As adults, we encounter a lot of cynicism about love and we even learn to speak about it with a degree of embarrassment; but the older I get, the more I'm convinced of the importance of not growing cynical about love, but of better understanding it.His post collided in my brain with an email from a friend who has been frolicking in the snow beneath the mountains in my birth country--the soft, powdery snow of Colorado that glitters beneath a clear sky showering starlight and moonbeams. The collision brought to mind one of my favorite passages in literature, from Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain, the chapter entitled Snow--a dream poem that sits like a raw, glowing gem at the crest of the most elaborate and well-mannered novel. My copy is a bit hard to get to, but Amazon search inside helped me find the passage:
Man is the master of contradictions, they occur through him, and so he is more noble than they. More noble than death, too noble for it--that is the freedom of his mind. More noble than life, too noble for it--that is the devotion of his heart. There, I have rhymed it all together, dreamed a poem of humankind. I will remember it. I will be good. I will grant death no dominion over my thoughts. For in that is found goodness and brotherly love, and in that alone. Death is a great power. You take off your hat and tiptoe past his presence, rocking your way forward. He wears the ceremonial ruff of what has been, and you put on austere black in his honor. Reason stands foolish before him, for reason is only virtue, but death is freedom and kicking over the traces, chaos, and lust. Lust, my dream says, not love. Death and love--there is no rhyming them, that is a preposterous rhyme, a false rhyme. Love stands opposed to death--it alone, and not reason, is stronger than death. Only love, and not reason, yields kind thoughts. And form, too, comes only from love and goodness: form and the cultivated manners of man's fair state, of a reasonable, genial community--out of silent regard for the bloody banquet. Oh, what a clear dream I've dreamed, how well I've 'played king'! I will remember it. I will keep faith with death in my heart, but I will clearly remember that if faithfulness to death and to what is past rules our thoughts and deeds, that leads only to wickedness, dark lust and the hatred of humankind. For the sake of goodness and love, man shall grant death no dominion over his thoughts. And with that I shall awaken. For with that I have dreamed my dream to its end, to its goal.I highly recommend this novel, if you are interested in such things. Get the John Woods translation. Sometimes I despair of getting "the better understanding", as Robert exhorts us too, or of trying to, anyway---how can trying help? Understanding either comes or it does not. It sometimes seems like even the most balanced diet of great art and literature and conversation and even friendship and raw experience cannot advance understanding in any measurable or dependable way. But when it does come--whether from the hum of a resonant novel or the flash of happy teeth from across the room--it makes all the fitful starts and stops worth it.
Spring 2006: Guest Bloggers!
Rishi | Scott | Emily
Echan | Robert | ToastyKen