones at me.  They never hit me, of course; we swallows fly far too well for that, and besides, I come of a family famous for its agility; but still, it was a mark of disrespect.”

But the Happy Prince looked so sad that the little Swallow was sorry.  “It is very cold here,” he said; “but I will stay with you for one night, and be your messenger.”

“Thank you, little Swallow,” said the Prince.

So the Swallow picked out the great ruby from the Prince’s sword, and flew away with it in his beak over the roofs of the town.

He passed by the cathedral tower, where the white marble angels were sculptured.  He passed by the palace and heard the sound of dancing.  A beautiful girl came out on the balcony with her lover.  “How wonderful the stars are,” he said to her, “and how wonderful is the power of love!”

“I hope my dress will be ready in time for the State-ball,” she answered; “I have ordered passion-flowers to be embroidered on it; but the seamstresses are so lazy.”

He passed over the river, and saw the lanterns hanging to the masts of the ships.  He passed over the Ghetto, and saw the old Jews bargaining with each other, and weighing out money in copper scales.  At last he came to the poor house and looked in.  The boy was tossing feverishly on his bed, and the mother had fallen asleep, she was so tired.  In he hopped, and laid the great ruby on the table beside the woman’s thimble.  Then he flew gently round the bed, fanning the boy’s forehead with his wings.  “How cool I feel,” said the boy, “I must be getting better”; and he sank into a delicious slumber.

Then the Swallow flew back to the Happy Prince, and told him what he had done.  “It is curious,” he remarked, “but I feel quite warm now, although it is so cold.”

“That is because you have done a good action,” said the Prince.  And the little Swallow began to think, and then he fell asleep.  Thinking always made him sleepy.

When day broke he flew down to the river and had a bath.  “What a remarkable phenomenon,” said the Professor of Ornithology as he was passing over the bridge.  “A swallow in winter!”  And he wrote a long letter about it to the local newspaper.  Every one quoted it, it was full of so many words that they could not understand.

“To-night I go to Egypt,” said the Swallow, and he was in high spirits at the prospect.  He visited all the public monuments, and sat a long time on top of the church steeple.  Wherever he went the Sparrows chirruped, and said to each other, “What a distinguished stranger!” so he enjoyed himself very much.

When the moon rose he flew back to the Happy Prince.  “Have you any commissions for Egypt?” he cried; “I am just starting.”

“Swallow, Swallow, little Swallow,” said the Prince, “will you not stay with me one night longer?”

“I am waited for in Egypt,” answered the Swallow.  “To-morrow my friends will fly up to the Second Cataract.  The river-horse couches there among the bulrushes, and on a great granite throne sits the God Memnon.  All night long he watches the stars, and when the morning star shines he utters one cry of joy, and then he is silent.  At noonthe yellow lions come down to the water’s edge to drink.  They have eyes like green beryls, and their roar is louder than the roar of the cataract.”

“Swallow, Swallow, little Swallow,” said the Prince, “far away across the city I see a young man in a garret.  He is leaning over a desk covered with papers, and in a tumbler by his side there is a bunch of withered violets.  His hair is brown and crisp, and his lips are red as a pomegranate, and he has large and dreamy eyes.  He is trying to finish a play for the Director of the Theatre, but he is too cold to write any more.  There is no fire in the grate, and hunger has made him faint.”

“I will wait with you one night longer,” said the Swallow, who really had a good heart.  “Shall I take him another ruby?”

“Alas!  I have no ruby now,” said the Prince; “my eyes are all that I have left.  They are made of rare sapphires, which were brought out of India a thousand years ago.  Pluck out one of them and take it to him.  He will sell it to the jeweller, and buy food and firewood, and finish his play.”

“Dear Prince,” said the Swallow, “I cannot do that”; and he began to weep.

“Swallow, Swallow, little Swallow,” said the Prince, “do as I command you.”

So the Swallow plucked out the Prince’s eye, and flew away to the student’s garret.  It was easy enough to get in, as there was a hole in the roof.  Through this he darted, and came into the room.  The young man had his head buried in his hands, so he did not hear the flutter of the bird’s wings, and when he looked up he found the beautiful sapphire lying on the withered violets.

