Tuesday, November 13, 2007

An Extract from Niels Lyhne

A passage from Jens Peter Jacobsen's Niels Lyhne, of which I wrote about earlier and which can be read in entirety in an older translation here.

The context is not really necessary. It is a simple declaration and then rejection of love. A bit high-flown but that's what makes it so interesting:


Bigum came a few steps nearer and handed her the hat. "Miss Lyhne," she said, "you think--you must not think--I beg you to let me speak; that is--I am not saying anything, but be patient with me!--I love you, Miss Lyhne, unutterably, unutterably, beyond all words I love you. Oh, if language held a word that combined the cringing admiration of the slave, the ecstatic smile of the martyr, and the gnawing homesickness of the exile, with that word I could tell you my love. Oh, listen to me, do not thrust me away yet! Do not think that I am insulting you with an insane hope! I know how insignificant I seem in your eyes, how clumsy and repulsive, yes, repulsive. I am not forgetting that I am poor,--you must know it,--so poor that I have to let my mother live in a charitable institution, and I can't help it, can't help it. I am so miserably poor. Yes, Miss Lyhne, I am only a poor servant in your brother's house, and yet there is a world where I am ruler, powerful, proud, rich, with the crown of victory, noble by virtue of the passion that drove Prometheus to steal the fire from the heaven of the gods. There I am brother to all the great in spirit, whom the earth has borne, and who bear the earth. I understand them as none but equals understand one another; no flight that they have flown is too high for the strength of my wings. Do you understand me? Do you believe me? Oh, don't believe me! It isn't true, I am nothing but the Kobold figure you see before you. It is all past; for this terrible madness of love has paralyzed my wings, the eyes of my spirit have lost their sight, my heart is dried up, my soul is drained to bloodless poltroonery. Oh, save me from myself, Miss Lyhne, don't turn away in scorn! Weep over me, weep, it is Rome burning!"

He had fallen to his knees on the steps, wringing his hands. His face was blanched and distorted, his teeth were clinched in agony, his eyes drowned in tears; his whole body shook under the suppressed sobs that were heard only as a gasping for breath.

"Control yourself, Mr. Bigum," she said in a slightly too compassionate tone. "Control yourself, don't give way so, be a man! Please get up and go down into the garden a little while and try to pull yourself together."

"And you can't love me at all!" groaned Mr, Bigum almost inaudibly. "Oh, it's terrible! There is not a thing in my soul that I wouldn't murder and degrade if I could win you thereby. No, no, even if any one offered me madness and I could possess you in my hallucinations, possess you, then I would say: Take my brain, tear down its wonderful structure with rude hands, break all the fine threads that bind my spirit to the resplendent triumphal chariot of the human mind, and let me sink in the mire of the physical, under the wheels of the chariot, and let others follow the shining paths that lead to the light! Do you understand me? Can you comprehend that even if your love came to me robbed of its glory, debased, befouled, as a caricature of love, as a diseased phantom, I would receive it kneeling as if it were the Sacred Host? But the best in me is useless, the worst in me is useless, too. I cry to the sun, but it does not shine; to the statue, but it does not answer--answer! . . . What is there to answer except that I suffer? No, these unutterable torments that rend my whole being down to its deepest roots, this anguish is nothing to you but an impertinence. You feel nothing but a little cold offence; in your heart you laugh scornfully at the poor tutor and his impossible passion."

"You do me an injustice, Mr. Bigum," said Edele, rising, while Mr. Bigum rose too. "I am not laughing. You ask me if there is no hope, and I answer: No, there is no hope. That is surely nothing to laugh at. But there is one thing I want to say to you. From the first moment you began to think of me, you must have known what my answer would be, and you did know it, did you not? You knew it all the time, and yet you have been lashing all your thoughts and desires on toward the goal which you knew you could not reach. I am not offended by your love, Mr. Bigum, but I condemn it. You have done what so many people do: they close their eyes to the realities and stop their ears when life cries 'No' to their wishes. They want to forget the deep chasm fate has placed between them and the object of their ardent longing. They want their dream to be fulfilled. But life takes no account of dreams. There isn't a single obstacle that can be dreamed out of the world, and in the end we lie there crying at the edge of the chasm, which hasn't changed and is just where it always was. But we have changed, for we have let our dreams goad all our thoughts and spur all our longings to the very highest tension. The chasm is no narrower, and everything in us cries out with longing to reach the other side, but no, always no, never anything else. If we had only kept a watch on ourselves in time! But now it is too late, now we are unhappy."

She paused almost as if she woke from a trance. Her voice had been quiet, groping, as if she were speaking to herself, but now it hardened into a cold aloofness.

"I cannot help you, Mr. Bigum. You are nothing to me of what you wish to be. If that makes you unhappy, you must be unhappy; if you suffer, you must suffer-there are always some who have to suffer. If you make a human being your god and the ruler of your fate, you must bow to the will of divinity, but it is never wise to make yourself gods, or to give your soul over to another; for there are gods who will not step down from their pedestals. Be sensible, Mr. Bigum! Your god is so small and so little worth your worship; turn from it and be happy with one of the daughters of the land."


Qais said...


adhyayan said...

When I saw the excerpts.. I had one para in minf and that happens to be the last para here.. glad to find it here

dave said...

This is very beautiful.