Friday, June 13, 2008

A Translation of "Die Lehrlinge zu Sais" by Novalis

The Novices at Sais

1. The Novice



Mankind travels along manifold pathways. He who pursues and compares them will perceive the emergence of certain strange figures; figures that appear to be inscribed in that massive tome composed in cipher that one everywhere and in everything beholds: on wings, eggshells, in clouds, in the snow, in crystalline and stone formations, in freezing waters, on the skins and in the bowels of mountain-ranges, of plants, beasts, people, in the stars of the heavens, in contiguous and expansive panes of pitch and glass, in the clustering of iron filings around the magnet, in the extraordinary ebb and flow of contingency. In these one may glimpse an intimation of the key to this wondrous text, its very grammar-book; and yet the intimation refuses to accommodate itself to fixed forms and appears to begrudge any translation into a higher key. The minds of men appear to have been drenched by a kind of alcoholic cataract. Only fleetingly do their intimations emerge; and shortly thereafter, everything swims once again indistinctly before their gaze.

From afar I heard the following: The incomprehensible is merely the sequel of incomprehension; the latter seeks what it already possesses, and thus fails to discover anything further. One cannot comprehend language, for language on its own neither comprehends itself nor wishes to do so; the original, authentic Sanskrit tongue spoke for the sake of speaking, inasmuch as speech was its very essence and chief delight.

Not long thereafter someone said, "The holy scripture requires no exegesis. He who speaks truly is imbued with eternal life, and His scripture appears to us to be miraculously affiliated with authentic mysteries, for it is in accord with the symphony of the cosmos."

To be sure, this voice issued from our teacher, for it is within his ken to concentrate those currents that everywhere and in everything are diffused. When before us lies nothing but a calligraphic rune, his gaze is illuminated by a singular light; and he peers through our eyes so as to render the figure both discernible and intelligible, in virtue of the cause that this star has likewise risen in us. Observing that we are sad that the night does not withdraw, he consoles us and promises future happiness to the faithful seer. He has often recounted to us how as a child he was preyed upon by the urge to study, to keep himself constantly occupied, to accomplish something. He would behold the stars and plot their courses and positions in the sand. He would gaze into the celestial sea, never tiring of contemplating its movements, its clouds, its lights. He would collect rocks, flowers, beetles of all species, and array them in manifold sequences and combinations. He would keep a keen eye on both men and beasts and sit on the seashore searching for shellfish. He would eavesdrop attentively on his own thoughts and emotions. He knew not whither his yearnings impelled him. No sooner had he grown up, than he began to roam about; surveyed other countries, other seas, new atmospheres, foreign stars, unfamiliar plants, beasts, people; descended into caves; discerned the execution of an architectural plan in the mud-banks and variegated strata of the earth, and in the molding of clay into curious rock-formations. Now everything everywhere seemed once again familiar to him, and yet at the same time oddly commingled and combined; and hence his inner ordering of things was often correspondingly curious. By and by, he began to keep an eye out for connections, for concurrences and coincidences, in everything he encountered. By and by, nothing appeared to him as a singularity. The perceptions of his senses crowded together in massive, variegated images: he heard, saw, touched, and thought simultaneously. He delighted in joining together mutually foreign entities. By and by, the stones became people to him, the people stones, the stones beasts, the clouds plants; he toyed with forces and manifestations; he knew how and where to find the former and latter, and to let them manifest themselves, and thus unaided plucked notes from the strings and the courses surrounding him.

Of what subsequently became of him he says nothing. He tells us that we, of our own accord, under his guidance and that of our own fancy, might discover what befell him in the past. Several of us have deserted him. They returned to their parents and learned to ply a proper trade. Several had been dispatched elsewhere by him, whither we knew not; they were the chosen ones. Some stayed away for only a short period of time, others longer. One in particular was yet but a child; no sooner had he arrived than he willingly yielded himself up to our master's tuition. He had great, dark eyes with azure depths; his complexion shone like the lily, and his curly locks like luminous wisps of cloud at dusk. His voice pierced us straight through the heart; we were fain to offer him our flowers, stones, feathers, everything. A serious smile incessantly played around his lips, and he tended to put us into an altogether strange mood. "One day he shall return," said our teacher, "and dwell among us; then will your novitiates be at an end." He sent him forth in the company of another, on whom we had often taken pity. He had a perpetually lugubrious mien; he had been here for many years; nothing turned out well with him; he encountered difficulties whenever we went looking for crystals and flowers. He was nearsighted; proper sequential arrangement in contrasting colors was beyond his ability. Smashing everything to pieces, on the other hand, came easily enough to him. And yet he had an urge and desire to see and hear like no one else's. A year ago--ere the aforementioned child entered our circle--he suddenly became cheerful and adept. One day he went out in a doleful mood; he did not return, and night fell. We were most distraught on his account; suddenly, at daybreak, we heard his voice from a nearby grove. He was singing a song of nobility and joy; we were all taken aback; looking ahead towards morning, our teacher foresaw that I would never see him again. He strode into our midst, bearing, with an expression of ineffable bliss on his countenance, an unprepossessing little stone of curious shape. Our teacher took it in his hand and kissed it lingeringly; then, looking at us with tears in his eyes, placed the stone in an unoccupied spot situated in the middle of the other stones, directly at the point where the various rows converged like sunbeams.

I shall never forget that moment. It was as though our souls had
in passing been vouchsafed a pellucid intimation of this wondrous world.

I am, moreover, less skillful than the others, and the treasures of nature seem more reluctant to yield themselves up to my discovery. And yet our teacher is fond of me, and allows me to sit immersed in my own thoughts when the others are off on their researches. For these researches, in respect of our teacher, have never mattered to me. Everything ultimately leads me back to myself. I have fully understood what the two voices uttered once upon a time. I, and I alone, am cheered by those heaps of objects assembled in our chambers, as though they were all of them mere images, surfaces, and ornamental flourishes collectively comprising a single painting of wondrous divinity, a painting that always remains uppermost in my thoughts. I do not seek them out, but into them I often go seeking. It is as though they are intended to show me the way to the place where the maiden whom my soul longs for lies in deepest sleep. Our teacher has never said a word on this subject to me, nor have I confided anything of the kind to him; I regard it as an inviolable mystery. I was fain to ask the child about it; I felt a kinship with his essential qualities; moreover, in proximity to him all of my inner perceptions seemed to grow clearer. One must also consider the fact that I rather tended to wear my heart on my sleeve, and to give free rein to my tongue.
Would that I had done either in his presence. But that did not come to pass. How long I have tarried here I know not. It seems as though I have always been here.
I hardly dare admit it to myself; the conviction foists itself of its own volition upon my innermost thoughts: the conviction that here I shall one day discover my actuating principle; that here I am already in its presence. Whenever I go for a walk, everything amasses itself into a glorious image ordered according to an entirely new system, the whole of which comprises a world unto its own. Everything then becomes so familiar and dear to me; and what has heretofore seemed still strange and foreign is now my personal furniture.
To be sure, though, this foreignness remains entirely foreign to me; and for that reason I am equally repelled and attracted by this collection. I cannot fathom our teacher, and I do not wish to do so. He is thus unfathomably dear to me. I know him; he understands me; he has never uttered a word in contradiction of my instincts and desires. On the contrary, he desires us to follow our own path, inasmuch as every new path traverses new regions, and ultimately wends its way back to these dwellings, to this sacrosanct homeland of ours. Moreover, I want to describe my figure, and, if no mere mortal, to lift the veil obscuring every inscription that lies yonder; thus must we all strive towards immortality; he who seeks not to lift the veil is no true Saisian novice.


