Thea by Hermann Sudermann
A Phantasy over the Samovar
She is a faery and yet she is none.... But she is my faery surely.
She has appeared to me only in a few moments of life when I least
And when I desired to hold her, she vanished.
Yet has she often dwelt near me. I felt her in the breath of winter
winds sweeping over sunny fields of snow; I breathed her presence in
the morning frost that clung, glittering, to my beard; I saw the shadow
of her gigantic form glide over the smoky darkness of heaven which hung
with the quietude of hopelessness over the dull white fields; I heard
the whispering of her voice in the depths of the shining tea urn
surrounded by a dancing wreath of spirit flames.
But I must tell the story of those few times when she stood bodily
before me—changed of form and yet the same—my fate, my future as it
should have been and was not, my fear and my trust, my good and my evil
It was many, many years ago on a late evening near Epiphany.
Without whirled the snow. The flakes came fluttering to the windows
like endless swarms of moths. Silently they touched the panes and then
glided straight down to earth as though they had broken their wings in
The lamp, old and bad for the eyes, stood on the table with its
polished brass foot and its raveled green cloth shade. The oil in the
tank gurgled dutifully. Black fragments gathered on the wick, which
looked like a stake over which a few last flames keep watch.
Yonder in the shabby upholstered chair my mother had fallen into a
doze. Her knitting had dropped from her hands and lay on the
flower-patterned apron. The wool-thread cut a deep furrow in the skin
of her rough forefinger. One of the needles swung behind her ear.
The samovar with its bellied body and its shining chimney stood on a
side table. From time to time a small, pale-blue cloud of steam whirled
upward, and a gentle odour of burning charcoal tickled my nostrils.
Before me on the table lay open Sallust's “Catilinarian Conspiracy!”
But what did I care for Sallust? Yonder on the book shelf, laughing and
alluring in its gorgeous cover stood the first novel that I ever
read—“The Adventures of Baron Muenchausen!”
Ten pages more to construe. Then I was free. I buried my hands deep
into my breeches pockets, for I was cold. Only ten pages more.
Yearningly I stared at my friend.
And behold, the bookbinder's crude ornamentation—ungraceful
arabesques of vine leaves which wreathe about broken columns, a rising
sun caught in a spider's web of rays—all that configuration begins to
spread and distend until it fills the room. The vine leaves tremble in
a morning wind; a soft blowing shakes the columns, and higher and
higher mounts the sun. Like a dance of flickering torches his rays
shoot to and fro, his glistening arms are outstretched as though they
would grasp the world and pull it to the burning bosom of the sun. And
a great roaring arises in the air, muffled and deep as distant organ
strains. It rises to the blare of trumpets, it quivers with the clash
Then the body of the sun bursts open. A bluish, phosphorescent flame
hisses forth. Upon this flame stands erect in fluttering chiton
a woman, fair and golden haired, swan's wings at her shoulders, a harp
held in her hand.
She sees me and her face is full of laughter. Her laughter sounds
simple, childlike, arch. And surely, it is a child's mouth from which
it issues. The innocent blue eyes look at me in mad challenge. The firm
cheeks glow with the delight of life. Heavens! What is this child's
head doing on that body? She throws the harp upon the clouds, sits down
on the strings, scratches her little nose swiftly with her left wing
and calls out to me: “Come, slide with me!”
I stare at her open-mouthed. Then I gather all my courage and
stammer: “Who are you?”
“My name is Thea,” she giggles.
“But who are you?” I ask again.
“Who? Nonsense. Come, pull me! But no; you can't fly. I'll pull you.
That will go quicker.”
And she arises. Heavens! What a form! Magnificently the hips curve
over the fallen girdle; in how noble a line are throat and bosom
married. No sculptor can achieve the like.
With her slender fingers she grasps the blue, embroidered riband
that is attached to the neck of the harp. She grasps it with the
gesture of one who is about to pull a sleigh.
“Come,” she cries again. I dare not understand her. Awkwardly I
crouch on the strings.
“I might break them,” I venture.
“You little shaver,” she laughs. “Do you know how light you are? And
now, hold fast!”
I have scarcely time to grasp the golden frame with both hands. I
hear a mighty rustling in front of me. The mighty wings unfold. My
sleigh floats and billows in the air. Forward and upward goes the
Far, far beneath me lies the paternal hut. Scarcely does its light
penetrate to my height. Gusts of snow whirl about my forehead. Next
moment the light is wholly lost. Dawn breaks through the night. A warm
wind meets us and blows upon the strings so that they tremble gently
and lament like a sleeping child whose soul is troubled by a dream of
“Look down!” cried my faery, turning her laughing little head toward
Bathed in the glow of spring I see an endless carpet of woods and
hills, fields and lakes spread out below me. The landscape gleams with
a greenish silveriness. My glance can scarcely endure the richness of
“But it has become spring,” I say trembling.
“Would you like to go down?” she asks.
At once we glide downward. “Guess what that is!” she says.
An old, half-ruined castle rears its granite walls before me.... A
thousand year old ivy wreathes about its gables.... Black and white
swallows dart about the roofs.... All about arises a thicket of
hawthorn in full bloom.... Wild roses emerge from the darkness,
innocently agleam like children's eyes. A sleepy tree bends its boughs
There is life at the edge of the ancient terrace where broad-leaved
clover grows in the broken urns. A girlish form, slender and lithe,
swinging a great, old-fashioned straw hat, having a shawl wound
crosswise over throat and waist, has stepped forth from the decaying
old gate. She carries a little white bundle under her arm, and looks
tentatively to the right and to the left as one who is about to go on a
“Look at her,” says my friend.
The scales fall from my eyes.
“That is Lisbeth,” I cried out in delight, “who is going to the
Scarcely have I mentioned that farm but a fragrance of roasting meat
rises up to me. Clouds of smoke roll toward me, dim flames quiver up
from it. There is a sound of roasting and frying and the seething fat
spurts high. No wonder; there's going to be a wedding. “Would you like
to see the executioner's sword?” my friend asks.
A mysterious shudder runs down my limbs.
“I'd like to well enough,” I say fearfully.
A rustle, a soft metallic rattle—and we are in a small, bare
chamber.... Now it is night again and the moonlight dances on the rough
“Look there,” whispers my friend and points to a plump old chest.
Her laughing face has grown severe and solemn. Her body seems to
have grown. Noble and lordly as a judge she stands before me.
I stretch my neck; I peer at the chest.
There it lies, gleaming and silent, the old sword. A beam of
moonlight glides along the old blade, drawing a long, straight line.
But what do those dark spots mean which have eaten hollows into the
“That is blood,” says my friend and crosses her arms upon her
I shiver but my eyes seem to have grown fast to the terrible image.
“Come,” says Thea.
“Do you want it?”
“What? The sword?”
She nods. “But may you give it away? Does it belong to you?”
“I may do anything. Everything belongs to me.”
A horror grips me with its iron fist. “Give it to me!” I cry
The iron lightening gleams up and it lies cold and moist in my arms.
It seems to me as though the blood upon it began to flow afresh.
My arms feel dead, the sword falls from them and sinks upon the
strings. These begin to moan and sing. Their sounds are almost like
cries of pain.
“Take care,” cries my friend. “The sword may rend the strings; it is
heavier than you.”
We fly out into the moonlit night. But our flight is slower than
before. My friend breathes hard and the harp swings to and fro like a
paper kite in danger of fluttering to earth.
But I pay no attention to all that. Something very amusing captures
Something has become alive in the moon which floats, a golden disc,
amid the clouds. Something black and cleft twitches to and fro on her
nether side. I look more sharply and discover a pair of old
riding-boots in which stick two long, lean legs. The leather on the
inner side of the boots is old and worn and glimmers with a dull
discoloured light. “Since when does the moon march on legs through the
world?” I ask myself and begin to laugh. And suddenly I see something
black on the upper side of the moon—something that wags funnily up and
down. I strain my eyes and recognise my old friend Muenchausen's
phantastic beard and moustache. He has grasped the edges of the moon's
disc with his long lean fingers and laughs, laughs.
