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THE WHITE NOTEBOOK
WAIT TILL your sadness is assuaged, poor soul, wearied by the struggle of yesterday.
When tears are shed
cherished hopes will blossom anew.
Now you must sleep.
Lullabies, ballads, barcaroles,
The song of the willows smoothes the cadence.
You must say a good prayer this evening, and you must believe. This you will have for ever. No one can take it from you. You will say: 'The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance ... when my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up.'
And then you will sleep. Think no more; bitter days are still too near.
Let memories feed your dreams.
Wrote some letters....
I tried to read, to think.... Exhaustion soothed my sadness, which now seems but a dream.
Now beneath the trees
The darkness is comforting.
How silent is the night. I am almost afraid to fall asleep. I am alone. Thought emerges from a dark background; the future appears above the dark as a ribbon of space. Nothing distracts me from my primary vision. I am this vision and nothing more.
Some evening, turning back, I shall repeat these words of sorrow; now it sickens me to write. Words are not for these things, not for emotions too pure to be spoken. I am afraid that empty, high-sounding words are blasphemous; hating the words that I have loved too much, I wish to write badly by design. I wish to disrupt harmonies wherever they happen to exist.
Rest in peace, Mother. I have been obedient.
My soul still smarts from its dual ordeal, but sadness is giving way to pride of conquest. You knew me well if you thought that by its very excess virtue would entice me. You knew that arduous and challenging paths lure me, that senseless pursuits appeal to me because of my dream, and that a little folly is necessary for the satisfaction of my pride.
You made them all depart in order that you might speak to me alone (it was only a few hours before the end).
'André my child,' you said, 'I want to die assured.'
I already knew what you would say to me and had summoned up all my strength. You hastened to speak because you were very tired.
'It would be good for you to leave Emmanuèle.... Your affection is fraternal—make no mistake about it.... It springs from the life in common that you have been leading. Although she is my niece, do not make me regret having treated her as my own since she became an orphan. I would not wish to allow you complete freedom, for fear that your emotions would mislead you and make the both of you unhappy. Do you understand why? Emmanuèle has already suffered much. I want more than anything else for her to be happy. Do you love her enough to prefer her happiness to yours?'
Then you spoke of T*** who had just responded to the sad news.
'Emmanuèle thinks highly of him,' you remarked.
I knew that she did, but I remained silent.
'Have I put too much trust in you, my child?' you continued 'Or can I die assured?'
I was exhausted by the recent ordeals.
'Yes, Mother,' I said, not really understanding but wishing to continue to the end—to hurl myself into the heart of darkness.
I departed. When they summoned me, I saw Emmanuèle near your bed, clasping the hand of T***. We knelt and prayed. My thoughts were confused—then you went to sleep.
After the palliative rites, we had communion together. Emmanuèle was in front of me. I did not look at her. To avoid thinking of her and lapsing into reveries, I repeated: 'Since I must lose her, may I at least find Thee again, O Lord. Bless me for following the strait and narrow path.'
Then I departed. I came here because I could not rest.
I worked in order to keep my mind occupied. It is through work that my mind is revitalized.
I took out all the written pages which recall the past. I want to read them once more, to arrange them, to copy them, to relive them. I will write some stories based on old memories.
I will turn my thoughts from earlier dreams in order to begin a new life. When memories are set down, my soul will be lighter. I will stop them in their flight. Whatever is not yet forgotten is not entirely dead. I do not wish to leave behind me without even a parting nod the enduring fancies of my youth.
But why try to find reasons to justify a stand already taken, as if by way of an apology? I write because I need to write—and that sums up everything. A stand is weakened by attempted explanations; the act should be spontaneous.
And with revitalized ambition comes a reawakening of the hope of completing Attain, the book that I have long dreamed of writing.
The air is so radiant this morning that in spite of myself my soul hopes—and sings, and worships prayerfully.
E perô leva su! Vince l'ambascia
Con l'animo che vince ogni battaglia
Se col suo grave corpo non s'accascia ...
E dissi: 'Va, ch'i son forte e ardito'. ...
Nothing happens. Always the quiet life—and yet such a turbulent life. Everything happens deep in the soul. Nothing appears on the surface. How can I write about nothing? My thoughts have nothing on which to build, and my persistent passions, offspring of a forgotten past, have imperceptibly reached their peak.
I would fashion a soul, shape it deliberately—a loving soul, a beloved soul, similar to my own—in order that it might understand and yet from such a distance that nothing could ever separate the two. Slowly I would tie such intricate knots, weave such a network of sympathetic bonds, that separation would be impossible and shared patterns would for ever keep them side by side.
We learned everything together. I thought only of joys shared with you, and you took pleasure in following my lead. Your vagabond mind also sought companionship.
First came the Greeks, always our favourites: the Iliad, Prometheus, Agamemnon, Hippolytus. And when, knowing the meaning, you wanted to hear the harmony of the lines, I would read:
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Then came King Lear:
Through the sharp hawthorne blows the cold wind. ...
Shakespeare's dramatic genius fired us with enthusiasm. There were no such thrills in real life.
Words of a Believer had the ring of true prophecy. Later, of course, you found Lamennais's eloquence somewhat trite. I was vexed by your criticism, even though apt, because emotion floods his pages, and emotion is always beautiful.
Then we would go back to childhood readings, first studied in the classical manner with ravishing delight: Pascal, Bossuet ... Massillon. But instead of the specious charm of the Carême we preferred the word-magic of the Funeral Orations of Jansenist sternness....