2. Nature


Long indeed may have been the span of years that elapsed ere man bethought himself of affixing common names to the manifold objects of his contemplation, and of distinguishing himself from these objects. With practice comes progress, and every progression is attended by a consequent bifurcation or dissection that may be likened to the refraction of a beam of light. So, too, have our inner selves only gradually splintered into their present manifold faculties, and with uninterrupted practice this splintering shall likewise continue apace. Perhaps it is only a pathological condition of modern man that he has lost the capacity to reunite the diffused colors of his soul and to reestablish his erstwhile firm foothold in the natural world, or to bring about new, multifarious combinations. The more united they are, the more unitedly, the more fully and corporeally, every natural body, every manifestation, flows into them: for the nature of the mind corresponds to the nature of its impressions; hence, to ancient man everything must have seemed familiar and companionable; in his eyes, the most peculiar novelties must instantly have become self-evident truths; each of his observations was a genuine constituent of nature, and his ideas must have harmonized with the surrounding world, and presented him with a faithful expression thereof. Hence we are able to regard the thoughts of our progenitor of the things of this earth as his inevitable progeny, and as a self-portrait of the terrestrial state of nature at that time; and, more particularly and assuredly, to relegate these thoughts, along with the higher and mutual relations of the ancient world's inhabitants thereunto, to the rank of mere serviceable instruments of cosmic law. We discover that it was precisely the most exalted questions that first engaged their attention, and that they sought the key to this most wonderful edifice now in a massive cluster of material objects, now in the chimeric fabrications of a benighted sensorium. Here is apparent the collective intimation of the same in various liquid, vaprous, and amorphous phenomena. It may well account for our by no means inconsequential belief in the indolence and intransigence of material bodies. Soon enough, however, this meditative head bumped smack against the problem of how to go about elucidating forms out of that amorphous chaos of forces and oceans. It sought to untie the knot by means of a kind of synthesis, while it fashioned the first beginnings into definite shapes, of which, however, it had not the slightest inkling; and then, out of this sea of sand--although, to be sure, not without the help of certain concurrent, essential ideas; certain forces of attraction and of repulsion--it fancied itself capable of construing the whole colossal edifice. Still earlier on, one discovers in lieu of scientific explanations certain fairy tales and poems brimful of curious natural elements, gods, men, and beasts collectively superintending the whole; and hearkens to the most natural kind of description of the world's origins. One comes to be persuaded, at any rate, and beyond any possibility of doubt, of the fortuitous nature of the cause thereof; and for the congenital scorner of the anomalous progeny of the imagination, this is significant enough. The treatment of the history of the world as a uniquely human history--the ubiquitous ferreting out of merely human events and relations therefrom--is an idea that has maintained its ascendency throughout the diversity of ages, and under various guises, with remarkable ease and aplomb. Moreover, the contingent aspect of nature seems spontaneously to attach itself to the idea of human personality, which in turn is all too eager to be comprehended as the very essence of humanity. Doubtless for this same reason has poetry been the instrument of choice for all true friends of nature, and at its most luminous has manifested itself in poems of the natural spirit. Hence, on reading or hearing an authentic poem, one feels the stirrings of an intimate understanding of nature, and soars, like that selfsame heavenly body, above her and within her at the same time. On account of their sharing a common language, natural philosophers and poets have ever shown themselves to be virtual compatriots. The former have, by and large, assimilated their systematic arrangement of things in bulk to the task of feeding and clothing their fellow men; and in the meantime shattered the erstwhile single, immeasurable Nature into a manifold proliferation of compliant mini-natures. Whensoever their cavalier intellectual bent has disposed them to range in pursuit of fugitive and fluid phenomena, they have not stinted to probe the inner structure and anatomy thereof with their neatly dissective scalpels. Under their hands, the companionable Nature of old has expired, leaving behind only her lifeless, twitching remains; whereas the the poet, as if by the agency of some ingenious wine, endowed her with new life; he has given ear to her divinely animate fancies and exalted her above the level of quotidian existence, he has ascended to heaven, danced and prophesied, welcomed every guest, and squandered the treasures of her joyous spirit. Hence, she has whiled away her heavenly hours in the company of the poet, and invited the natural philosopher to her side only during attacks of illness or conscience. On these occasions, she has deferred to this figure of such striking seriousness and austerity, and frankly given answer to each of his questions. Hence, he who wishes properly to understand her temperament must seek her in the company of the poet, for when she is with him, she unabashedly dispenses the wondrous effusions of her heart. He who does not love her from the bottom of his heart, and admires her only in this or that respect, and yet strives to understand her, must pay assiduous visits to her sick-room, and to her charnel-house. Nature, no less than man, finds her own level in an incredible variety of relations; and, just as she appears childish to the child, and gamely accommodates herself to his innocent heart; so, accordingly, to God, she appears divine, and tunes her pitch to that of his exalted spirit. One cannot speak of "nature" in the singular without a certain degree of verbal license, and all such aspirations to truth as are to be found in disquisitions and conversations centering on this "nature" serve only to lead one ever further astray from genuine naturalness. It is a hard-won victory unto itself when one's strivings are purified into a fragile, unpretentious longing, a longing that willingly submits to the cold, alien essence of its object; a longing that can count on an eventual intimate acquaintance with that object. This longing constitutes a mysterious impulse radiating outwards in all directions from a focal point situated within the infinite depths of our innermost selves. We now find ourselves surrounded on all sides by nature in both her perceptible and imperceptible aspects, and this we take for that ineluctable grip of nature, for an externalization of our sympathy with her: and while a certain human type seeks beyond this cerulean veil of remote forms nothing more than a return to his homeland--to his kith and kind, to the good old days--another is of the opinion that in the hereafter lie in store for him innumerable untold glories, and tenders his importunate hands toward an altogether new world. Few indeed are those who can long abide in these majestic environs; who can, unassisted, apprehend the sheer abundance and interrelatedness inhering therein; who do not lose sight, in virtue of its solitariness, of that elusive filament that, limb by limb, unites and gives final form to the holy luster; and who can blissfully content themselves with the examination of that living ornament that soars over the nocturnal depths. Hence the source of manifold meditations on nature; and when at one extreme our sense of nature takes the form of a lucky hunch or a meal, we witness her transformation into the pious obsequies of religion, which, from cradle to grave, impart meaning, behavior, and order to the life of the individual. Certainly, among the infant peoples of mankind there numbered such serious souls for whom nature was the countenance of a divinity, while blither spirits among them bade her welcome only to their tables; for these latter, the air was a refreshing cordial, the lights of the heavens those of a nocturnal ball-room, and plants and beasts but savory victuals; and thus nature seemed to them less akin to a silent, splendid temple than to a jolly good kitchen-cum-larder. In their midst were other, more thoughtful souls, who observed in nature in her extant state only grand, albeit uncultivated, structures, and who devoted their days and nights to the perfection of a nobler schema of nature. They amicably divided the work among themselves: some sought to re-awaken the stilled and long-lost sounds of the air and the forest; others stored their intimations and images of fairer kinds in bronze and stone; re-composed the finer rocks into habitations, restored to light the hidden treasures entombed in the earth; subdued the exuberant rivers and streams, populated the deserts of the ocean, repatriated glorious plants and beasts to their desolate regions of origin; curbed the inundations of the forests, and cultivated noble herbs and flowers, opened the earth to the life-giving touch of procreative air and light; taught the colors of the spectrum to mingle and order themselves into fetching images, taught the field and forest, rocks and springs, to re-convene in lovely gardens; breathed sounds into living organs, so as to bestir them to merry vibrations; took under their care such wretched, forsaken beasts as were susceptible to human training; and rid the forests of their noxious monsters, those abortions of a degenerate fancy. Soon nature again learned better manners; she became gentler and more edifying, and gamely acquiesced in the furthering of human wishes. By degrees, her heart again began to give fresh stimulus to its human counterpart, she became companionable again, and thus there seems gradually to be dawning a second instance of that golden age, in which she served as mankind's friend, consolatrix, priestess and miracle-worker, all the while dwelling among men and establishing a heavenly intimacy between them and the immortals. Then once again shall the stars pay visits to the earth, who fell foul of them during those ancient dark ages; then shall the sun lay down her scepter and become once again a star among other stars, and all the species of the earth re-unite after a long period of separation. Then shall be discovered the banished families of old, and each day shall witness new salutations; then shall the quondam inhabitants of the earth return to her; in every hillock new embers shall bestir themselves, everywhere flames of life shall blaze forth, old domiciles shall be built anew, ancient epochs restored, and history rendered into a dream of an infinite, unforeseeable present.