“I want to go there,” I call to my friend.
She turns around. Her childlike face has now become grave and
madonna like. She seems to have aged by years. Her words echo in my ear
like the sounds of broken chimes.
“He who carries the sword cannot mount to the moon.”
My boyish stubbornness revolts. “But I want to get to my friend
“He who carries the sword has no friend.”
I jump up and tug at the guiding riband. The harp capsises.... I
fall into emptiness ... the sword above me ... it penetrates my body
... I fall ... I fall....
“Yes, yes,” says my mother, “why do you call so fearfully? I am
Calmly she took the knitting-needle from behind her ear, stuck it
into the wool and wrapped the unfinished stocking about it.
Six years passed. Then Thea met me again. She had been gracious
enough to leave her home in the island valley of Avilion, to play the
soubrette parts in the theatre of the university town in which I was
fencing and drinking for the improvement of my mind.
Upon her little red shoes she tripped across the stage. She let her
abbreviated skirts wave in the boldest curves. She wore black silk
stockings which flowed about her delicate ankles in ravishing lines and
disappeared all too soon, just above the knee, under the hem of her
skirt. She plaited herself two thick braids of hair the blue ribands of
which she loved to chew when the modesty that belonged to her part
overwhelmed her. She sucked her thumb, she stuck out her tongue, she
squeaked and shrieked and turned up her little nose. And, oh, how she
laughed. It was that sweet, sophisticated, vicious soubrette laughter
which begins with the musical scale and ends in a long coo.
Show me the man among us whom she cannot madden into love with all
the traditional tricks of her trade. Show me the student who did not
keep glowing odes deep-buried in his lecture notes—deep-buried as the
gigantic grief of some heroic soul....
And one afternoon she appeared at the skating rink. She wore a
gleaming plush jacket trimmed with sealskin, and a fur cap which sat
jauntily over her left ear. The hoar frost clung like diamond dust to
the reddish hair that framed her cheeks, and her pink little nose
sniffed up the cold air.
After she had made a scene with the attendant who helped her on with
her shoes, during which such expressions as “idiot,” had escaped her
sweet lips, she began to skate. A child, just learning to walk, could
have done better.
We foolish boys stood about and stared at her.
The desire to help her waxed in us to the intensity of madness. But
when pouting she stretched out her helpless arms at us, we recoiled as
before an evil spirit. Not one of us found the courage simply to accept
the superhuman bliss for which he had been hungering by day and night
Then suddenly—at an awful curve—she caught her foot, stumbled,
wavered first forward and then backward and finally fell into the arms
of the most diffident and impassioned of us all.
And that was I.
Yes, that was I. To this day my fists are clenched with rage at the
thought that it might have been another.
Among those who remained behind as I led her away in triumph there
was not one who could not have slain me with a calm smile.
Under the impact of the words which she wasted upon my unworthy
self, I cast down my eyes, smiling and blushing. Then I taught her how
to set her feet and showed off my boldest manoeuvres. I also told her
that I was a student in my second semester and that it was my ambition
to be a poet.
“Isn't that sweet?” she exclaimed. “I suppose you write poetry
I certainly did. I even had a play in hand which treated of the fate
of the troubadour Bernard de Ventadours in rhymeless, irregular verse.
“Is there a part for me in it?” she asked.
“No,” I answered, “but it doesn't matter. I'll put one in.”
“Oh, how sweet that is of you!” she cried. “And do you know? You
must read me the play. I can help you with my practical knowledge of
A wave of bliss under which I almost suffocated, poured itself out
“I have also written poems—to you!” I stammered. The wave carried
me away. “Think of that,” she said quite kindly instead of boxing my
ears. “You must send them to me.”
And then I escorted her to the door while my friends followed us at
a seemly distance like a pack of wolves.
The first half of the night I passed ogling beneath her window; the
second half at my table, for I wanted to enrich the packet to be sent
her by some further lyric pearls. At the peep of dawn I pushed the
envelope, tight as a drum with its contents, into the pillar box and
went to cool my burning head on the ramparts.
On that very afternoon came a violet-tinted little letter which had
an exceedingly heady fragrance and bore instead of a seal a golden lyre
transfixed by a torch. It contained the following lines:
“Your verses aren't half bad; only too fiery. I'm really in a hurry
to hear your play. My old chaperone is going out this evening. I will
be at home alone and will, therefore, be bored. So come to tea at
seven. But you must give me your word of honour that you do not give
away this secret. Otherwise I won't care for you the least bit.
“Your THEA.” Thus did she write, I swear it—she, my faery, my Muse,
my Egeria, she to whom I desired to look up in adoration to the last
drawing of my breath.
Swiftly I revised and corrected and recited several scenes of my
play. I struck out half a dozen superfluous characters and added a
At half past six I set out on my way. A thick, icy fog lay in the
air. Each person that I met was covered by a cloud of icy breath.
I stopped in front of a florist's shop.
All the treasures of May lay exposed there on little terraces of
black velvet. There were whole beds of violets and bushes of
snow-drops. There was a great bunch of long-stemmed roses, carelessly
held together by a riband of violet silk.
I sighed deeply. I knew why I sighed.
And then I counted my available capital: Eight marks and seventy
pfennigs. Seven beer checks I have in addition. But these, alas, are
good only at my inn—for fifteen pfennigs worth of beer a piece.
At last I take courage and step into the shop.
“What is the price of that bunch of roses?” I whisper. I dare not
speak aloud, partly by reason of the great secret and partly through
diffidence. “Ten marks,” says the fat old saleswoman. She lets the palm
leaves that lie on her lap slip easily into an earthen vessel and
proceeds to the window to fetch the roses.
I am pale with fright. My first thought is: Run to the inn and try
to exchange your checks for cash. You can't borrow anything two days
before the first of the month.
Suddenly I hear the booming of the tower clock.
“Can't I get it a little cheaper?” I ask half-throttled.
“Well, did you ever?” she says, obviously hurt. “There are ten roses
in the bunch; they cost a mark a piece at this time. We throw in the
I am disconsolate and am about to leave the shop. But the old
saleswoman who knows her customers and has perceived the tale of love
lurking under my whispering and my hesitation, feels a human sympathy.
“You might have a few roses taken out,” she says. “How much would
you care to expend, young man?”
“Eight marks and seventy pfennigs,” I am about to answer in my
folly. Fortunately it occurs to me that I must keep out a tip for her
maid. The ladies of the theatre always have maids. And I might leave
late. “Seven marks,” I answer therefore.
With quiet dignity the woman extracts four roses from my
bunch and I am too humble and intimidated to protest.
But my bunch is still rich and full and I am consoled to think that
a wooing prince cannot do better.
Five minutes past seven I stand before her door.
Need I say that my breath gives out, that I dare not knock, that the
flowers nearly fall from my nerveless hand? All that is a matter of
course to anyone who has ever, in his youth, had dealings with faeries
of Thea's stamp.
It is a problem to me to this day how I finally did get into her
room. But already I see her hastening toward me with laughter and
burying her face in the roses.
“O you spendthrift!” she cries and tears the flowers from my hand in
order to pirouette with them before the mirror. And then she assumes a
solemn expression and takes me by a coat button, draws me nearer and
says: “So, and now you may kiss me as a reward.”
I hear and cannot grasp my bliss. My heart seems to struggle out at
my throat, but hard before me bloom her lips. I am brave and kiss her.
“Oh,” she says, “your beard is full of snow.”
“My beard! Hear it, ye gods! Seriously and with dignity she speaks
of my beard.”
A turbid sense of being a kind of Don Juan or Lovelace arises in me.
My self-consciousness assumes heroic dimensions, and I begin to regard
what is to come with a kind of daemonic humour.
The mist that has hitherto blurred my vision departs. I am able to
look about me and to recognise the place where I am.
To be sure, that is a new and unsuspected world—from the rosy
silken gauze over the toilet mirror that hangs from the beaks of two
floating doves, to the row of exquisite little laced boots that stands
in the opposite corner. From the candy boxes of satin, gold, glass,
saffron, ivory, porcelain and olive wood which adorn the dresser to the
edges of white billowy skirts which hang in the next room but have been
caught in the door—I see nothing but miracles, miracles.