“I am beginning to be appreciated,” he cried; “this is from some great admirer.  Now I can finish my play,” and he looked quite happy.

The next day the Swallow flew down to the harbour.  He sat on the mast of a large vessel and watched the sailors hauling big chests out of the hold with ropes.  “Heave a-hoy!” they shouted as each chest came up.  “I am going to Egypt”! cried the Swallow, but nobody minded, and when the moon rose he flew back to the Happy Prince.

“I am come to bid you good-bye,” he cried.

“Swallow, Swallow, little Swallow,” said the Prince, “will you not stay with me one night longer?”

“It is winter,” answered the Swallow, “and the chill snow will soon be here.  In Egypt the sun is warm on the green palm-trees, and the crocodiles lie in the mud and look lazily about them.  My companions are building a nest in the Temple of Baalbec, and the pink and white doves are watching them, and cooing to each other.  Dear Prince, I must leave you, but I will never forget you, and next spring I will bring you back two beautiful jewels in place of those you have given away.  The ruby shall be redder than a red rose, and the sapphire shall be as blue as the great sea.”

“In the square below,” said the Happy Prince, “there stands a little match-girl.  She has let her matches fall in the gutter, and they are all spoiled.  Her father will beat her if she does not bring home some money, and she is crying.  She has no shoes or stockings, and her little head is bare.  Pluck out my other eye, and give it to her, and her father will not beat her.”

“I will stay with you one night longer,” said the Swallow, “but I cannot pluck out your eye.  You would be quite blind then.”

“Swallow, Swallow, little Swallow,” said the Prince, “do as I command you.”

So he plucked out the Prince’s other eye, and darted down with it.  He swooped past the match-girl, and slipped the jewel into the palm of her hand.  “What a lovely bit of glass,” cried the little girl; and she ran home, laughing.

Then the Swallow came back to the Prince.  “You are blind now,” he said, “so I will stay with you always.”

“No, little Swallow,” said the poor Prince, “you must go away to Egypt.”

“I will stay with you always,” said the Swallow, and he slept at the Prince’s feet.

All the next day he sat on the Prince’s shoulder, and told him stories of what he had seen in strange lands.  He told him of the red ibises, who stand in long rows on the banks of the Nile, and catch gold-fish in their beaks; of the Sphinx, who is as old as the world itself, and lives in the desert, and knows everything; of the merchants, who walk slowly by the side of their camels, and carry amber beads in their hands; of the King of the Mountains of the Moon, who is as black as ebony, and worships a large crystal; of the great green snake that sleeps in a palm-tree, and has twenty priests to feed it with honey-cakes; and of the pygmies who sail over a big lake on large flat leaves, and are always at war with the butterflies.

“Dear little Swallow,” said the Prince, “you tell me of marvellous things, but more marvellous than anything is the suffering of men and of women.  There is no Mystery so great as Misery.  Fly over my city, little Swallow, and tell me what you see there.”

So the Swallow flew over the great city, and saw the rich making merry in their beautiful houses, while the beggars were sitting at the gates.  He flew into dark lanes, and saw the white faces of starving children looking out listlessly at the black streets.  Under the archway of a bridge two little boys were lying in one another’s arms to try and keep themselves warm.  “How hungry we are!” they said.  “You must not lie here,” shouted the Watchman, and they wandered out into the rain.

Then he flew back and told the Prince what he had seen.

“I am covered with fine gold,” said the Prince, “you must take it off, leaf by leaf, and give it to my poor; the living always think that gold can make them happy.”

Leaf after leaf of the fine gold the Swallow picked off, till the Happy Prince looked quite dull and grey.  Leaf after leaf of the fine gold he brought to the poor, and the children’s faces grew rosier, and they laughed and played games in the street.  “We have bread now!” they cried.

Then the snow came, and after the snow came the frost.  The streets looked as if they were made of silver, they were so bright and glistening; long icicles like crystal daggers hung down from the eaves of the houses, everybody went about in furs, and the little boys wore scarlet caps and skated on the ice.

The poor little Swallow grew colder and colder, but he would not leave the Prince, he loved him too well.  He picked up crumbs outside the baker’s door when the baker was not looking and tried to keep himself warm by flapping his wings.