He who is of this lineage and of this belief, and who, moreover, would fain contribute his fair share to this refinement of nature, wanders about the artist's workshop, listening out for the unexpected poetry that bursts forth from every stratum, never tiring of contemplating nature and preoccupying himself with her; at all times following her cues, disdaining no errand, however laborious, to which he is beckoned, even should it require him to pass through mouldering tombs; he discerns therein a sure treasure, the glimmer of light at the bottom of the mine-shaft, knowing as he does what a charming lady denizen of the subterranean realm is initiating him into this heavenly mystery. No one strays farther afield of his goal than he who flatters himself that he is already thoroughly and independently acquainted with this strange realm, that he can can epitomize its system in a few judicious words, and that he can specify the right path to take at every turn. No understanding is passively vouchsafed to him who has sundered all ties and fashioned himself into an island; nor to him who will not exert himself. Only children, or childlike adults who know not what they are about, may chance upon this realm. A long and uninterrupted intimacy with her, a spontaneous yet studied attitude of contemplation, an attentiveness to her most subtle suggestions and character-traits, an inner poetic vitality, a worldly-wise intelligence, a simple and pious heart--such are the essential attributes of a true friend of nature; and absent these, no one shall witness the fruition of his desires. It seems unwise to wish for a human world in the absence of an understanding and conception of a human race in full flower. No one's mind is obliged to take a nap, and while not all minds are equally awake, yet all of them are obliged to respond to stimuli and not to rest in a state of suffocated torpor. Thus, just as one discerns the makings of an artist in the boy who fills every wall and stretch of ground with his pictorial graffiti, and combines colors in a motley assortment of shapes, so one discerns the makings of a philosopher in every person who tirelessly inquires into and investigates all natural objects, takes notice of everything, synthesizes all particulars, and rejoices in having made himself master and proprietor of a new phenomenon, a new force, a new form of knowledge.

Now, there are those to whom this endless pursuit of the ramifications of nature seems to be hardly worth the effort; and, moreover, to amount to a perilous undertaking devoid of profit and issue. Thus, just as one shall discover neither the smallest kernel of solid bodies, nor the most elementary thread, for all vastness is lost amidst the infinity that lies both beyond and behind it, so too is it with respect to the various classes of bodies and forces; here, too, one alights upon new classes, new structures, new phenomena ad infinitum. Then they seem simply to stand still whenever our industry flags, and thus one comes to squander one's noblest hours on idle meditations and wearisome calculations, and the upshot of these is outright insanity, a permanent access of vertigo at the edge of a horrifying abyss. Moreover, nature has always been--and it really is as bad as all this--a frightening death-mill; everywhere a monstrous rotation, an inscrutable cyclone of interconnections, a kingdom of gluttony, of the most frenzied wantonness, an immensity pregnant with misfortune; what few points of light exist merely illuminate an ever-so-much-more terrifying night, any observer of which needs must be horrified to the point of insensibility. Like a Savior death gives succor to the wretched human race, for in the absence of death the maddest lunatic would practically be the most fortunate of men. This very striving after the innermost workings of this colossal engine constitutes, to be sure, a downward pull towards the abyss, an incipient access of vertigo; for every attractive feature assumes the aspect of an ever-expanding cyclone, which takes entire possession of its hapless victim, and subsequently sweeps him away into a night brimful of horrors. Herein is artfully laid a snare for human understanding, which, in its capacity as her arch-enemy, nature ubiquitously seeks to annihilate. All hail man's erstwhile childlike ignorance and innocence, which would not suffer him to become aware of the appalling disasters that lurked like ubiquitous louring storm-clouds round the eaves of his peaceful abodes, poised at every instant to give vent to their full fury. Only in virtue of its intrinsically imperfect understanding of natural forces has mankind thus far manged to survive; and yet, that epochal moment cannot be long in coming when human beings collectively, by way of a massive communal resolution, tear themselves free from this distressing situation, from this awful prison; and by, way of a voluntary renunciation of their local affiliations and possessions, deliver their race forever from this misery, and, under a more fortunate dispensation, commend themselves into the care of their ancient father. But thus in times past ended their estimable state and commenced their inevitable, forcible extermination, or an even more gruesome degeneration into beasts, by way of the gradual demolition of the organs of thought. An intimacy of association with beasts, plants, rocks, tempests, sea-billows needs must give fair warning of the existence of man to these objects; and this forewarning, transformation and dissolution of the divine and the human into refractory forces constitutes the spirit of of that terrible, omnivorous power known as nature; and does not each and every thing that one beholds amount, in effect, to an immense ruin of former glories, to the leftovers of some grisly repast?
'Fair enough,' say certain doughty souls: 'let our species wage an arduous, all-out war to the death with this Nature. We must try to get the better of her with slow poisons. Let the natural philosopher be a noble hero who plunges into the gaping chasm in order that his fellow-citizens may live. Artists have already inflicted upon her numerous blows by stealth; you need only follow their example: seize hold of her hidden sinews and make her greedily hunger after herself. Avail yourself of these dissensions, so that she, like the proverbial fire-breathing bull, shall learn to direct her paces according to your whim. You must make her your vassal. It beseems human creatures to be patient and trustful. The most distant of kin are united with us in a common aim; the wheel of the heavens shall become the spinning-wheel of our life, and then shall we know how to build a new Djinistan with the help of our slaves. In a spirit of triumph, let us survey her tumult and devastation; she shall be obliged to prostitute herself to us, and, by way of this outrage, to do heavy penance. Let us live and die imbued with the rapturous instinct of our own freedom; here rises the river that in days to come shall inundate her and bring her to heel, and in this river let us bathe and refresh ourselves with hearts newly emboldened for heroic exploits. Here, one is beyond reach of the monster's fury; a single drop of freedom suffices to cripple her in perpetuity, and to confine her havoc within rational bounds.

"You are in the right," say sundry others: "here or nowhere else lies the talisman. At the fount of freedom we sit and keep watch; it is the great enchanted mirror wherein the entirety of creation is revealed in all of its pellucid purity; in it bathe the frail spirits and likenesses of all natures, and here we discover the door of every chamber left unlocked. What need have we of trudging through the boggy landscape of visible objects? After all, the landscape of unadulterated purity lies within us, in this selfsame fountain. Herein is disclosed the true meaning of the whole massive, motley, intricately complicated spectacle; and by way of looking on, we are granted full entry into the presence of nature, such that everything is intimately familiar to us, and that we recognize with certitude each and every shape that we encounter. We need not undertake any preliminary researches; a simple correspondence, the merest few traces in the sand, suffice to enlighten us. Thus, everything is to us a massive text whose key is in our possession, and nothing can catch us off our guard; for we have preemptively come to understand the operation of the whole massive clockwork. And yet, in full consciousness, we enjoy the usufruct of nature; for she does not bring us to our senses; for she does not disturb us with nightmares born of fever, and makes us restful and hopeful, in clear presence of mind."

