10 August 2008

Quit this prison

May 22.
When I consider the narrow limits within which our active and our cognitive faculties are confined; when I see how all our energies are directed at little more than providing for mere necessities, which again have no further end than to prolong our wretched existence; and then realize that all our satisfaction concerning certain subjects of investigation amounts to nothing more than passive resignation, in which we paint our prison walls with bright figures and brilliant prospects; all this ... strikes me silent. I turn within myself and find there a world, but one of imagination and dim desires rather than of distinctness and living power. Everything swims before my senses, and I smile and dream my way through the world.

All learned teachers and tutors agree that children do not understand the cause of their desires; but no one likes to think that adults too wander about this earth like children, not knowing where they come from or where they are going, not acting in accord with genuine motives, but ruled like children by biscuits, sugarplums, and the rod - and yet it seems to me so obvious!

I know what you will say in reply, and I am ready to admit it, that those are happiest who, like children, live for the day, amuse themselves with their dolls, dress and undress them, and eagerly watch the cupboard where Mother has locked up her sweets; and when at last they get what they want, eat it greedily and exclaim, "More!" These are certainly happy creatures; and so are those others who dignify their paltry employments, and sometimes even their passions, with high-sounding phrases, representing them to mankind as gigantic achievements performed for their welfare and glory. Happy the man who can be like this! But he who humbly realizes what all this means, who sees with what pleasure the cheerful citizen converts his little garden into a paradise, and how patiently even the unhappy people pursue their weary way beneath their burden, and how all alike wish to behold the light of the sun just a minute longer; yes, such a man is at peace, and creates his world out of his own soul - happy, because he is a human being. And then, however confined he may be, he still preserves in his heart the sweet feeling of liberty, and knows that he can quit this prison whenever he likes.

Goethe, The Sorrows of Young Werther Lange trns.