But at last he knew that he was going to die.  He had just strength to fly up to the Prince’s shoulder once more.  “Good-bye, dear Prince!” he murmured, “will you let me kiss your hand?”

“I am glad that you are going to Egypt at last, little Swallow,” said the Prince, “you have stayed too long here; but you must kiss me on the lips, for I love you.”

“It is not to Egypt that I am going,” said the Swallow.  “I am going to the House of Death.  Death is the brother of Sleep, is he not?”

And he kissed the Happy Prince on the lips, and fell down dead at his feet.

At that moment a curious crack sounded inside the statue, as if something had broken.  The fact is that the leaden heart had snapped right in two.  It certainly was a dreadfully hard frost.

Early the next morning the Mayor was walking in the square below in company with the Town Councillors.  As they passed the column he looked up at the statue: “Dear me! how shabby the Happy Prince looks!” he said.

“How shabby indeed!” cried the Town Councillors, who always agreed with the Mayor; and they went up to look at it.

“The ruby has fallen out of his sword, his eyes are gone, and he is golden no longer,” said the Mayor in fact, “he is litttle better than a beggar!”

“Little better than a beggar,” said the Town Councillors.

“And here is actually a dead bird at his feet!” continued the Mayor.  “We must really issue a proclamation that birds are not to be allowed to die here.”  And the Town Clerk made a note of the suggestion.

So they pulled down the statue of the Happy Prince.  “As he is no longer beautiful he is no longer useful,” said the Art Professor at the University.

Then they melted the statue in a furnace, and the Mayor held a meeting of the Corporation to decide what was to be done with the metal.  “We must have another statue, of course,” he said, “and it shall be a statue of myself.”

‘Of myself,’ said each of the Town Councillors, and they quarrelled.  When I last heard of them they were quarrelling still.

‘What a strange thing!’ said the overseer of the workmen at the foundry.  ‘This broken lead heart will not melt in the furnace.  We must throw it away.’  So they threw it on a dust-heap where the dead Swallow was also lying.

‘Bring me the two most precious things in the city,’ said God to one of His Angels; and the Angel brought Him the leaden heart and the dead bird.

‘You have rightly chosen,’ said God, ‘for in my garden of Paradise this little bird shall sing for evermore, and in my city of gold the Happy Prince shall praise me.’ …

She said that she would dance with me if I brought her red roses,’ cried the young Student; ‘but in all my garden there is no red rose.’

From her nest in the holm-oak tree the Nightingale heard him, and she looked out through the leaves, and wondered.

‘No red rose in all my garden!’ he cried, and his beautiful eyes filled with tears.  ‘Ah, on what little things does happiness depend!  I have read all that the wise men have written, and all the secrets of philosophy are mine, yet for want of a red rose is my life made wretched.’

‘Here at last is a true lover,’ said the Nightingale.  ‘Night after night have I sung of him, though I knew him not: night after night have I told his story to the stars, and now I see him.  His hair is dark as the hyacinth-blossom, and his lips are red as the rose of his desire; but passion has made his face like pale ivory, and sorrow has set her seal upon his brow.’

“The Prince gives a ball to-morrow night,” murmured the young Student, “and my love will be of the company.  If I bring her a red rose she will dance with me till dawn.  If I bring her a red rose, I shall hold her in my arms, and she will lean her head upon my shoulder, and her hand will be clasped in mine.  But there is no red rose in my garden, so I shall sit lonely, and she will pass me by.  She will have no heed of me, and my heart will break.”

“Here indeed is the true lover,” said the Nightingale.  “What I sing of, he suffers—what is joy to me, to him is pain.  Surely Love is a wonderful thing.  It is more precious than emeralds, and dearer than fine opals.  Pearls and pomegranates cannot buy it, nor is it set forth in the marketplace.  It may not be purchased of the merchants, nor can it be weighed out in the balance for gold.”

“The musicians will sit in their gallery,” said the young Student, “and play upon their stringed instruments, and my love will dance to the sound of the harp and the violin.  She will dance so lightly that her feet will not touch the floor, and the courtiers in their gay dresses will throng round her.  But with me she will not dance, for I have no red rose to give her”; and he flung himself down on the grass, and buried his face in his hands, and wept.