"You others are mistaken," said a man of grave bearing, addressing these others. "Do you not discern in nature the fair copy of your own selves? You yourselves are consumed by a savage thoughtlessness. You are ignorant of the fact that your nature is but a play of the imagination, a chaotic fantasy of your nightmares. Indeed, for you she is a horrid beast, a strange, fantastic specter of your concupiscence. He who views these anomalous progeny of his imagination when wide awake does so without trembling, inasmuch as he knows that they are but empty phantoms of his infirmity. He feels himself to be master of the world; his mighty ego soars over this chasm, and shall loftily soar over this infinity of vicissitudes for eternity after eternity. Undivided, his inner being strives to proselytize, to spread the good word. He shall ceaselessly, and ad infinitum, assimilate each and every particular to himself and to his circumambient creation; and with each and every forward stride he shall witness the ever-crescent, ever-more-brilliant prominence of an eternal, all-encompassing, supremely moral world order; of the fortress of his ego. The import of the world is reason: for her sake does the world exist, and though the world has begun as the battlefield of a budding, child-like reason, yet it shall one day be transformed into the divine image of her activity, into the theater of a true church. Until then, let man honor her in her capacity as a symbol of his soul, which ennobles itself, along with him, by indeterminable gradations. Thus, let him who would become acquainted with nature exercise his moral faculty, and cultivate and educate the noble kernel of his inner self; and to him shall nature unfold itself, as if spontaneously. Moral agency is that great and unique experiment, whereby all enigmas of the most manifold sort are solved. He who understands it, and knows how to analyze it by way of the most involved and rigorous chains of thought, is nature's eternal master."

The novice listens to the clash of voices with trepidation. Each of them seems to be in the right, and a curious confusion takes possession of his mind. By degrees, his inner tumult subsides; and upwards, over the dark, mutually-breaking waves, there seems to soar a spirit of peace, whose advent is heralded by a new valor, and a serene loftiness of perspective, in the youth's soul.

There now came bounding hither a more cheerfully-disposed playmate of his, whose temples were garlanded with bindweed and roses. "You brooding daydreamer!" he cried. "You are headed off on a completely wrong path. You'll never make much progress that way. The proper attunement of one's disposition is the universal superlative. Is this truly nature's disposition? You are still young, and do you not feel the authoritative promptings of youth in each and every one of your veins? Is not your breast suffused with love and longing? How can you repose yourself in solitude? Does nature repose herself in solitude? From solitude flee joy and desire alike: and absent desire, of what use is nature to you? Only among one's fellow men does the spirit that overwhelms your senses in a thousand motley shades of color, that enfolds you like an invisible beloved, assume his native form. At our banquets he gives free rein to his tongue; he sits at the head of the table and launches into songs in praise of the superlatively gladsome life. Poor you, who have not yet loved! With your first kiss a whole new world will open up to you; with that kiss, life will rush into your enraptured heart from a thousand points of the compass. I will recount to you a fairy tale; hearken well to it:

Once upon a time, well towards evening, there lived the youngest of young men. He was most virtuous, but also odd beyond all measure.

He was forever worrying, time and again, about nothing; he passed his days in silence; he would sit by himself when others were frolicking and gay, and abandon himself to curious preoccupations. Caves and forests were his favorite haunts; and, moreover, he would unceasingly converse with the beasts of the field and the air, with trees and boulders--naturally in no intelligible language--and, more sonorously, with foolish old Zeus himself, to the point that he found himself fairly doubled up with laughter. But he remained habitually surly and serious, in spite of all the pains that the squirrels, the monkeys, the parrots, and the bullfinch took to amuse him and show him the true path. The goose told fairly tales, the brook babbled a ballad between times, a big fat rock cut droll capers, the rose genially sneaked up behind him and around him, slinking through the locks of his hair, and the ivy caressed his careworn brow. And yet his seriousness and despondency were unyielding.

His parents were quite dejected in his behalf; they hardly knew where to begin. He was healthy and well fed; they had never scolded him; he had, moreover, until a few years previous, been as merry and gay as could be, the champion in all sportive contests and the favorite of all of his female playmates. He was as pretty as a picture and as well-bred as a husband-to-be; and he danced like a true gallant.

Among these female playmates of his there numbered a certain one--a charming, picture-perfect child, a veritable wax doll--with hair like golden silk, lips of cherry red, and eyes like jet-black embers. So lovely was she that he who saw her was as good as lost. In those days, Rosebud--that was her name--bore a good will to Hyacinth--that was his name--and he was mortally in love with her. The other children knew nothing of this. A violet had first mentioned it to them; the house-kittens had taken full notice of it; their parents' houses were sited quite close to each other.

When of an evening Hyacinth was standing at his window and Rosebud at hers, and the kittens were out on the prowl for mice, they would see the two of them standing there and oftentimes laugh and giggle so loudly that they heard it and became cross. The violet had mentioned it in strictest confidence to the strawberry plant, who mentioned it in turn to her friend the gooseberry bush, who now forbore to withdraw her thorns when Hyacinth came walking by; thus presently the whole garden and forest discovered it, and whenever Hyacinth went out, all around him there would issue a murmur of
Rosebud is my sweetheart!

Hyacinth was annoyed by this, and yet he could not help laughing when the little lizard came slithering up to disport himself on a warm rock, wagging his tail and singing:

That darling infant hight Rosebud
Has eyes full newly bleared with mud.
Mistaking Hy'cinth for her mum,
She falls into his arms all dumb;
But on discov'ring her mistake,
Thinks but of him, does not fright take,
Departs, no words betok'ning aught amiss,
Now, as ever after, with a kiss.


Ah! Sic transit gloria mundi. There now arrived on the scene a man hailing from foreign parts, who was astonishingly well-traveled; he had a long beard, sunken eyes, hideous eyebrows, and a marvelous costume with numerous pleats and strange shapes woven into it. He planted himself in front of Hyacinth's parents' house. His curiosity aroused, Hyacinth took a seat beside the man and fetched him some bread and wine. The man shook his white beard this way and that and told tales until the wee hours of the night, and Hyacinth stayed awake and never budged an inch or grew tired of listening. By all subsequent accounts, the man had much to say of of foreign parts and terrae incognitae, and of astonishingly strange events, and he remained in the area for three days, and went creeping into deep hollows of the earth with Hyacinth.

Rosebud roundly cursed the old sorcerer, for Hyacinth was absolutely smitten by his conversation and concerned himself with nothing else; he hardly even bothered to eat or drink anything. Finally the man took off, but he left behind in Hyacinth's keeping a small book that nobody knew how to read. Hyacinth, for his part, gave the man fruit, bread, and wine, and accompanied him along a good stretch of his journey. And then he returned in a pensive frame of mind, and began a new mode of life. Rosebud took great pity on him, for from that point onwards, she mattered but little to him, and he remained perpetually wrapped up in himself.

It now so happened that one day he came home and was as though newly born. He fell into the arms of his parents and began weeping. "I must set forth into foreign countries," he said; "the strange old woman in the forest told me how I must become healthy; she flung my book into the fire and urged me to go to you and seek your blessing. Perhaps I shall return soon, perhaps never. Give my regards to Rosebud. Somehow, whenever I try to think back on the old days, more powerful thoughts interpose themselves; peace lies elsewhere, together with heart and love; I must go seek them. Would that I could tell you whither; I myself do not know; yonder dwells the mother of all things, the veiled virgin. Towards her do tend all the stirrings of my soul. Farewell."

He tore himself free and set forth. His parents lamented and shed tears; Rosebud remained in her chamber and wept bitterly. Hyacinth made his way as best he could through valleys and wilds, across mountains and rivers, towards the mysterious regions of the earth. Everywhere and of everyone—men and beasts, rocks and trees—he enquired after the goddess Isis. Some of them laughed, some of them were silent; nowhere was an answer forthcoming. First, he passed through a savage, mountainous country; the road was traversed by mists and clouds; storms raged incessantly; then, he happened upon some unsightly deserts of red-hot sand; and the farther he wandered, in like proportion was his soul transformed; time slowed down for him and his inner tumult subsided; he became calmer, and the violent agitation within him by degrees became a gentle, albeit firm, urge to press on, an urge that absorbed his entire soul. He felt as though many years lay behind him.