A maddening fragrance assaults my senses, the same which her note
exhaled. But now that fragrance streams from her delicate, graceful
form in its princess gown of pale yellow with red bows. She dances and
flutters about the room with so mysterious and elf-like a grace as
though she were playing Puck in the “Midsummer Night's Dream,” the part
in which she first enthralled my heart.
Ah, yes, she meant to get tea.
“Well, why do you stand there so helplessly, you horrid creature?
Come! Here is a tablecloth, here are knives and forks. I'll light the
spirit lamp in the meantime.”
And she slips by me not without having administered a playful tap to
my cheek and vanishes in the dark room of mystery.
I am about to follow her, but out of the darkness I hear a laughing
voice: “Will you stay where you are, Mr. Curiosity?”
And so I stand still on the threshold and lay my head against those
billowy skirts. They are fresh and cool and ease my burning forehead.
Immediately thereafter I see the light of a match flare up in the
darkness, which for a moment sharply illuminates the folds of her dress
and is then extinguished. Only a feeble, bluish flame remains. This
flame plays about a polished little urn and illuminates dimly the
secrets of the forbidden sanctuary. I see bright billowy garments,
bunches of flowers and wreaths of leaves, with long, silken, shimmering
bands—and suddenly the Same flares high....
“Now I've spilt the alcohol,” I hear the voice of my friend. But her
laughter is full of sarcastic arrogance. “Ah, that'll be a play of
fire!” Higher and higher mount the flames.
“Come, jump into it!” she cries out to me, and instead of quenching
the flame she pours forth more alcohol into the furious conflagration.
“For heaven's sake!” I cry out.
“Do you know now who I am?” she giggles. “I'm a witch!”
With jubilant screams she loosens her hair of reddish gold which now
falls about her with a flaming glory. She shows me her white sharp
teeth and with a sudden swift movement she springs into the flame which
hisses to the very ceiling and clothes the chamber in a garb of fire.
I try to call for help, but my throat is tied, my breath stops. I am
throttled by smoke and flames.
Once more I hear her elfin laughter, but now it comes to me from
subterranean depths. The earth has opened; new flames arise and stretch
forth fiery arms toward me.
A voice cries from the fires: “Come! Come!” And the voice is like
the sound of bells. Then suddenly the night enfolds me.
* * * * *
The witchery has fled. Badly torn and scarred I find myself again on
the street. Next to me on the ground lies my play. “Did you not mean to
read that to some one?” I ask myself.
A warm and gentle air caresses my fevered face. A blossoming lilac
bush inclines its boughs above me and from afar, there where the dawn
is about to appear, I hear the clear trilling of larks.
I dream no longer.... But the spring has come....
And again the years pass by.
It was on an evening during the carnival season and the world, that
is, the world that begins with the baron and ends with the stockjobber,
floated upon waves of pleasure as bubbles of fat float on the surface
Whoever did not wallow in the mire was sarcastically said not to be
able to sustain himself on his legs.
There were those among my friends who had not gone to bed till
morning for thirty days. Some of them slept only to the strains of a
world-famous virtuoso; others only in the cabs that took them from
dinner to supper.
Whenever three of them met, one complained of shattered nerves, the
second of catarrh of the stomach, the third of both.
That was the pace of our amusement.
Of mine, too.
It was nearly one o'clock in the morning. I sat in a cafe,
that famous cafe which unacknowleged geniuses affirm to be the
very centre of all intellectual life. No spot on earth is said to have
so fruitful an effect upon one's genius. Yet, strangely enough, however
eager for inspiration I might lounge about its red upholstery, however
ardently aglow for inspiration I might drink expensive champagnes
there, yet the supreme, immense, all-liberating thought did not come.
Nor would that thought come to me to-day. Less than ever, in fact.
Red circles danced before my eyes and in my veins hammered the throbs
of fever. It wasn't surprising. For I, too, could scarcely remember to
have slept recently. It is an effort to raise my lids. The hand that
would stroke the hair with the gesture of genius—alas, how thin the
hair is getting—sinks down in nerveless weakness.
But I may not go home. Mrs. Elsbeth—we bachelors call her so when
her husband is not by—Mrs. Elsbeth has ordered me to be here.... She
intended to drop in at midnight on her return from dinner with her
husband. The purpose of her coming is to discuss with me the surprises
which I am to think up for her magic festival.
She is exacting enough, the sweet little woman, but the world has it
that I love her. And in order to let the world be in the right a man is
not averse to making a fool of herself.
The stream of humanity eddies about me. Like endless chains rotating
in different directions, thus seem the two lines of those who enter and
those who depart. There are dandies in coquettish furs, their silk hats
low on their foreheads, their canes held vertically in their pockets.
There are fashionable ladies in white silk opera cloaks set with
ermine, their eyes peering from behind Spanish veils in proud
curiosity. And all are illuminated by the spirit of festivity.
Also one sees shop-girls, dragged here by some chance admirer. They
wear brownish cloaks, ornamented with knots—the kind that looks worn
the day it is taken from the shop. And there are ladies of that species
whom one calls “ladies” only between quotation marks. These wear
gigantic picture hats trimmed with rhinestones. The hems of their
dresses are torn and flecked with last season's mud. There are students
who desire to be intoxicated through the lust of the eye; artists who
desire to regain a lost sobriety of vision; journalists who find stuff
for leader copy in the blue despatches that are posted here; Bohemians
and loungers of every station, typical of every degree of sham dignity
and equally sham depravity. They all intermingle in manicoloured waves.
It is the mad masque of the metropolis....
A friend comes up to me, one of the three hundred bosom friends with
whom I am wont to swap shady stories. He is pallid with sleeplessness,
deep horizontal lines furrow his forehead, his brows are convulsively
drawn. So we all look....
“Look here,” he says, “you weren't at the Meyers' yesterday.”
“I was invited elsewhere.”
I've got to think a minute before I can remember the name. We all
suffer from weakness in the head.
“Aha,” he cries. “I'm told it was swell. Magnificent women ... and
that fellow ... er ... thought reader and what's her name ... yes ...
the Sembrich ... swell ... you must introduce me there some day....”
Stretching his legs he sinks down at my side on the sofa.
Silence. My bosom friend and I have exhausted the common stock of
He has lit a cigarette and is busy catching the white clouds which
he blows from his nose with his mouth. This employment seems to satisfy
his intellect wholly.
I, for my part, stare at the ceiling. There the golden bodies of
snakes wind themselves in mad arabesques through chains of roses. The
pretentious luxury offends my eye. I look farther, past the candelabrum
of crystal which reflects sharp rainbow tints over all, past the
painted columns whose shafts end in lily leaves as some torturing spear
does in flesh.
My glance stops yonder on the wall where a series of fresco pictures
has been painted.
The forms of an age that was drunk with beauty look down on me in
their victorious calm. They are steeped in the glow of a southern
heaven. The rigid splendour of the marble walls is contrasted with the
magnificent flow of long garments.
It is a Roman supper. Rose-crowned men lean upon Indian cushions,
holding golden beakers in their right hands. Women in yielding
nakedness cower at their feet. Through the open door streams in a
Bacchic procession with fauns and panthers, the drunken Pan in its
midst. Brown-skinned slaves with leopard skins about their loins make
mad music. Among them is one who at once makes me forget the tumult.
She leans her firm, naked body surreptitiously against the pillar. Her
form is contracted with weariness. Thoughtlessly and with tired lips
she blows the tibia which her nerveless hands threaten to drop.
Her cheeks are yellow and fallen in, her eyes are glassy, but upon her
forehead are seen the folds of lordship and about her mouth wreaths a
stony smile of irony. Who is she? Whence does she come? I ask myself.
But I feel a dull thud against my shoulder. My bosom friend has fallen
asleep and is using me as a pillow.
“Look here, you!” I call out to him, for I have for the moment
forgotten his name. “Go home and go to bed.”