“Why is he weeping?” asked a little Green Lizard, as he ran past him with his tail in the air.

“Why, indeed?” said a Butterfly, who was fluttering about after a sunbeam.

“Why, indeed?” whispered a Daisy to his neighbour, in a soft, low voice.

“He is weeping for a red rose,” said the Nightingale.

“For a red rose?” they cried; “how very ridiculous!” and the little Lizard, who was something of a cynic, laughed outright.

But the Nightingale understood the secret of the Student’s sorrow, and she sat silent in the oak-tree, and thought about the mystery of Love.

Suddenly she spread her brown wings for flight, and soared into the air.  She passed through the grove like a shadow, and like a shadow she sailed across the garden.

In the centre of the grass-plot was standing a beautiful Rose-tree, and when she saw it she flew over to it, and lit upon a spray.

“Give me a red rose,” she cried, “and I will sing you my sweetest song.”

But the Tree shook its head.

“My roses are white,” it answered; “as white as the foam of the sea, and whiter than the snow upon the mountain.  But go to my brother who grows round the old sun-dial, and perhaps he will give you what you want.”

So the Nightingale flew over to the Rose-tree that was growing round the old sun-dial.

“Give me a red rose,” she cried, “and I will sing you my sweetest song.”

But the Tree shook its head.

“My roses are yellow,” it answered; “as yellow as the hair of the mermaiden who sits upon an amber throne, and yellower than the daffodil that blooms in the meadow before the mower comes with his scythe.  But go to my brother who grows beneath the Student’s window, and perhaps he will give you what you want.”

So the Nightingale flew over to the Rose-tree that was growing beneath the Student’s window.

“Give me a red rose,” she cried, “and I will sing you my sweetest song.”

But the Tree shook its head.

“My roses are red,” it answered, “as red as the feet of the dove, and redder than the great fans of coral that wave and wave in the ocean-cavern.  But the winter has chilled my veins, and the frost has nipped my buds, and the storm has broken my branches, and I shall have no roses at all this year.”

“One red rose is all I want,” cried the Nightingale, “only one red rose!  Is there no way by which I can get it?”

“There is a way,” answered the Tree; “but it is so terrible that I dare not tell it to you.”

“Tell it to me,” said the Nightingale, “I am not afraid.”

“If you want a red rose,” said the Tree, “you must build it out of music by moonlight, and stain it with your own heart’s-blood.  You must sing to me with your breast against a thorn.  All night long you must sing to me, and the thorn must pierce your heart, and your life-blood must flow into my veins, and become mine.”

“Death is a great price to pay for a red rose,” cried the Nightingale, “and Life is very dear to all.  It is pleasant to sit in the green wood, and to watch the Sun in his chariot of gold, and the Moon in her chariot of pearl.  Sweet is the scent of the hawthorn, and sweet are the bluebells that hide in the valley, and the heather that blows on the hill.  Yet Love is better than Life, and what is the heart of a bird compared to the heart of a man?”

So she spread her brown wings for flight, and soared into the air.  She swept over the garden like a shadow, and like a shadow she sailed through the grove.

The young Student was still lying on the grass, where she had left him, and the tears were not yet dry in his beautiful eyes.

“Be happy,” cried the Nightingale, “be happy; you shall have your red rose.  I will build it out of music by moonlight, and stain it with my own heart’s-blood.  All that I ask of you in return is that you will be a true lover, for Love is wiser than Philosophy, though she is wise, and mightier than Power, though he is mighty.  Flame-coloured are his wings, and coloured like flame is his body.  His lips are sweet as honey, and his breath is like frankincense.”

The Student looked up from the grass, and listened, but he could not understand what the Nightingale was saying to him, for he only knew the things that are written down in books.

But the Oak-tree understood, and felt sad, for he was very fond of the little Nightingale who had built her nest in his branches.

“Sing me one last song,” he whispered; “I shall feel very lonely when you are gone.”

So the Nightingale sang to the Oak-tree, and her voice was like water bubbling from a silver jar.