And now the surrounding country became more fertile and varied, the air mild and blue, the road more smoothly paved; green thickets tempted him with winsome shadows, but he could not understand their language; nor did they even seem to speak, and yet they filled his heart with shades of green and a cool, silent essence. This sweet longing within him mounted ever higher, and the leaves grew ever brighter and calmer, the birds and beasts ever louder and merrier, the fruits ever more fragrant, the skies ever darker, and his love ever warmer; time passed ever more quickly, as though presaging his journey's end.

One day he encountered a crystal-clear spring and a host of flowers running alongside and between two rows of sky-scraping black columns. They saluted him in a familiar tongue.

"My beloved fellow countrymen," he said; "where may I find the sacred residence of Isis? It must lie somewhere hereabouts, and perhaps you are better acquainted with the neighborhood than I am."

"We are likewise merely passing through," replied the flowers; "a family of souls is traveling hither and beyond, and we are preparing them passage and lodging; en route, a few days ago, we happened to hear her name mentioned. Go upwards, in the direction whence we came; thus shall you surely come to learn more."

The flowers and the spring smiled as they said this, offered him a draft of fresh water, and proceeded on their way.

Hyacinth followed their counsel, kept on enquiring, and finally came to that long-sought-after dwelling, which was situated under a canopy of palms and other exquisite plants. His heart throbbed in infinite longing, and the sweetest dread pervaded him in this abode of eternal seasons. Under the auspices of a salutary celestial ether, he fell asleep, for only in his dreams could he be led into the Holiest of Holies. In a most curious fashion, these dreams led him through an infinite succession of chambers full of strange objects, on rousing timbres and alternating concords. Everything seemed so familiar to him, and yet clothed in a splendor he had never before seen; then, the last trace of earthly materiality faded away, as though consumed by the air, and he stood before the celestial virgin; then, he lifted the weightless, lustrous veil and Rosebud sank into his arms.

Their fond reunion, their effusions of longing, were attended and surrounded by a distant music, which banished everything alien from this enchanting place. Hyacinth lived long after with Rosebud among his joyful parents and playmates, and innumerable grandchildren gave thanks to the strange old woman for her counsel and fire; for in those days, people could have as many children as they wished.


The novices embraced one another and dispersed. The spacious chambers stood empty and reverberative; and the marvelous colloquy of innumerable languages and a thousandfold natures, which had united in manifold combinations, continued. Their inner energies played off one another. They strove to regain their freedom, their old-established relations. A few of them stood at their appointed stations as witnesses to the manifold goings-on of their immediate surroundings. The rest complained of terrible agonies and sorrows, and bewailed the loss of the ancient, glorious life in the bosom of nature, when they were united by a common freedom, and each of them received according to his own needs.
“Oh!,” they said: “Would that man understood the music of nature within, and were capable of perceiving the harmony without. But he hardly knows that we belong together, and that none of us can survive in the absence of the others. He cannot leave well enough alone; he tyrannically separates us, and in strident dissonances clutches at everything within his reach. How happy would he contrive to be, if only he should amicably join with us and enter into our great confederation, as in the former “golden age,” as he so aptly terms it. In those days, he understood us; just as we understood him. His craving to become a god has separated him from us; he seeks for that which we know not and of which we can form no distinct intimation, and ever since has he ceased to be an accompanying voice, a fellow-traveler. He fully intimates the infinite bliss, the eternal delight, within us; and therefore is he compelled to subsume such a marvelous love under our united auspices. The enchantment of gold, the arcana of colors, the joys of water, are not foreign to him; in ancient times he intimated the wondrousness of precious stones; and yet, he still lacks a sweet passion for the fabric of nature, an eye for our enrapturing mysteries. Does he study to feel, if but once? He is, as of now, but feebly acquainted with this most heavenly, this most natural, of all meanings: through feeling might the yearned-for, ancient age be reborn; the basic principle of feeling is an inner light, which is refracted in splendid, powerful colors. Thereupon the stars would rise within him; he would learn to feel the entire world more clearly and multifariously than he presently does, within the limits and surfaces prescribed to him by his own eyes. He would become master of an infinite play of forces and would abandon all of his foolish aspirations towards an eternal, self-sustaining and ever-increasing luxury. Thought is but a dream of feeling, a vanished feeling; a being of dim, pale-gray cast."
While thus they were speaking, the sun shone through the high windows, and the din of the conversation subsided into a gentle murmur; an infinite intimation pervaded all shapes, the most delightful warmth spread over everyone, and out of the deepest of silences arose the most wondrous music of nature. Close by, one could hear the sound of human voices, and of the opening of the great folding doors behind the garden; and a group of travelers took their seats on the broad front steps of the building. The delightful landscape lay brightly illuminated before them; and in the distance, the prospect faded upwards along the ridges of an azure mountain range. Friendly children came bearing manifold victuals and spirits, and there presently began a spirited conversation among them.
"To everything that he undertakes, man must direct his undivided attention or his ego," one of them said at last, "and once he has done this, new ideas or forms of perception emerge; and these seem to be nothing other than the delicate, shading, rasping strokes of a draftsman's pencil, or the curious condensations and figurations of an elastic fluid, which manifest themselves in a wondrous fashion within him. They propagate outwards from the point upon which he has permanently engraved the original impression, in all directions, with vital agility, and take hold of his ego with main force. He is likewise oftentimes capable of annihilating this play afresh, while simultaneously re-dividing his attention, or leaving it to its own capricious devices; for these ideas then seem to him to be nothing other than irradiations and reactions stirred up by this selfsame ego in this selfsame elastic medium, or the refractions of the former by the latter; or, on the whole, a curious interplay between the waves of this sea and his own inflexible faculty of attention. It is most striking that man first becomes truly cognizant of his uniqueness, of his especial freedom, courtesy of this interplay; and that it dawns on him as though he were waking from a deep slumber; as though he only just now were finding himself at home in the world, as though the light of day were propagating itself for the first time into his inner world. He believes he has attained the ne plus ultra if he manages, without interrupting this play, conjointly to undertake the daily grind of the sensory world; and to perceive and to think conjointly. Thereby he wins on both fronts: the exterior world is rendered transparent, and the interior world manifold and meaningful, and thus man finds himself in an intimate, vital position poised between two worlds, in the most perfect freedom and in the most joyous feeling of power. It is natural that man seeks to perpetuate this condition and to distribute it over the sum total of his impressions; that he does not weary of pursuing these associations of the two worlds, and investigating their sympathies and antipathies. The aggregate of which--what sets us in motion--man terms nature, and therefore nature stands in an immediate relation to the limbs of our body, which relation we term the senses. Our body's obscure and mysterious connections render suppositious the existence of mysterious relations within nature, and thus is nature that wondrous community into which our body initiates us, and in which we come to participate within the compass of the body's furnishings and capacities. The question is whether we are capable of truly grasping the Nature of Natures by means of this specific nature, and, if so, to what extent our thoughts and the intensity of our attention are delimited by the aforesaid; or whether they delimit it, and thereby tear themselves free from Nature and, perchance, vitiate their delicate pliancy. One clearly sees that these inner relations and furnishings of our body must, above all other things, be fathomed ere may hope to answer this question and to penetrate the nature of things. And yet it may once have been conceivable that in fact we should first submit ourselves to a trial course of training within the manifold domain of own thoughts, ere we should be capable of venturing an attempt on the inner connections of our body, or of availing ourselves of its understanding towards an understanding of nature; and, to be sure, nothing then could have been more natural than to beget all possible movements of thoughts, and to acquire a proficiency, and, indeed, a grace of ease, in this occupation; to flit from one thought to another and to synthesize and analyse them in manifold fashions. To this end one must attentively have contemplated all impressions, and likewise remarked with precision the play of all such thoughts as should ensue therefrom, and have taken stock of any such new thoughts as should therefrom, in turn, emerge; in order, thus, to come by degrees to discover their mechanism, and, through the repetition of this effort, to learn to differentiate the movements to which each impression is straitly conjoined from the remainder, and to commit these differentiations to memory. Had ever so few such movements, qua individual characters of nature’s typeface, then seen the light of day, the deciphering of the whole would have proceeded apace, and the authority of the observer over all movements and all productions of thought—and moreover, the authority, in full innocence of any genuine precedent impression, to bring forth the thoughts of nature and to sketch her form out in the rough—been firmly established; and then the ultimate aim would have been achieved."