He starts up and gazes at me with swimming eyes.
“Do you mean me?” he stutters. “That's a good joke.” And next moment
he begins to snore.
I hide him as well as possible with my broad back and bend down over
the glittering samovar before me. The fragrant steam prickles my nose.
It is time that the little woman turn up if I am to amuse her
I think of the brown-skinned woman yonder in the painting.
I open my eyes. Merciful heaven! What is that?
For the woman stands erect now in all the firm magnificence of her
young limbs, presses her clenched fists against her forehead and stares
down at me with glowing eyes.
And suddenly she hurls the flutes from her in a long curve and cries
with piercing voice: “No more ... I will play no more!” It is the voice
of a slave at the moment of liberation.
“For heaven's sake, woman!” I cry. “What are you doing? You will be
slain; you will be thrown to the wild beasts!”
She points about her with a gesture that is full of disgust and
Then I see what she means. All that company has fallen asleep. The
men lie back with open mouths, the goblets still in their hands. Golden
cascades of wine fall glittering upon the marble. The women writhe in
these pools of wine. But even in the intoxication of their dreams they
try to guard their elaborate hair dress. The whole mad band, musicians
and animals, lies there with limbs dissolved, panting for air,
overwhelmed by heavy sleep.
“The way is free!” cries the flute player jubilantly and buries her
twitching fingers into the flesh of her breasts. “What is there to
hinder my flight?”
“Whither do you flee, mad woman?” I ask.
A gleam of dreamy ecstasy glides over her grief-worn face which
seems to flush and grow softer of outline.
“Home—to freedom,” she whispers down to me and her eyes burn.
“Where is your home?”
“In the desert,” she cries. “Here I play for their dances; there I
am queen. My name is Thea and it is resonant through storms. They
chained me with golden chains; they lured me with golden speeches until
I left my people and followed them to their prison that is corroded
with lust.... Ah, if you knew with my knowledge, you would not sit here
either.... But the slave of the moment knows not liberty.”
“I have known it,” I say drearily and let my chin sink upon the
“And you are here?”
Contemptuously she turns her back to me.
“Take me with you, Thea,” I cry, “take me with you to freedom.”
“Can you still endure it.”
“I will endure the glory of freedom or die of it.”
A brown arm that seems endless stretches down to me. An iron grasp
lifts me upward. Noise and lights dislimn in the distance.
Our way lies through great, empty, pillared halls which curve above
us like twilit cathedrals. Great stairs follow which fall into black
depths like waterfalls of stone. Thence issues a mist, green with
A dizziness seizes me as I strive to look downward.
I have a presentiment of something formless, limitless. A vague awe
and terror fill me. I tremble and draw back but an alien hand
We wander along a moonlit street. To the right and left extend
pallid plains from which dark cypress trees arise, straight as candles.
It is all wide and desolate like those halls.
In the far distance arise sounds like half smothered cries of the
dying, but they grow to music.
Shrill jubilation echoes between the sounds and it too grows to
But this music is none other than the roaring of the storm which
lashes us on when we dare to faint.
And we wander, wander ... days, weeks, months. Who knows how long?
Night and day are alike. We do not rest; nor speak.
The road is far behind us. We wander upon trackless wastes.
Stonier grows the way, an eternal up and down over cliffs and
through chasms.... The edges of the weathered stones become steps for
our feet. Breathlessly we climb the peaks. Beyond them we clatter into
My feet bleed. My limbs jerk numbly like those of a jumping-jack. An
earthy taste is on my lips. I have long lost all sense of progress. One
cliff is like another in its jagged nakedness; one abysm dark and empty
as another. Perhaps I wander in a circle. Perhaps this brown hand is
leading me wildly astray, this hand whose grasp has penetrated my
flesh, and has grown into it like the fetter of a slave.
Suddenly I am alone.
I do not know how it came to pass.
I drag myself to a peak and look about me.
There spreads in the crimson glow of dawn the endless, limitless
rocky desert—an ocean turned to stone.
Jagged walls tower in eternal monotony into the immeasurable
distance which is hid from me by no merciful mist. Out of invisible
abysms arise sharp peaks. A storm from the south lashes their flanks
from which the cracked stone fragments roll to become the foundations
of new walls.
The sun, hard and sharp as a merciless eye, arises slowly in this
parched sky and spreads its cloak of fire over this dead world.
The stone upon which I sit begins to glow.
The storm drives splinters of stone into my flesh. A fiery stream of
dust mounts toward me. Madness descends upon me like a fiery canopy.
Shall I wander on? Shall I die?
I wander on, for I am too weary to die. At last, far off, on a ledge
of rock, I see the figure of a man.
Like a black spot it interrupts this sea of light in which the very
shadows have become a crimson glow.
An unspeakable yearning after this man fills my soul. For his steps
are secure. His feet are scarcely lifted, yet quietly does he fare down
the chasms and up the heights. I want to rush to meet him but a great
numbness holds me back.
He comes nearer and nearer.
I see a pallid, bearded countenance with high cheek-bones, and
emaciated cheeks.... The mouth, delicate and gentle as a girl's, is
drawn in a quiet smile. A bitterness that has grown into love, into
renunciation, even into joy, shines in this smile.
And at the sight of it I feel warm and free.
And then I see his eye which is round and sharp as though open
through the watches of many nights. With moveless clearness of vision
he measures the distances, and is careless of the way which his foot
finds without groping. In this look lies a dreaming glow which turns to
A tremour of reverence seizes my body.
And now I know who this man is who fares through the desert in
solitary thought, and to whom horror has shown the way to peace. He
looks past me! How could it be different?
I dare not call to him. Movelessly I stare after him until his form
has vanished in the guise of a black speck behind the burning cliffs.
Then I wander farther ... and farther ... and farther....
* * * * *
It was on a grayish yellow day of autumn that I sat again after an
interval on the upholstery of the famous cafe, I looked
gratefully up at the brown slave-girl in the picture who blew upon her
flutes as sleepily and dully as ever. I had come to see her.
I start for I feel a tap on my shoulder.
In brick-red gloves, his silk-hat over his forehead, a little more
tired and world-worn than ever, that bosom friend whose name I have now
definitely forgotten stood before me.
“Where the devil have you been all this time?” he asks.
“Somewhere,” I answer laughing. “In the desert.” ...
“Gee! What were you looking for there?”
And ever swifter grows the beat of time's wing. My breath can no
longer keep the same pace.
Thoughtless enjoyment of life has long yielded to a life and death
And I am conquered.
Wretchedness and want have robbed me of my grasping courage and of
my laughing defiance. The body is sick and the soul droops its wings.
* * * * *
Midnight approaches. The smoky lamp burns more dimly and outside on
the streets life begins to die out. Only from time to time the snow
crunches and groans under the hurrying foot of some belated and
freezing passer-by. The reflection of the gas lamps rests upon the
frozen windows as though a yellow veil had been drawn before them.
In the room hovers a dull heat which weighs upon my brain and even
amid shivering wrings the sweat from my pores.
I had the fire started again toward night for I was cold. Now I am
no longer cold.
“Take care of yourself,” my friend the doctor said to me, “you have
worked yourself to pieces and must rest.”
“Rest, rest”—the word sounds like a gnome's irony from all the
corners of my room, for my work is heaping up on all sides and
threatens to smother me.
“Work! Work!” This is the voice of conscience. It is like the voice
of a brutal waggoner that would urge a dead ass on to new efforts.
My paper is in its place. For hours I have sat and stared at it
brooding. It is still empty.
A disagreeably sweetish odour which arises impudently to my nose
makes me start.
There stands the pitcher of herb tea which my landlady brought in at
The dear woman.
“Man must sweat,” she had declared. “If the whole man gets into a
sweat then the evil humours are exuded, and the healthy sap gets a
chance to circulate until one is full of it.”
And saying that she wiped her greasy lips for she likes to eat a
piece of rye bread with goose grease before going to bed.
Irritatedly I push the little pitcher aside, but its grayish green
steam whirls only the more pertinaciously about me. The clouds assume
strange forms, which tower over each other and whirl into each other
like the phantoms over a witch's cauldron.