When she had finished her song the Student got up, and pulled a note-book and a lead-pencil out of his pocket.

“She has form,” he said to himself, as he walked away through the grove—“that cannot be denied to her; but has she got feeling?  I am afraid not.  In fact, she is like most artists; she is all style, without any sincerity.  She would not sacrifice herself for others.  She thinks merely of music, and everybody knows that the arts are selfish.  Still, it must be admitted that she has some beautiful notes in her voice.  What a pity it is that they do not mean anything, or do any practical good.”  And he went into his room, and lay down on his little pallet-bed, and began to think of his love; and, after a time, he fell asleep.

And when the Moon shone in the heavens the Nightingale flew to the Rose-tree, and set her breast against the thorn.  All night long she sang with her breast against the thorn, and the cold crystal Moon leaned down and listened.  All night long she sang, and the thorn went deeper and deeper into her breast, and her life-blood ebbed away from her.

She sang first of the birth of love in the heart of a boy and a girl.  And on the top-most spray of the Rose-tree there blossomed a marvellous rose, petal following petal, as song followed song.  Pale was it, at first, as the mist that hangs over the river—pale as the feet of the morning, and silver as the wings of the dawn.  As the shadow of a rose in a mirror of silver, as the shadow of a rose in a water-pool, so was the rose that blossomed on the topmost spray of the Tree.

But the Tree cried to the Nightingale to press closer against the thorn.  “Press closer, little Nightingale,” cried the Tree, “or the Day will come before the rose is finished.”

So the Nightingale pressed closer against the thorn, and louder and louder grew her song, for she sang of the birth of passion in the soul of a man and a maid.

And a delicate flush of pink came into the leaves of the rose, like the flush in the face of the bridegroom when he kisses the lips of the bride.  But the thorn had not yet reached her heart, so the rose’s heart remained white, for only a Nightingale’s heart’s-blood can crimson the heart of a rose.

And the Tree cried to the Nightingale to press closer against the thorn.  “Press closer, little Nightingale,” cried the Tree, “or the Day will come before the rose is finished.”

So the Nightingale pressed closer against the thorn, and the thorn touched her heart, and a fierce pang of pain shot through her.  Bitter, bitter was the pain, and wilder and wilder grew her song, for she sang of the Love that is perfected by Death, of the Love that dies not in the tomb.

And the marvellous rose became crimson, like the rose of the eastern sky.  Crimson was the girdle of petals, and crimson as a ruby was the heart.

But the Nightingale’s voice grew fainter, and her little wings began to beat, and a film came over her eyes.  Fainter and fainter grew her song, and she felt something choking her in her throat.

Then she gave one last burst of music.  The white Moon heard it, and she forgot the dawn, and lingered on in the sky.  The red rose heard it, and it trembled all over with ecstasy, and opened its petals to the cold morning air.  Echo bore it to her purple cavern in the hills, and woke the sleeping shepherds from their dreams.  It floated through the reeds of the river, and they carried its message to the sea.

“Look, look!” cried the Tree, “the rose is finished now”; but the Nightingale made no answer, for she was lying dead in the long grass, with the thorn in her heart.

And at noon the Student opened his window and looked out.

“Why, what a wonderful piece of luck!” he cried; “here is a red rose!  I have never seen any rose like it in all my life.  It is so beautiful that I am sure it has a long Latin name”; and he leaned down and plucked it.

Then he put on his hat, and ran up to the Professor’s house with the rose in his hand.

The daughter of the Professor was sitting in the doorway winding blue silk on a reel, and her little dog was lying at her feet.

“You said that you would dance with me if I brought you a red rose,” cried the Student.  “Here is the reddest rose in all the world.  You will wear it to-night next your heart, and as we dance together it will tell you how I love you.”

But the girl frowned.

“I am afraid it will not go with my dress,” she answered; “and, besides, the Chamberlain’s nephew has sent me some real jewels, and everybody knows that jewels cost far more than flowers.”

“Well, upon my word, you are very ungrateful,” said the Student angrily; and he threw the rose into the street, where it fell into the gutter, and a cart-wheel went over it.