“It is quite a venturesome enterprise,” said another, “to strive to piece together nature out of her external manifestations and forces, and to avow her to be, on the one hand, a fire of monstrous scope, and, on the other, a failure of wondrous artifice; on the one hand, a duality or trinity, on the other, any odd force one cares to name. It would then have been more conceivable that she was the product of an incredible consensus of an infinitely varied essence, the wondrous linchpin of the spiritual world, the tangent and meeting-point of innumerable worlds."
"Let it be ventured," said a third, "that the net cast by the intrepid fisherman has ever been haphazardly woven: so much the better for the eventual catch. One is heartened by the latter only insofar as it impels one to stay the course, and let each new finding that serves to conceal the reality of things be accordingly welcome. Do you not believe that the fulfillment of the worthy system from which the future geography of nature shall derive its cartographic data is in the immediate offing? The latter geography shall be established by the former system, and the ensuing establishment shall, first of all, be capable of instructing us on the extraordinary lie of the land. Mere knowledge of nature, standing heavens apart from the exegesis of nature, will simply have passed away. The true decipherer will perchance arrive, to set in motion further natural forces, along with the generation of further glorious and more useful natural phenomena; he will be capable of fantastically improvising on nature as on a massive keyboard instrument; and yet he will not understand nature. This understanding is the endowment of the natural historian, of the prophet of the ages, who, being well-versed in nature's narrative, and well- acquainted with the world, that higher theater of natural history, perceives and sagely preaches the gospel of its significances. And for all that, this territory yet remains a hallowed terra incognita. The divine aeries have let fall a mere few verbal scraps into the mouth of this highest of all forms of knowledge, and it is but small wonder that timorous souls have suffered this intimation to elude them, and reduced nature to a homeostatic machine, devoid of both past and future. Every divine entity has its story to tell; and is nature, that unparalleled whole to which man can liken himself, to be reckoned less worthy than man of fashioning such a story, or, what comes to same thing, of possessing a mind? Absent her mind, nature would cease to be nature; to be the unparalleled countertype of mankind, to be either the essential answer to that mysterious question of questions, or the question to that infinite answer of answers."

"Only the poets have felt what nature can be to man," commenced a fair youth, "and here one may also say of them that mankind meets in them its most perfect realization; and that from them, in virtue of their mirror-like clarity and nimbleness of perception, each and every impression, in all of its infinite fluctuations, is faithfully transmitted to all points of the compass. In nature they discover everything. To them alone her soul remains familiar territory; and in her society they seek, and not in vain, all of the blessings of the golden age. For them nature possesses the varied plenitude of an infinite spirit, all the more so while the cleverest and most quick-witted of their fellow men is busy springing on them his ingenious feints and sallies, encounters and diversions, puffed-up ideas and eccentric notions. The inexhaustible richness of her fancy insures that nothing within her orbit is ever sought after in vain. She knows how to embellish, to enliven, to sanction everything; and in what seems in fine grain to be but the insensate workings of a thoughtless mechanism, the more discerning eye yet descries--in these concurrences and consequences of isolated contingencies--a wondrous sympathy with the heart of man. The wind is a movement of air that can have any number of external causes, but to the lonely, yearning heart is it nothing more than that--when it rushes past, wafted hither from beloved regions, and seeming to resolve his silent sorrow, by way of its thousand melancholy tones, into a single melodious sigh issuing from the bosom of nature's entirety? Does not the young lover thus also feel his entire, efflorescent soul affirmed, with ravishing conviction, in the fresh verdure of the spring meadows; and does the luxuriant produce of the vine ever seem more exquisite to thirsty souls when distilled into golden wine than when resplendently clustered and half hidden amongst the broad leaves? One taxes the poets with exaggeration and makes allowances, as it were, for the chimerically pictorial character of their language--indeed, without looking any further into the matter, one simply makes shift with attributing to their fancy that whimsical nature that sees and hears many a thing that others do not hear and see, and that in a delicious frenzy governs and holds sway over the real world ad libitum; but it seems to me that the poets have not by any means gone far enough in the way of exaggeration, that they have as yet only dimly surmised the magic inherent in their language, and have been merely toying with their fancy as a child toys with his father's magic wand. They know not which forces are subservient to them, which worlds are obliged to heed their beck and call. For is it not true that stones and forests hearken to music and, tamed thereby, acquiesce in its will like so many beasts of burden? Do the fairest flowers not actually blossom in the presence of the beloved, and do they not rejoice in the privilege of thus adorning her? Does not the sky become clear, the sea smooth, at their behest? Does not nature in her entirety express--in the manner of a living physiognomy--the complexion, the pulse, the condition, of each and every superior being to which we men have given a name? Is not the living rock transformed into a singular Thou, in virtue of my apostrophizing it as such? And what am I if not the mighty flood itself, when, with a heavy heart, I gaze down into its billowing waves, and lose my thoughts in its swiftly eddying current? Only a tranquil, satiate heart will understand the vegetable world; only a boisterous child or a madman will understand the beasts. I know not whether anyone ever truly understood the rocks and stones, but any such he needs must have been a sublime being. From those statues, those relics of a long-vanished age of human glory, shines forth a profound spirit—and hence a peculiar insight into the mineral world—that sheds upon the truly perceptive observer a kind of mineral husk that seems to penetrate inwards. The sublime is a petrifying agent, and thus we could not permit ourselves to wonder at the sublime in nature and its effects, or to remain ignorant of where it was to be sought. May not nature have been turned to stone by the gaze of God? Or for sheer terror at the advent of man?"

He who had first spoken on this topic had sunk into deep meditation, and the distant mountain-peaks were assuming a twilit particolored aspect, as evening gently and peaceably descended upon the length and breadth of the land. After a long silence, he was heard to say: "In order to understand nature, one must allow nature inwardly to come into being via the full panoply of her succession. In undertaking this task, one must simply be attentive to our divine longing for beings who resemble ourselves, and to the basic commandments of these beings, and allow oneself to be governed by these commandments; for in truth all of nature is intelligible only as an instrument and medium of consensus among rational beings. The thinking man returns to the primordial final cause of his existence, to that point wherein creation and knowledge stood united in the most wonderfully mutual correspondence, to that procreative moment of authentic pleasure, of intimate self-conception. When he is subsequently and utterly immersed in the perusal of this primeval phenomenon, the history of nature’s fecundity unfolds itself before his eyes like an unlimited stage-play, traversing newly-germinated epochs and regions; and each and every fixed point that precipitates out of the endless flux thereof will constitute, for him, an original manifestation of the genius of love, an original bond between the Thou and the I. The authentic theory of nature inheres in the scrupulous chronicling of this interior world-history; out of the intrinsic coherence of the chronicler’s world of ideas, and the latter’s harmonious relation to the universe as a whole, there automatically arises a system of ideas fitted to the blueprint and rulebook of that universe. But the art of equanimous perusal, of fruitful meditation on the world, is a difficult one; its realization requires a serious, unflagging attitude of contemplation and an austere sobriety of judgment; and its reward will consist in no volley of applause bestowed by the shirking multitude of the present day, but rather in a simple delight in knowing and in vigilantly awaiting further knowledge, in an intimate contiguity with the universe."
"Indeed," said the second speaker, "nothing is more remarkable than the great simultaneity in nature. In all places nature seems to be wholly of the present moment. Toward the enkindling of a single candle all natural forces are marshaled, and in such a manner is she perpetually and ubiquitously representing and transforming herself, forcing together leaves, flowers, and fruits, and is plumb in the middle of the present age, simultaneously of the past and of the future; and who knows in which particular manner she uniformly works from afar, and whether this system of nature is not, after all, merely a single sun in the universe, united therewith by certain bonds, by means of a certain light, and by certain other attractive and influential forces that, for the time being, suffer themselves to be distinctly perceived in our minds, and to suffer, moreover, the spirit of the universe to pour forth itself upon this nature, all the while parceling out the remainder of this spirit of nature to other natural systems?"