And at last the fumes combine into a human form, at first misty and
without outlines but gradually becoming more sharply defined.
Gray, gray, gray. An aged woman. So she seems, for she creeps along
by the help of a crutch. But over her face is a veil which falls to the
ground over her arms like the folded wings of a bat.
I begin to laugh, for spirits have long ceased to inspire me with
“Is your name by any chance Thea, O lovely, being?” I ask.
“My name is Thea,” she answers and her voice is weary, gentle and a
little hoarse. A caressing shimmer as of faintly blue velvet, an
insinuating fragrance as of dying mignonette—both lie in this voice.
The voice fills my heart. But I won't be taken in, least of all by some
trite ghost which is in the end only a vision of one's own sick brain.
“It seems that the years have not changed you for the better,
charming Thea,” I say and point sarcastically to the crutch.
“My wings are broken and I am withered like yourself.”
I laugh aloud. “So that is the meaning of this honoured apparition!
A mirror of myself—spirit of ruin—symbolic poem on the course of my
ideas. Pshaw! I know that trick. Every brainless Christmas poet knows
it, too. You must come with a more powerful charm, O Thea, spirit of
the herb tea! Good-bye. My time is too precious to be wasted by
“What have you to do that is so important?” she asks, and I seem to
see the gleam of her eyes behind the folds of the veil, whether in
laughter or in grief I cannot tell.
“If I have nothing more to do, I must die,” I answer and feel with
joy how my defiance steels itself in these words.
“And that seems important to you?”
“Important to whom?”
“To myself, I should think, if to no one else.”
“And your creditor—the world?”
That was the last straw. “The world, oh, yes, the world. And what,
pray, do I owe it?”
“Love? To that harlot? Because it sucked the fire from my veins and
poured poison therein instead? Behold me here—wrecked, broken, a
plaything of any wave. That is what the world has made of me!”
“That is what you have made of yourself! ... The world came to you
as a smiling guide.... With gentle finger it touched your shoulder and
desired you to follow. But you were stubborn. You went your own way in
dark and lonely caverns where the laughing music of the fight that
sounds from above becomes a discordant thunder. You were meant to be
wise and merry; you became dull and morose.”
“Very well; if that is what I became, at least the grave will
release me from my condition.”
“Test yourself thoroughly.”
“What is the use of that now? Life has crippled me.... What of joy
it has to offer becomes torture to me.... I am cut loose from all the
kindly bonds that bind man to man.... I cannot bear hatred, neither can
I bear love.... I tremble at a thousand dangers that have never
threatened and will never threaten me. A very straw has become a cliff
to me against which I founder and against which my weary limbs are
dashed in pieces.... And this is the worst of all. My vision sees
clearly that it is but a straw before which my strength writhes in the
dust.... You have come at the right time, Thea. Perhaps you carry in
the folds of your robe some little potion that will help me to hurry
across the verge.”
Again I see a gleam behind the veil—a smiling salutation from some
far land where the sun is still shining. And my heart seems about to
burst under that gleam. But I control myself and continue to gaze at
her with bitter defiance.
“It needs no potion,” she says and raises her right hand. I have
never seen such a hand.... It seem to be without bones, formed of the
petals of flowers. The hand might seem deformed, dried and yet swollen
as with disease, were it not so delicate, so radiant, so lily-like. An
unspeakable yearning for this poor, sick hand overcomes me. I want to
fall on my knees before it and press my lips to it in adoration. But
already the hand lays itself softly upon my hair. Gentle and cool as a
flake of snow it rests there. But from moment to moment it waxes
heavier until the weight of mountains seems to lie upon my head. I can
bear the pressure no longer. I sink ... I sink ... the earth opens....
Darkness is all about me....
Recovering consciousness, I find myself lying in a bed surrounded by
“One of my stupid dreams,” I say to myself and grope for the matches
on my bed side table to see the time.... But my hand strikes hard
against a board that rises diagonally at my shoulder. I grope farther
and discover that my couch is surrounded by a cloak of wood. And that
cloak is so narrow, so narrow that I can scarcely raise my head a few
inches without knocking against it.
“Perhaps I am buried,” I say to myself. “Then indeed my wish would
have fulfilled itself promptly.”
A fresh softly prickling scent of flowers, as of heather and roses,
floats to me.
“Aha,” I say to myself, “the odour of the funeral flowers. My
favourites have been chosen. That was kind of people.” And, as I turn
my head the cups of flowers nestle soft and cool against my cheek.
“You are buried amid roses,” I say to myself, “as you always
desired.” And then I touch my breast to discover what gift has been
placed upon my heart. My fingers touch hard, jagged leaves.
“What is that?” I ask myself in surprise. And then I laugh shrilly.
It is a wreath of laurel leaves which has been pressed with its rough,
woodlike leaves between my body and the coffin lid.
“Now you have everything that you so ardently desired, you fool of
fame,” I cry out and a mighty irony takes hold of me.
And then I stretch out my legs until my feet reach the end of the
coffin, nestle my head amid the flowers, and make ready to enjoy my
great peace with all my might. I am not in the least frightened or
confounded, for I know that air to breathe will never again be lacking
now for I need it no longer. I am dead, properly and honestly dead.
Nothing remains now but to flow peacefully and gently into the realm of
the unconscious, and to let the dim dream of the All surge over me to
“Good-night, my dear former fellow-creatures,” I say and turn
contemptuously on my other side. “You can all go to the dickens for all
And then I determine to lie still as a mouse and discover whether I
cannot find some food for the malice that yet is in me, by listening to
man's doings upon the wretched earth above me.
At first I hear nothing but a dull roaring. But that may proceed as
well from the subterranean waters that rush through the earth somewhere
in my neighbourhood. But no, the sound comes from above. And from time
to time I also hear a rattling and hissing as of dried peas poured out
over a sieve.
“Of course, it's wretched weather again,” I say and rub my hands
comfortably, not, to be sure, without knocking my elbows against the
side of the coffin.
“They could have made this place a little roomier,” I say to myself.
But when it occurs to me that, in my character of an honest corpse, I
have no business to move at all if I want to be a credit to my new
But the spirit of contradiction in me at once rebels against this
“There are no classes in the grave and no prejudices,” I cry. “In
the grave we are all alike, high and low, poor and rich. The rags of
the beggar, my masters, have here just the same value as the purple
cloak that falls from the shoulders of a king. Here even the laurel
loses its significance as the crown of fame and is given to many a
I cease, for my fingers have discovered a riband that hangs from the
wreath. Upon it, I am justified in assuming, there is written some
flattering legend. The letters are just raised enough to be
I am about to call for matches, but remember just in time that it is
forbidden to strike a light in the grave or rather, that it is contrary
to the very conception of the grave to be illuminated.
This thought annoys me and I continue: “The laurel is given here not
to the distinguished alone. I must correct that expression. Are not we
corpses distinguished per se as compared to the miserable
plebeian living? Is not this noble rest in which we dwell an
unmistakable sign of true aristocracy? And the laurel that is given to
the dead, that laurel, my masters, fills me with as high a pride as
would the diadem of a king.”
I ceased. For I could rightly expect enthusiastic applause at the
close of this effective passage. But as everything remained silent I
turned my thoughts once more upon myself, and considered, too, that my
finest speeches would find no public here.
“It is, besides, in utter contradiction to the conception of death
to deliver speeches,” I said to myself, but at once I began another in
order to establish an opposition against myself.
“Conception? What is a conception? What do I care for conceptions
here? I am dead. I have earned the sacred right to disregard such
things. If those two-penny living creatures cannot imagine the grave
otherwise than dark or the dead otherwise than dumb—why, I surely have
no need to care for that.”