“Ungrateful!” said the girl.  “I tell you what, you are very rude; and, after all, who are you?  Only a Student.  Why, I don’t believe you have even got silver buckles to your shoes as the Chamberlain’s nephew has”; and she got up from her chair and went into the house.

‘What a silly thing Love is,’ said the Student as he walked away.  ‘It is not half as useful as Logic, for it does not prove anything, and it is always telling one of things that are not going to happen, and making one believe things that are not true.  In fact, it is quite unpractical, and, as in this age to be practical is everything, I shall go back to Philosophy and study Metaphysics.’

So he returned to his room and pulled out a great dusty book, and began to read.”       Oscar Wilde, The Happy Prince & Other Stories; “The Happy Prince,” “The Nightingale and the Rose,” 1888

bed princess sex romance prince fairy tale cinderella sleeping beauty grimm

Numero Tres“Vagina is the most terrifying word, the most threatening word, in any language of any country I have ever been to.  Even when the vagina is worshiped in theory, as the yoni is in India, it is denigrated in practice.  It is more reviled and feared than words like plutonium, genocide and starvation.  In many countries the word for female genitalia is so derogatory or disgusting, it cannot be spoken in public.  In a few places, there is no word in the language for vagina at all.

 

As the vagina is the primary port of transmission from men to women of the AIDS virus, how women and men perceive vaginas, talk about or don’t talk about vaginas, how women know their vaginas, feel agency over their vaginas, determines everything about their future.  Many women, even in so-called progressive countries, are still not comfortable asking a man out, acting directly on their own desire, be it for a man or a woman.  Many women who are sexually active and educated about the virus are still, because of insecurity and embarrassment, having unsafe sex.  Many women in the year 2010 do not know how their clitoris functions or how to give themselves pleasure, nor do they feel safe telling a partner or a husband what they need or that it hurts when they are entered without preparation or that it would all work much better if it happened slower.

For so many women in the world, because there is no open sex education, because women are discouraged from masturbation, because sex has been defined — like science or maths or business or politics — as something essentially male and belonging to men, sex is perceived as something foreign and inaccessible.  Because women are regularly forced and taken against their will in parts of the world, sex has become associated with pain.  It has become something you survive.  Each year millions of women forcibly have their clitoris cut and removed.  For many women, your vagina belongs to the clan, to the tribe, to the state, to the church, to the mosque, to the temple, to your husband.  But it most certainly does not belong to you.  So if it isn’t yours, how do you protect it or cherish it?

You cannot prevent women from getting AIDS without ending violence towards them, without shifting the dynamics of power. You cannot stop a disease that is being transmitted through sex unless you admit that sex exists, unless women have a right to sex and desire — the same way men have a right — unless women are equal active participants and not passive recipients of men’s desires and thus the diseases men pass on through their narcissistic ejaculations. Until women know they have a right to refuse to be touched or entered and a right to invite it, a right to demand protection and a right to expect it, there will be no ending AIDS. And until these rights are backed up by courts and enforced by states, women will never have those rights.

A man can get away with raping a virgin and saying he believes it will cure AIDS, as long as there is a sanctioned and enforced environment of sexual ignorance. Creating a true and substantial dialogue about sex and sexuality means breaking taboos and asking questions. It means standing up to authorities like the church, which refuse to promote contraception and sex education. It means boldly speaking out against fundamentalist forces that promote abstinence, claiming it prevents AIDS and STDs and early pregnancy when the data tells another story.

Frankly, nothing short of a worldwide sexual revolution will stop the spread of AIDS.  We need to dissemble the shame, reclaim pleasure, celebrate desire, human connection, skin and touch.  We need to release the shackles of oppression, one-way enjoyment and narrow-minded education.  We need open and fearless discussion allowing sex to be what it is — natural and beautiful.

The revolution will not happen without men.  We need to create an environment where sexuality is more about connection than conquering, more about pleasure than performance.  Men need to ask questions and admit their vulnerabilities.  They need to go slow and go deeper.  Women need to expect this, demand it and allow a place for it.