"Whenever," said the third speaker, "the thinker qua artist sets forth along the path of active industry, and through the skillful application of his intellectual energies, strives to reduce the cosmos to a single and seemingly-irreducible diagram, such that nature is fairly, so to speak, made to dance and to transcribe verbatim the choreography of her movements, nature’s suitor can but marvel at the sheer derring-do of the undertaking, and rejoice in this amplification of mankind’s architectonic capabilities. The artist quite properly gives pride of place to activity, inasmuch as his essence consists in acting and engendering through knowing and willing, and his art consists in employing everything as his own instrument, and in contriving to imitate nature in his own fashion; and hence, activity becomes the governing principle of his world, and his world his art. Herein, moreover, nature acquires a fresh luster of visible majesty, and only an outright brute would spurn the attending verbal melange of curious artifice. In gratitude the priest deposited this new--this noble--specimen of cartography before the altar of the magnetic needle that never misses its mark, and that has led countless ships adrift on uncharted seas to safe harbor in inhabited coasts, and back to their respective homelands. Apart from the thinker, there yet exist certain other fanciers of knowledge who evince no especial predilection for mental procreation; and who, accordingly, and in default of a vocational obligation to that art, become, rather, nature’s schoolboys, who discover their chief delight in studying rather than in teaching, in suffering rather than in creating, in receiving rather than in giving. Some of them manage to keep themselves busy and to place their trust in the omnipresence and intrinsic affinities of nature; hence, moreover, being preemptively convinced of the defectiveness and heteronomy of all individual entities, they scrupulously hold each and every specific phenomenon that comes their way at arm's length; and yet, once having, with a steady gaze, seized hold of the thousandfold, self-transforming spirit of such a phenomenon, they pursue this thread through every shabby nook and cranny of its passages through the mysterious raw material, all for the sake of drafting a woefully inaccurate map of its labyrinthine course. Untold profits consecrate their wearisome labor, and the basic schema of their map will square, to an astonishing extent, with the systems of the thinker; and to the consolation of the latter they will have, so to speak, unintentionally furnished living proof of his abstract theorems. The most unregenerate idlers among them naively await their self-profiting cognizance of nature via an affectionate communication from a certain exalted being enobled by their ardor. They prefer not to devote their time and attention to business during this brief span of life, and to withhold from love their services. Through piety of comportment they seek merely to obtain love, merely to communicate love, in reckless disregard of the great spectacle of forces, to yield their destiny placidly up to this kingdom of power; for they are suffused with an intimate awareness of their inseparability from the beloved being, and they are moved by nature only inasmuch as she is a likeness or chattel of the aforesaid. And what need have these happy souls of knowledge—they who have culled the lion’s share for themselves, and who, in this terrestrial world, shine forth as unwavering flames of love only on the spires of the temple or towards thither-driven ships, as portents of the all-consuming fire of heaven? Oftentimes, of a blissful hour, these devoted children happen upon certain items of wondrous splendor lurking in the catalog of nature's arcana; and, in an uncontrollable access of artlessness, publish their discoveries. They follow the trail of the natural philosophers in order to gather up any such jewels as the latter may have inadvertently let fall in the course of their innocently exuberant progress; to their love the ever-empathetic poet pledges himself, and he seeks by means of his song to transplant this love, this germinating seed of the golden age, to other climes and epochs.
"
"Whose heart does not jump for sheer delight," cried the youth with the coruscating eyes, “when pervaded by the innermost life of nature in its full profusion? When thereupon that mighty sensation for which our language has no other names than ‘love’ and ‘lust,’ expands within him like a vapor of all-dissolving potency, and he, trembling with sweet dread, plunges into the tenebrous, seductive womb of nature, his wretched personality consumes itself in overspreading waves of lust, and nothing remains but a focal point of immeasurable potency, a swallowing eddy in the midst of the vast ocean! What is the omnipresently visible flame? An ardent embrace, whose sweet fruit precipitates in drops of sensual lust. Water, that firstborn child of ethereal coalescences, is incapable of disavowing its sensual origin, and plainly shows itself qua element of love and of the admixture of the celestial almighty on earth. Not without reason did the sages of yore seek in water the origin of all things, and verily did they speak of a higher water vis-à-vis seawater and spring water. In the former, primordial fluidity, as brought to light in molten metals, alone is manifested; and, hence, mankind is inclined to accord it merely divine reverence. How few have yet immersed themselves in the arcana of fluidity, and this intimation of the highest form of enjoyment and of life itself has never dawned upon many a drunken soul. In thirst this world soul, this prodigious longing for deliquescence, is made manifest. Drunkards feel this superterrestrial ecstasy of fluidity all too keenly, and ultimately all agreeable sensations within us are but manifold deliquescences, agitations of those primordial waters within us. Even sleep is nothing other than the high tide of that invisible ocean, and awakening but the commencement of its ebb. How many a human being stands on the brink of the heady flow and hears not the lullaby of these maternal waters; and enjoys not the enchanting play of their infinite undulations! In the golden age, we lived like these waves; in brightly colored clouds, in those swimming oceans and primordial wellsprings of all life on earth, in perpetual frolic, the races of man loved and begot one another, and were visited by the children of heaven; until finally, in that event that sacred tradition terms the Great Flood, this flourishing world perished; the earth was laid low by an inimical being, leaving behind a few human stragglers marooned on the craggy mountaintops of a strange new world. How curious that precisely the most sacrosanct, the most solemn, and the most enchanting phenomena of nature are in the hands of such insipid individuals as our analytical chemists are wont to be!—that they, which with main force rouse nature’s most creative faculties, and merit exclusive regard as an arcanum of vitality, a mystery of sublime humanity –are so shamelessly and mindlessly called forth by such banausic souls as will never understand the miracle enclosed within their flasks. Only poets should ever have dealings with fluidity, and be permitted to recount its history to the ardent ears of youth; the laboratory would then be a temple, and with newborn love mankind would reverence its flame and its fluctuations and sing their praises. How fortunate would our cities, lapped by the sea or some mighty river, then fancy themselves; while every headwater would be rendered love's sanctuary and the abode of men of skill and genius. Hence, too, are children enticed by nothing so much as by fire and water, such that every stream bids fair to lead them into particolored distances and lovelier regions. It is not merely reflection that heaven imparts to water; it is a tender bond of friendship, a token of neighborliness, and when the unfulfilled urge towards the immeasurable heights so wills it, ever-fortunate love gladly sinks into the infinite depths. But it is futile to dream of teaching and preaching nature. A person who was born blind will never learn to see, however much one would like to tell him of light and color and shapes beyond his reach. In like fashion, no one will ever understand nature who lacks a natural organ, an instrumental member devoted entirely to the procreation and sequestration of nature; who does not all but involuntarily recognize and distinguish nature everywhere and in everything, and--with his inborn appetite for procreation, in manifold consanguinity with all bodies, commingled with all natural entities through the medium of the senses--as it were, feel himself into her. But as for him who has an accurate and practiced natural faculty: he derives nourishment from nature while he is studying her; and takes pleasure in her infinite multifariousness, her voluptuary inexhaustibility; and can do well enough without any disturbance of his enjoyment by idle chit-chat. To him it seems, rather, that one can neither be sufficiently preoccupied by nature, nor speak of her with sufficient tenderness, nor contemplate her in a sufficiently undisturbed and attentive frame of mind.
He feels himself within her as within the bosom of his blushing bride-to-be; and to her alone, in hours of sweetest intimacy, he confides the insights he has gleaned. I deem fortunate this son, this darling of nature, whom she suffers to contemplate her in her duality, qua procreative and parturitive force; and in her unity, as an infinite, everlasting marriage. His life will be a cornucopia of all pleasures, an enchainment of sensual lust with his religion of actual, authentic naturalism."
During this last speech the teacher with his novices had been approaching the assembly. The travelers stood up and reverentially saluted him. A refreshing breeze wafted through the room and over the steps. The teacher allowed to be fetched one of those rare, coruscating gems known as a carbuncle; and a powerful red light poured itself over their sundry figures and raiments.
By and by, a genial spirit of mutual communication came into being among them. As music was heard to play in the distance and a refreshing flame leapt from crystal bowls into the speakers’ mouths, the visitors exchanged curious reminiscences of their extensive travels. Full of longing and intellectual craving, they had set out in search of the footprints of that bygone race whose degenerate and uncivilized remains present-day humanity would seem to constitute, whose superior level of civilizational attainment the latter have to thank for their most significant and most indispensable implements and forms of knowledge. Above all, they had been enticed by that holy language—that erewhile luminous link between those royal persons and the inhabitants of superterrestrial regions—a few words of which, according to manifold rumors and legends, may still have been, by fortunate happenstance, in our forefathers’ possession. Their pronunciation was a wondrous music whose overpowering notes penetrated the inner core of each nature and decomposed it. Each name they uttered seemed a password into the soul of every natural body. With creative violence they set in motion these vibrations, these images of all world-phenomena; and with justice it could be said of them that the life of the universe was a never-ending conversation among a thousand voices; for in their speech all forces, all forms of activity, seemed to be united in the most inconceivable fashion. To go in quest of the remnants of this language—or, at any rate, of all reports of it—had been one of the chief purposes of their voyage, and the call of antiquity had perforce led them to Sais. They hoped here to obtain momentous information from the learned keeper of the temple archives, and perchance to discover actual explanations in the great Collection of All Kinds. They begged the teacher’s leave to sleep in the temple for one night, and to attend his lectures for a few days. They obtained what they desired, and fervently rejoiced as the teacher accompanied their tales with manifold observations drawn from the treasury of his experience, and expounded a series of instructive and agreeable parables and conceits in their presence. At length, he came to the subject of the true calling of his old age: to awaken, to discipline, to hone the unmistakable affinity for nature in young minds; and to unite this affinity with certain other predispositions toward higher fruits and flowers.
“To be a herald of nature is a splendid and sacred office,” said the teacher. “Neither a compendious and cohesive acquaintance with the various sciences; nor a gift for assimilating these sciences to familiar concepts and experiences, and for substituting normal, everyday words and phrases for peculiar, foreign-sounding ones; nor even a knack—characteristic of an ample imagination—of combining natural phenomena into facilely comprehensible and strikingly-illuminated tableaux that either titillate and gratify the senses through the charm of their composition and the copiousness of their contents, or enchant the mind through some deep meaning—none of these constitutes a true requirement of a nature-initiate. To one for whom there are other sakes than nature’s this perhaps suffices; but he who feels a sincere longing for nature, who seeks everything in her, and is, as it were, a sensitive instrument of her clandestine activities, who will recognize as his teacher and nature’s confidant only him who speaks on her behalf with devotion and conviction, whose discourses are imbued with a marvelous, matchless forcefulness and inseparability and evince true inspiration by way of the true gospel. The auspicious native aptitude of such a natural temperament must, through unremitting diligence from youth onwards, through solitude and silence (for garrulity does not sit well on constancy of attention); such a one must, I say, be supported and instructed by a humble, childlike demeanor and indefatigable patience. Time does not suffer itself to determine how soon one participates in her mysteries. Many a blessed soul has arrived at that moment early in life, many another in old age. A true researcher never grows old; each eternal shoot transcends the span of life, and the further its outer husk decays, the more beautiful and lustrous its inner kernel is rendered. This gift, moreover, does not confine itself to external beauty, or to strength, or insight, or any other form of human excellence. In all walks of life, within every age and nation, in all climes and epochs, there have been people singled out by nature as her favorites, and blessed by her spiritual conception. Oftentimes these people seemed to be more simple-minded and clumsy than others and throughout their lives were eclipsed by the overwhelming shadow of the multitude. It is in fact remarkably rare to find a genuine comprehension of nature united with great astuteness, eloquence, and courtly manners, for it generally either attends or begets simple words, a straightforward meaning, and a modest bearing. In the workshops of craftsmen and artists; and wherever men stand in a multifold intimacy with nature; as they do in agriculture, in navigation, in cattle-breeding, in bronze-mining, and in many other trades--there the development of this sense most effortlessly and most often seems to take place. If every art subsists in its perception of the means of attaining a studied purpose, of begetting a determinate impression and phenomenon, and in its facility in choosing and employing these means; then, accordingly, he who feels the inner calling to make the understanding of nature more common among men, to develop and nurture this disposition in mankind, must first seek to pay scrupulous heed to the natural motives of this development, and to the fundamentals of this art of nature. With the help of these acquired insights he will fashion himself a system of the application of these means to every individual--a system founded on experiment, analysis, and comparison; he will go so far as to adopt this system as a kind of second nature, and then set about his singularly rewarding business with enthusiasm. The latter alone may rightly be called a teacher of nature--hence, every other mere naturalist but a fortuitous sympathizer with nature--who will awaken the sense of nature like a product of nature herself.”
THE END
Notes