In the meantime my fingers had scratched about on the riband in the
vain hope of inferring from the gilt and raised letters on the silk
their form and perhaps the significance of the legend. My efforts were,
however, without success. Hence I continued outraged: “In order to
speak first of the conception of the grave as dark, I should like to
ask any intelligent and expert corpse: 'Why is the grave necessarily
dark?' Should not we who are dead rather demand of an age that has made
such enormous progress in illumination, which has not only invented gas
and electric lighting and complied with the regulations for the
illumination of streets, but has at a slight cost succeeded in giving
to every corner of the world the very light of day—may we not demand
of such an age that it put an end to the old-fashioned darkness of the
grave? It would seem as if the most elementary piety would constrain
the living to this improvement. But when did the living ever feel any
piety? We must enforce from them the necessaries of a worthy existence
in death. Gentlemen, I close with the last, or, I had better say, the
first words of our great Goethe whose genius with characteristic power
of divination foresaw the unworthy condition of the inner grave and the
necessities of a truly noble and liberal minded corpse. For what else
could be the meaning of that saying which I herewith inscribe upon our
banner: 'Light, more light!' That must henceforth be our device and our
This time, too, silence was my only answer. Whence I inferred that
in the grave there is neither striving nor crying out. Nevertheless I
continued to amuse myself and made many a speech against the management
of the cemetery, against the insufficiency of the method of flat
pressure upon the dead now in use, and similar outrages. In the
meantime the storm above had raged and the rain lashed its fill and a
peaceful silence descended upon all things.
Only from time to time did I hear a short, dull uniform thunder,
which I could not account for until it occurred to me that it was
produced by the footsteps of passers-by, the noise of which was thus
echoed and multiplied in the earth.
And then suddenly I heard the sound of human voices.
The sound came vertically down to my head.
People seemed to be standing at my grave.
“Much I care about you,” I said, and was about to continue to
reflect on my epoch-making invention which is to be called:
Helminothanatos,' that is to say, 'Death by Worms' and which, so
soon as it is completed is to be registered in the patent office as
number 156,763. But my desire to know what was thought of me after my
death left me no rest. Hence I did not hesitate long to press my ear to
the inner roof of the coffin in order that the sound might better reach
Now I recognised the voices at once.
They belonged to two men to whom I had always been united by bonds
of the tenderest sympathy and whom I was proud to call my friends. They
had always assured me of the high value which they set upon me and that
their blame—with which they had often driven me to secret
despair—proceeded wholly from helpful and unselfish love.
“Poor devil,” one of them said, in a tone of such humiliating
compassion that I was ashamed of myself in the very grave.
“He had to bite the dust pretty early,” the other sighed. “But it
was better so both for him and for myself. I could not have held him
above water much longer.” ...
From sheer astonishment I knocked my head so hard against the side
of the coffin that a bump remained.
“When did you ever hold me above water?” I wanted to cry out but I
considered that they could not hear me.
Then the first one spoke again.
“I often found it hard enough to aid him with my counsel without
wounding his vanity. For we know how vain he was and how taken with
“And yet he achieved little enough,” the other answered. “He ran
after women and sought the society of inferior persons for the sake of
their flattery. It always astonished me anew when he managed to produce
something of approximately solid worth. For neither his character nor
his intelligence gave promise of it.”
“In your wonderful charity you are capable of finding something
excellent even in his work,” the other replied. “But let us be frank:
The only thing he sometimes succeeded in doing was to flatter the crude
instincts of the mob. True earnestness or conviction he never
“I never claimed either for him,” the first eagerly broke in. “Only
I didn't want to deny the poor fellow that bit of piety which is
demanded. De mortuis——”
And both voices withdraw into the distance.
“O you grave-robbers!” I cried and shook my fist after them. “Now I
know what your friendship was worth. Now it is clear to me how you
humiliated me upon all my ways, and how when I came to you in hours of
depression you administered a kick in order that you might increase in
stature at my expense! Oh, if I could only.”...
I ceased laughing.
“What silly wishes, old boy!” I admonished myself. “Even if you
could master your friends; your enemies would drive you into the grave
a thousand times over.”
And I determined to devote my whole thought henceforth to the
epoch-making invention of my impregnating fluid called “
Helminothanatos” or “Death by Worms.”
But new voices roused me from my meditation.
“That's where what's his name is buried,” said one.
“Quite right,” said the other. “I gave him many a good hit while he
was among us—more than I care to think about to-day. But he was an
able fellow. His worst enemy couldn't deny that.”
I started and shuddered.
I knew well who he was: my bitterest opponent who tortured me so
long with open lashes and hidden stabs that I almost ended by thinking
I deserved nothing else.
And he had a good word to say for me—he?
His voice went on. “To-day that he is out of our way we may as well
confess that we always liked him a great deal. He took life and work
seriously and never used an indecent weapon against us. And if the
tactics of war had not forced us to represent his excellences as
faults, we might have learned a good deal from him.”
“It's a great pity,” said the other. “If, before everything was at
sixes and sevens, he could have been persuaded to adopt our views, we
could perhaps have had the pleasure of receiving him into our fighting
“With open arms,” was the answer. And then in solemn tone:
“Peace be to his ashes.”
The other echoed: “Peace ...”
And then they went on....
I hid my face in my hands. My breast seemed to expand and gently,
very gently something began to beat in it which had rested in silent
numbness since I lay down here.
“So that is the nature of the world's judgment,” I said to myself.
“I should have known that before. With head proudly erect I would have
gone my way, uninfluenced by the glitter of false affection as by the
blindness of wildly aiming hatred. I would have shaken praise and blame
from me with the same joyous laugh and sought the norm of achievement
in myself alone. Oh, if only I could live once more! If only there were
a way out of these accursed six boards!”
In impotent rage I pounded the coffin top with my fist and only
succeeded in running a splinter into my finger.
And then there came over me once more, even though it came
hesitatingly and against my will, a delightful consciousness of that
eternal peace into which I had entered.
“Would it be worth the trouble after all,” I said to myself, “to
return to the fray once more, even if I were a thousand times certain
of victory? What is this victory worth? Even if I succeed in being the
first to mount some height untrod hitherto by any human foot, yet the
next generation will climb on my shoulders and hurl me down into the
abysm of oblivion. There I could lie, lonely and helpless, until the
six boards are needed again to help me to my happiness. And so let me
be content and wait until that thing in my breast which has began to
beat so impudently, has become quiet once more.”
I stretched myself out, folded my hands, and determined to hold no
more incendiary speeches and thus counteract the trade of the worms,
but rather to doze quietly into the All.
Thus I lay again for a space.
Then arose somewhere a strange musical sound, which penetrated my
dreamy state but partially at first before it awakened me wholly from
What was that? A signal of the last day?
“It's all the same to me,” I said and stretched myself. “Whether
it's heaven or hell—it will be a new experience.”
But the sound that had awakened me had nothing in common with the
metallic blare of trumpets which religious guides have taught us to
Gentle and insinuating, now like the tones of flutes played by
children, now like the sobbing of a girl's voice, now like the
caressing sweetness with which a mother speaks to her little child—so
infinitely manifold but always full of sweet and yearning magic—alien
and yet dear and familiar—such was the music that came to my ear.
“Where have I heard that before?” I asked myself, listening.
And as I thought and thought, an evening of spring arose before my
soul—an evening out of a far and perished time.... I had wandered
along the bank of a steaming river. The sunset which shone through the
jagged young leaves spread a purple carpet over the quiet waters upon
which only a swift insect would here and there create circular eddies.
At every step I took the dew sprang up before me in gleaming pearls,
and a fragrance of wild thyme and roses floated through the air....
There it must have been that I heard this music for the first time.
And now it was all clear: The nightingale was singing ... the
And so spring has come to the upper world.
Perhaps it is an evening of May even as that which my spirit
Blue flowers stand upon the meadows.... Goldenrod and lilac mix
their blossoms into gold and violet wreaths.... Like torn veils the
delicate flakings of the buttercups fly through the twilight....
Surely from the village sounds the stork's rattle ... and surely the
distant strains of an accordion are heard....
But the nightingale up there cares little what other music may be
made. It sobs and jubilates louder and louder, as if it knew that in
the poor dead man's bosom down here the heart beats once more stormily
against his side.
