Monthly Archives: December 2013

From Niels Lyhne by Jens Peter Jacobsen

“It was like the curious vegetation at the bottom of the sea when seen through layers of ice. Break the ice, or draw that which lives in the dimness out into the full light of speech – what happens is the same: that which is now seen and now grasped is not, in its clearness, the shadowy thing that was,” (ch.2, pg. 19).


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Gita first heard of her betrothed when she walked in on a conversation between her mother and a neighbor who lived down the street opposite her house. Her mother was leaning on her elbows across the long glass case in their dry goods shop, her head bent forward towards Mrs. Sharma as they talked excitedly in low voices. His name was Prakash Dewan. Her mother called her over and explained how he saw her picture in her uncle’s home while visiting one day and was immediately enamored. He asked for her hand in marriage just a few days later. She’d heard of things like this happening to other girls but it never occurred to her that it would happen to her. After all, she was only eighteen. She knew she would have to get married eventually but was not prepared for it to happen so soon.

She strenuously objected at first. He was too old at twenty-eight. What was wrong with him that he couldn’t find a wife in New York where he lived? He sent a letter explaining his desire to marry her, accompanied by a picture. She studied the letter first. His English was terrible for someone who was born in America. He was an accountant and could provide well for her. She needn’t work if she chose. They would live with his parents and brother in a house in Queens, close to where her uncle lived. The letter was filled with such mundane details. There was no hint of romance, no high flown emotional appeals she was so used to reading in her novels.

She turned to his picture, her heart beating with anticipation for this glimpse of the man she would potentially spend the rest of her life with. He was five ten, so he said in the letter. He wore jeans and a short-sleeved button down white shirt that gleamed against his chocolate brown skin. His hair was closely cropped and he wore dark rimmed glasses. His white sneakers looked too large on him and she could see a slight bulge under his shirt around his midriff, a clear sign of a sedentary existence. He looked uncomfortable in the picture, a half smile pasted on his round and otherwise unremarkable face. He wasn’t handsome but he wasn’t ugly either, just average. His face and figure did not inspire romance. Her future suddenly flashed in front of her and she wanted to rip the picture up.

Both her mother and father supported the marriage and tried to convince her to accept. Her mother especially, in her soft but stubborn way, sedulously chipped away at each objection she raised. He was from a decent family, could provide her with a home in America, New York in fact, where she’d always dreamt of living. She had no prospects in Guyana. They had no money to send her to university. She was not a boy so jobs would be harder to find. She could not work in the cane factory or rice fields as her father did on occasion. Their income was steadily declining, the shop no longer as prolific as it was in earlier days. Times were hard and there were no viable husbands in sight. She’d already been two years out of school and had very few options other than marriage.

One day her mother approached her while she was lazily swaying in the hammock in their yard. “Gita, you know I’m right. This is a good match for you. We are not rich. You can build in good life in New York, start a family, and sponsor us when you become a citizen. You can have a good future there.”

She felt the guilt of a female child, nothing more than a burden to parents who daily worried that her chastity, the only thing of value she had, would be thrown away in a moment of haste and impulse. She thought about the many scenarios in which she indulged, where she meets and falls in love at first sight with the man she would eventually marry. The circumstances were always unusual. Maybe they would bump into each other randomly at mandir and they would gaze at each other surreptitiously throughout the service, unable to take their eyes off of each other. Maybe he would walk in, handsome and laughing into their shop one day when she looked her prettiest and sparks would fly. As a possible future with Prakash took form she saw her dreams fade and her hopes diminish as each practical reason for the marriage confronted her.

She thought of what her life would be if she stayed. She would help her mother with the shop, probably meet a boy in her village, marry and have children. She would live in the same village, see the same people, have the same conversations and live the life of so many others around her. A life devoid of adventure and romance and love. Possibility would be no more. She saw her future with a clarity that surpassed her age and feared the vision.

A month after she first heard his name, she agreed to marry him. She wrote a letter to him in response and sent a picture of herself taken from a polaroid camera one of her aunts had sent from Canada. She wrote that she would be grateful to accept his kind offer and looked forward to meeting him in person, an outright lie. She dreaded the meeting, knowing that any illusions she had left could no longer be sustained once he was there in front of her.

There would be no wedding. They would sign the papers at the courthouse and exchange rings there. There would be an engagement party at her home where she would stand uncomfortably by him as friends and family congratulated them on their good fortune. She would glance discreetly at her new husband and wonder who that stranger was who now was to be the center of her universe.

As the days to her impending wedding became fewer Gita’s steps grew heavier, as if a considerable burden sat upon her shoulders and she struggled under its weight. Her sunny smiles were gone, replaced by blank gaze. She no longer dreamt of a future, seemed hardly aware of the present.

Her mother told her, “We have all made sacrifices in our lives. So must you. You will come to love him, as I came to love your father. In life one must be practical, there is no place in it for those who only dream.”

Gita smiled at her words and said, “Yes, I know.”

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The Poet – Herman Hesse

Only on me, the lonely one,
The unending stars of the night shine,
The stone fountain whispers its magic song,
To me alone, to me the lonely one
The colorful shadows of the wandering clouds
Move like dreams over the open countryside.
Neither house nor farmland,
Neither forest nor hunting privilege is given to me,
What is mine belongs to no one,
The plunging brook behind the veil of the woods,
The frightening sea,
The bird whir of children at play,
The weeping and singing, lonely in the evening, of a man secretly in love.
The temples of the gods are mine also, and mine
the aristocratic groves of the past.
And no less, the luminous
Vault of heaven in the future is my home:
Often in full flight of longing my soul storms upward,
To gaze on the future of blessed men,
Love, overcoming the law, love from people to people.
I find them all again, nobly transformed:
Farmer, king, tradesman, busy sailors,
Shepherd and gardener, all of them
Gratefully celebrate the festival of the future world.
Only the poet is missing,
The lonely one who looks on,
The bearer of human longing, the pale image
Of whom the future, the fulfillment of the world
Has no further need. Many garlands
Wilt on his grave,
But no one remembers him.

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To be is to be perceived

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December 2, 2013 · 6:54 pm