There now arrived on the scene a man hailing from foreign parts, who was astonishingly well-traveled: he had...a marvelous costume with numerous pleats and strange shapes woven into it ["Es kam ein Mann aus fremden Landen gegangen, der war erstaunlich weit gereist, hatte...ein wunderliches Kleid mit vielen Falten, und seltsame Figuren hineingewebt"]. Cf. Kafka, Der Prozess: "[E]in Mann, den er in dieser Wohnung noch niemals gesehen hatte, trat ein. Er trug ein anliegendes schwarzes Kleid das, ähnlich den Reiseanzügen, mit verschiedenen Falten, Taschen, Schnallen, Knöpfen," etc.

Among them
. It is contextually unclear whether this "them" refers to the travelers or to the children.


*

Translation © 2008 by Douglas Robertson

3 comments:

JOSEPH said...

I find this piece by Novalis to be highly interesting, insightful, and edifying...and close to home...my name is Joseph Sais.

Tessa said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Ruth

http://besttoddler.com

shi zhan said...

レイバン ウェイファーラーをプレゼントにするから、一つ選んで」とお客さんに言われた。いつも指名してくれる、Ray Ban好きのおじさんだった、自分もサングラスが好きというアピールをしていたが、そんなに興味なかった。せっかくの誕生日プレゼントなので、いらないとは言えないし、適当にレイバン RB2143を選んだ、たまに使えるからいいっか。