And at every throb of that heart a hot stream glides through my
veins. It penetrates farther and farther until it will have filled my
whole body. It seems to me as though I must cry out with yearning and
remorse. But my dull stubbornness arises once more: “You have what you
desired. So lie here and be still, even though you should be condemned
to hear the nightingale's song until the end of the world.”
The song has grown much softer.
Obviously the human steps that now encircle my grave with their
sullen resonance have driven the bird to a more distant bush.
“Who may it be,” I ask myself, “that thinks of wandering to my place
of rest on an evening of May when the nightingales are singing.”
And I listen anew. It sounds almost as though some one up there were
Did I not go my earthly road lonely and unloved? Did I not die in
the house of a stranger? Was I not huddled away in the earth by
strangers? Who is it that comes to weep at my grave?
And each one of the tears that is shed above there falls glowing
upon my breast....
And my breast rises in a convulsive struggle but the coffin lid
pushes it back. I strain my head against the wood to burst it, but it
lies upon me like a mountain. My body seems to burn. To protect it I
burrow in the saw-dust which fills mouth and eyes with its biting
I try to cry out but my throat is paralysed.
I want to pray but instead of thoughts the lightnings of madness
shoot through my brain.
I feel only one thing that threatens to dissolve all my body into a
stream of flame and that penetrates my whole being with immeasurable
might: “I must live ... live...!”
There, in my sorest need, I think of the faery who upon my desire
brought me by magic to my grave.
“Thea, I beseech you. I have sinned against the world and myself. It
was cowardly and slothful to doubt of life so long as a spark of life
and power glowed in my veins. Let me arise, I beseech you, from the
torments of hell—let me arise!”
And behold: the boards of the coffin fall from me like a wornout
garment. The earth rolls down on both sides of me and unites beneath me
in order to raise my body.
I open my eyes and perceive myself to be lying in dark grass.
Through the bent limbs of trees the grave stars look down upon me. The
black crosses stand in the evening glow, and past the railings of
grave-plots my eyes blink out into the blossoming world.
The crickets chirp about me in the grass, and the nightingale begins
to sing anew.
Half dazed I pull myself together.
Waves of fragrance and melting shadows extend into the distance.
Suddenly I see next to me on the grave mound a crouching gray
figure. Between a veil tossed back I see a countenance, pallid and
lovely, with smooth dark hair and a madonna-like face. About the softly
smiling mouth is an expression of gentle loftiness such as is seen in
those martyrs who joyfully bleed to death from the mightiness of their
Her eyes look down upon me in smiling peace, clear and soulful, the
measure of all goodness, the mirror of all beauty.
I know the dark gleam of those eyes, I know that gray, soft veil, I
know that poor sick hand, white as a blossom, that leans upon a crutch.
It is she, my faery, whose tears have awakened me from the dead.
All my defiance vanishes.
I lie upon the earth before her and kiss the hem of her garment.
And she inclines her head and stretches her hand out to me.
With the help of that hand I arise.
Holding this poor, sick hand, I stride joyfully back into life.
I sought my faery and I found her not.
I sought her upon the flowery fields of the South and on the ragged
moors of the Northland; in the eternal snow of Alpine ridges and in the
black folds of the nether earth; in the iridescent glitter of the
boulevard and in the sounding desolation of the sea.... And I found her
I sought her amid the tobacco smoke and the cheap applause of
popular assemblies and on the vanity fair of the professional social
patron; in the brilliance of glittering feasts I sought her and in the
twilit silence of domestic comfort.... And I found her not.
My eye thirsted for the sight of her but in my memory there was no
mark by which I could have recognised her. Each image of her was
confused and obliterated by the screaming colours of a new epoch.
Good and evil in a thousand shapes had come between me and my faery.
And the evil had grown into good for me, the good into evil.
But the sum of evil was greater than the sum of good. I bent low
under the burden, and for a long space my eyes saw nothing but the
ground to which I clung.
And therefore did I need my faery.
I needed her as a slave needs liberation, as the master needs a
higher master, as the man of faith needs heaven.
In her I sought my resurrection, my strength to live, my defiant
And therefore was I famished for her.
My ear listened to all the confusing noises that were about me, but
the voice of my faery was not among them. My hand groped after alien
hands, but the faery hand was not among them. Nor would I have
And then I went in quest of her to all the ends of the earth.
First I went to a philosopher.
“You know everything, wise man,” I said, “can you tell me how I may
find my faery again?”
The philosopher put the tips of his five outstretched fingers
against his vaulted forehead and, having meditated a while, said: “You
must seek, through pure intuition, to grasp all the conceptual essence
of the being of the object sought for. Therefore withdraw into yourself
and listen to the voice of your mind.” I did as I was told. But the
rushing of the blood in the shells of my ears affrighted me. It drowned
every other voice.
Next I went to a very clever physician and asked him the same
The physician who was about to invent an artificially digested
porridge in order to save the modern stomach any exertion, let his
spoon fall for a moment and said: “You must take only such foods as
will tend to add phosphorous matter to the brain. The answer to your
question will then come of itself.”
I followed his directions but instead of my faery a number of
confusing images presented themselves. I saw in the hearts of those who
were about me faery gardens and infernos, deserts and turnip fields; I
saw a comically hopping rainworm who was nibbling at a graceful
centipede; I saw a world in which darkness was lord. I saw much else
and was frightened at the images.
Then I went to a clergyman and put my question to him.
The pious man comfortably lit his pipe and said: “You will find no
faeries mentioned in the catechism, my friend. Hence there are none,
and it is sin to seek them. But perhaps you can help me bring back the
devil into the world, the old, authentic devil with tail and horns and
sulphurous stench. He really exists and we need him.”
After I had made inquiry of a learned jurist who advised me to have
my faery located by the police, I went to one of my colleagues, a poet
of the classic school.
I found him clad in a red silk dressing gown, a wet handkerchief
tied around his forehead. Its purpose was to keep his all too stormy
wealth of inspiration in check. Before him on the table stood a
glassful of Malaga wine and a silver salver full of pomegranates and
grapes. The grapes were made of glass and the pomegranates of soap. But
the contemplation of them was meant to heighten his mood. Near him,
nailed to the floor, stood a golden harp on which was hung a laurel
wreath and a nightcap.
Timidly I put my question and the honoured master spoke: “The muse,
my worthy friend—ask the muse. Ask the muse who leads us poor children
of the dust into the divine sanctuary; carried aloft by whose wings
into the heights of ether we feel truly human—ask her!”
As it would have been necessary for me, first of all, to look up
this unknown lady, I went to another colleague—one of the modern
seekers of truth.
I found him at his desk peering through a microscope at a dying flee
which he was studying carefully. He noted each of its movements upon
the slips of paper from which he later constructed his works. Next to
him stood some bread and cheese, a little bottle full of ether and a
box of powders.
When I had explained my business he grew very angry.
“Man, don't bother me with such rot!” he cried. “Faeries and elves
and ideas and the devil knows what—that's all played out. That's worse
than iambics. Go hang, you idiot, and don't disturb me.”
Sad at seeing myself and my faery so contemned, I crept away and
went to one of those modern artists in life, who had tasted with
epicurean fineness all the esctasies and sorrows of earthly life in
order to broaden his personality.... I hoped that he would understand
I found him lying on a chaise longue, smoking a cigarette,
and turning the leaves of a French novel. It was La-bas by
Huysmans, and he didn't even cut the leaves, being too lazy.
He heard my question with an obliging smile. “Dear friend, let's be
honest. The thing is simple. A faery is a woman. That is certain. Well,
take up with every woman that runs into your arms. Love them all—one
after another. You'll be sure then to hit upon your faery some day.”
As I feared that to follow this advice I would have to waste the
better part of my life and all my conscience, I chose a last and
desperate method and went to a magician.
If Manfred had forced Astarte back into being, though only for a
fleeting moment, why could I not do the same with the dear ruler of my
I found a dignified man with the eyes of an enthusiast and filthy
locks. He was badly in need of a change of linen. And so I had every
reason to consider him an idealist.