The time is now.  There are 33 million people living in the world with the HIV virus, about half of them women.  I venture to say a good portion of them got the disease because there is no environment which supports them saying outright and directly, ‘Love my vagina.'”       Eve Ensler, “Nothing Short of a Sexual Revolution;” Huffington Post, 2010


Numero Cuatro“On Thursday night we were offered a fascinating glimpse into the renowned writer, Jamaica Kincaid.  Keeping within PEN’s theme of bravery, the evening’s topics ranged widely from the novel, memory, the event, landscape, marriage, writing to the colonial mindset, but I want to focus on one particular thread that ran throughout and perhaps touches on a number of the topics I have just listed: curiosity.

 

For it becomes immediately apparent when listening to Jamaica Kincaid speak that she is not only a writer but in truth a philosopher who seeks to explore the world through the medium of creative writing.  And I do not know if it is unfair to only give Kincaid such a label as perhaps most creative writers have this element about them but a child-like fervor for the world and its workings laced with the wisdom of experience shines through as Kincaid speaks, ‘I simply wish to know more’ being repeated more than once during the evening’s event.  Asked if she feels as if she constantly writes within the past, Kincaid stated that she does not constantly go into the past but rather, has simply not exhausted what she is writing about, the things she wants to write about not being written about enough (e.g., the role of vegetable matter in unification—the Irish and their non-native potatoes).

The discussion, led by Ru Freeman, began with the novel.  Said Kincaid, ‘The novel is something someone invented.  The novel has no laws or prescriptions that come from anywhere,’ and the only people that are often heard talking about what a novel is tend to be those that are about to write a novel and are often a ‘he.’  It was more than once that Kincaid would rib men over the course of the night, at one point stating, ‘They [men] just make things so they can violate them.’  The bears were well-timed and enjoyed by many.

But perhaps the most interesting focus of the night was on a photograph of Kincaid at two years old that is featured in Biography of a Dress. From this photograph there arose a series of questions for Kincaid: what do events mean, what filled the holes in her ears, covered her feet, how did it all come to be? How did it come to be that gold from Guyana filled her ears or shoes from Canada covered her feet? This is the crux of Kincaid—this tireless fascination with how the world has come to be, grounded within specific objects or things (books, flowers, earrings, dresses, tea, and on and on). I was reminded of Jane Bennett’s work in Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things and her work toward rehabilitating enchantment. Over the course of a short evening, Kincaid was able to reignite and reinvigorate enchantment in the everyday. In approaching her work, she noted that she does not mind failing at all but rather enjoys the process of doing: “I leave the page and I have totally failed, but I am not afraid to go back to the same chair and write again.”

There were sobering moments during the evening, particularly around discussions of her mother’s abortions (including the failed early terminations of herself and her brother), her brother’s sickness, and her own culpability in existing within an interconnected world where it is nearly impossible to extricate oneself from the injustices of one’s trousers, for instance, and the lineage therein. Asked about the shifting of blame and denunciations Kincaid herself had earlier said of her essay published as a short book entitled, A Small Place, she stated instead that she still cannot believe that she had such clarity of vision and recalled that when reviewed by Antiguans, the response had been, “Everything you said is true but why did you have to say it.” To tell a truth, as conflicted, oppositional, and self-destructive as it may be, is her primary drive for writing (“All I want to say is something true. The form does not matter”) and any judgements that she may make are truly judgements of herself (“None of us are innocent.”)

In synergy with Earl Lovelace‘s discussions on landscape at an earlier event, Kincaid too touched upon the distance locals in the Caribbean feel toward the landscapes of their native countries, noting that rarely do people from the Caribbean relax on their own landscapes.  Said Kincaid, ‘We have such horrible memories upon this landscape.’

Prior to the evening, I had only read A Small Place, an extremely enjoyable short read on the pitfalls of tourism (amongst other things) in her native Antigua.  But through Ru Freeman and Jamaica Kincaid’s guided travels through Lucy, At the Bottom of the River, My Flowers, My Brother, and The Autobiography of my Mother I have now cleared my reading list for a pending Kincaid marathon.

One of Kincaid’s many memorable statements serves as a wonderful wrap up to the evening: ‘I will never get to the bottom of who I am but why not try?'”       J.K. Fowler, “Master/Class: Jamaica Kincaid With Ru Freeman;” 2013