He talked a good real of “Karma,” of “materialisations” and of the
“plurality of spheres.” He used many other strange words by means of
which he made it clear to me that my faery would reveal herself to me
only by his help.
With beating heart I entered a dark room at the appointed hour. The
magician led me in.
A soft, mysterious music floated toward me. I was left alone,
pressed to the door, awaiting the things that were to come in
Suddenly, as I was waiting in the darkness, a gleaming, bluish
needle protruded from the floor. It grew to rings and became a snake
which breathed forth flames and dissolved into flame ... And the
tongues of these flames played on all sides and finally parted in
curves like the leaves of an opening lotus flower, out of whose calix
white veils arose slowly, very slowly, and became as they glided upward
the garments of a woman who looked at me, who was lashed by fear, with
“Are you Thea?” I asked trembling.
The veils inclined in affirmation.
“Where do you dwell?”
The veils waved, shaken by the trembling limbs.
“Ask me after other things,” a muffled voice said.
“Why do you no longer appear to me?”
“I may not.”
“Who hinders you?”
“By what? Am I unworthy of you?”
In deep contrition I was about to fall at her feet. But, coming
nearer, I perceived that my faery's breath smelled of onions.
This circumstance sobered me a bit, for I don't like onions.
I knocked at the locked door, paid my magician what I owed him and
went my way.
From now on all hope of ever seeing her again vanished. But my soul
cried out after her. And the world receded from me. Its figures
dislimned into things that have been, its noise did not thunder at my
threshold. A solitariness half voluntary and half enforced dragged its
steps through my house. Only a few, the intimates of my heart and
brothers of my blood, surrounded my life with peace and kept watch
without my doors.
* * * * *
It was a late afternoon near Advent Sunday.
But no message of Christmas came to my yearning soul.
Somewhere, like a discarded toy, lay amid rubbish the motive power
of my passions. My heart was dumb, my hand nerveless, and even
need—that last incentive—had slackened to a wild memory.
The world was white with frost.... The dust of ice and the rain of
star-light filled the world... cloths of glittering white covered the
plains.... The bare twigs of the trees stretched upwards like staves of
coral.... The fir trees trembled like spun glass.
A red sunset spread its reflection over all. But the sunset itself
was poverty stricken. No purple lights, no gleam of seven colours
warmed the whiteness of the world. Not like the gentle farewell of the
sun but cruel as the threat of paralysing night did the bloody stripe
stare through my window.
It is the hour of afternoon tea. The regulations of the house demand
Grayish blue steam whirls up to the shadowed ceiling and moistens
with falling drops the rounded silver of the tea urn.
The bell rings.
From the housekeeper's rooms floats an odour of fresh baked breads.
They are having a feast there. Perhaps they mean to prepare one for the
A new book that has come a great distance to-day is in my hand.
I read. Another one has made the great discovery that the world
begins with him.
Ah, did it not once begin with me, too?
To be young, to be young! Ah, even if one suffers need—only to be
But who, after all, would care to retrace the difficult road?
Perhaps you, O woman at my side?
I would wager that even you would not.
And I raise a questioning glance though I know her to be far ... and
who stands behind the kettle, framed by the rising of the bluish steam?
Ah child, have I not seen you often—you with the brownish locks and
the dark lashes over blue eyes ... you with the bird-like twitter in
the throbbing whiteness of your throat, and the light-hearted step?
And yet, did I ever see you? Did I ever see that look which
surrounds me with its ripe wisdom and guesses the secrets of my heart?
Did I ever see that mouth so rich and firm at once which smiles upon me
full of reticent consolation and alluring comprehension?
Who are you, child, that you dare to look me through and through, as
though I had laid my confidence at your feet? Who are you that you dare
to descend wingless into the abysms of my soul, that you can smile away
my torture and my suffocation?
Why did you not come earlier in your authentic form? Why did you not
come as all that which you are to me and will be from this hour on?
Why do you hide yourself in the mist which renders my recognition
turbid and shadows your outlines?
Come to me, for you are she whom I seek, for whom my heart's blood
yearns in order to flow as sacrifice and triumph!
You are the faery who clarifies my eye and steels my will, who
brings to me upon her young hands my own youth! Come to me and do not
leave me again as you have so often left me!
I start up to stretch out my arms to her and see how her glance
becomes estranged and her smile as of stone. As one who is asleep with
open eyes, thus she stands there and stares past me.
I try to find her, to clasp her, to force her spirit to see me.
Without repulsing me she glides softly from me.... The walls open. ...
The stones of the stairs break.... We flee out into the wintry
She glides before me over the pallid velvet of the road ... over the
tinkling glass of the frozen heath ... through the glittering boughs.
She smiles—for whom?
The hilly fields, hardened by the frost, the bushes scattering
ice—everything obstructs my way. I break through and follow her.
But she glides on before me, scarcely a foot above the ground, but
farther, farther ... over the broken earth, down the precipice ... to
the lake whose bluish surface of new ice melts in the distance into the
Now she hangs over the bank like a cloud of smoke, and the wind that
blows upon my back, raises the edges of her dress like triangular
pennants. “Stay, Thea.... I cannot follow you across the lake! ... The
water will not upbear a mortal.”...
But the rising wind pushes her irresistibly on.
Now I stand as the edge of the lake. The thin ice forces upward
great hollow bubbles....
Will it suffer my groping feet? Will it break and whelm me in
brackish water and morass?
There is no room for hesitation. For already the wind is sweeping
And I venture out upon the glassy floor which is no floor at all,
but which a brief frost threw as a deceptive mirror across the deep.
It bears me up for five paces, for six, for ten. Then suddenly the
cry of harps is in my ear and something like an earthquake quivers
through my limbs. And this sound grows into a mighty crunching and
waxes into thunder which sounds afar and returns from the distance in
But at my left hand glitters a cleft which furrows the ice with
manicoloured splinters and runs from me into the invisible.
What is to be done? On... on...!
And again the harps cry out and a great rattling flies forth and
returns as thunder. And again a great cleft opens its brilliant hues at
my side. On, on ... to seek her smiling, even though the smile is not
for me. It will be for me if only I can grasp the hem of her garment.
A third cleft opens; a fourth crosses it, uniting it to the first.
I must cross. But I dare not jump, for the ice must not crumble lest
an abysm open at my feet.
It is no longer a sheet of ice upon which I travel—it is a net-work
of clefts. Between them lies something blue and all but invisible that
bears me by the merest chance. I can see the tangled water grasses wind
about and the polished fishes dart whom my body will feed unless a
Lit by the gathering afterglow a plain of fire stretches out before
me, and far on the horizon the saving shore looms dark.
Farther ... farther!
Sinister and deceptive springs arise to my right and left and hurl
their waters across my path.... A soft gurgling is heard and at last
drowns the resonant sound of thunder.
Farther, farther.... Mere life is at stake.
There in the distance a cloud dislimns which but now lured me to
death with its girlish smile. What do I care now?
The struggle endures for eternities. The wind drives me on. I avoid
the clefts, wade through the springs; I measure the distances, for now
I have to jump.... The depths are yawning about me.
The ice under my feet begins to rock. It rocks like a cradle,
heaving and falling at every step ... It would be a charming game were
it not a game with death.
My breath comes flying ... my heart-beats throttle me ... sparks
quiver before my eyes.
Let me rock ... rock ... rock back to the dark sources of being.
A springing fountain, higher than all the others, hisses up before
me.... Edges and clods rise into points.
One spring ... the last of all ... hopeless ... inspired by the
desperate will to live.
Ah, what is that?
Is that not the goodly earth beneath my feet—the black, hard,
It is but a tiny islet formed of frozen mud and roots; it is
scarcely two paces across, but large enough to give security to my
I am ashore, saved, for only a few arm lengths from me arises the
reedy line of the shore.
A drove of wild ducks rises in diagonal flight. ... Purple radiance
pours through the twigs of trees.... From nocturnal heavens the first
stars shine upon me.
The ghostly game is over! The faery hunt is as an end.
One truth I realise: He who has firm ground under his feet needs no
And serenely I stride into the sunset world.