And so many others still—and all the others.
Acknowledging our common aspirations, we went on to Vigny, Baudelaire—to Flaubert, the friend long anticipated! We marvelled at his masterful rhythm. The rhetorical subtleties of the Goncourts sharpened our minds; Stendhal made them more receptive, more critical ....
[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]: to suffer together, to be impassioned together.
I saw the Sphinx as it fled towards Libya; like a jackal it galloped along.
Loudly I declaimed it, developing first the line and then emphasizing the dactyl. Both of us trembled to the majestic cadences.
You wrote that T*** reread to us the other evening Du Camp and Flaubert's Eastern Voyage. He recited for us the rhythmical apostrophe that we love, but whether he reads it for us or I read it myself, the voice that I hear is always yours.
We were still reading from the Temptation:
O Fantasy, bear me away on your wings to mitigate my sorrow ... Egypt! Egypt! The shoulders of your great motionless Gods have been bleached by bird-droppings, and the wind that passes over the desert stirs the ashes of your dead! ... Spring will return no more, O eternal Mother!
... You cannot imagine the long journey that we have taken. The green courier's onagers died of exhaustion. ...
And we read much more until finally we tired of repeating the passages, of bringing out all their harmony, of letting the pulsating rhythms echo back and forth until the refrain clung to the lips of one of us and was intelligible to the other—in the absence of speech.
I related to you my aspirations; you smiled, trying your best to seem incredulous.
'And the book that I have been dreaming of writing,' I told you, 'will be called ALLAIN.'
Allain, the book that I dreamed of writing! I saw it as a melancholy and romantic work at first, when with the stirring of my senses I roamed the forests in search of solitude and was prey to unknown anxieties; when the song of the wind in the swaying pines seemed to give voice to my resurgent yearnings; when I wept over falling leaves, over setting suns, over vanishing streams of water; and when at the sound of the sea I would lapse into a day of reverie. Then I saw it as metaphysical and profound when my mind began to harbour doubts—childish doubts, perhaps, but doubts that caused me considerable anxiety. There cannot be two ways of doubting.
At the outset I saw the book as a character sketch with neither episodes nor plot.
Then I had the notion of studying our love rather than portraying a character who declaimed about such things, and of recreating the intensity and immediacy of our experience.
They will never understand this book, those who search for happiness. The soul remains unsatisfied; it falls asleep amid happy surroundings. It becomes inert rather than alert. The soul should remain alert, active. It should find happiness not in HAPPINESS but in the awareness of its violent activity.
It follows that sorrow is to be preferred over joy, for it quickens the soul; when it does not vanquish it stimulates. It causes suffering, but pride of undaunted living compensates for minor lapses. Supreme arrogance is the mark of intense living. I would not exchange the intense life for any other; I have lived several lives, and the least of these was the real one.
My life will be more intense, my soul more vigilant. My listless soul will no longer lament but will rejoice in its nobility.
The thrill, both moral and physical, that grips you at the sight of sublime things, the thrill at first considered unique by each of us with the result that neither mentioned it to the other—what joy when we discovered that it was the same in both of us! It was an overwhelming emotion. What joy, afterwards, to experience it together as we read; it seemed to unite us in the same surge of enthusiasm. And the same thrill was soon felt by each of us through the other, in the other; with our hands joined and our bodies in close contact, we became inseparably one.
And when we read and my voice alternately rose and fell, I knew the sounds and the passages which we loved and which would make us both quiver with delight.
Fools! Nor would you have believed me ...
Scamander, Meander, beloved of the Priamides.
The names alone, the Greek names with their long endings, awakened in us such magnificent memories that each burst of sound aroused latent feelings of exaltation.
One summer evening we were returning from H***. We had been left alone on top of the carriage. The others were inside. The route was long and night was coming on rapidly. We wrapped around us a common shawl; our cheeks almost touched.
'I have brought along the Gospel,' I said to her. 'If you wish, we can read together while there is still some light.'
'Read,' said Emmanuèle.
After I had finished reading to her, I asked: 'Shall we pray together?'
'No,' she answered. 'Let's pray silently. Otherwise we would think of ourselves rather than of God.'
We fell silent, but I was still thinking about you.
Night had fallen. 'What are you thinking about?' she asked. And I recited:
Friendly dawn sleeps in the valley. ...
Then it was her turn:
Farewell, leisurely voyages, sounds heard from afar.
Laughter of the passer-by, screeching of axle-tree,
Unexpected turns along irregular slopes,
A friend rediscovered, hours whiled away,
Hope of arriving late in some wilderness. ...
Then mine again:
But you, indolent traveller, will you not
Put your head on my shoulder and dream?
And because it was growing late, both of us fell asleep, lost in dreams, our bodies in close contact, our hands joined....
... Then suddenly a brutal awakening as if from a dream: we had run into a wagon on the dark road. We heard voices and the rattling of chains but saw nothing. We heard the barking of dogs and noticed a faint light outlined against the panes of a nearby farmhouse—or so we thought. Trembling a little, we drew even closer to each other, put our trust in each other.
Dreaming of black, heavy wagons that noisily by night
Pass by the thresholds of farms
And cause the dogs to bark in the dark.
While we slept die lanterns had been lighted. We watched with amusement for the indistinct shapes of bushes to leap from the shadows as we passed by. We looked for known shapes which would tell us how far we had to travel.
Then the sound of footsteps: a belated traveller suddenly illuminated by a gust of light. And as the rays moved on through the darkness they silhouetted the shadows of night butterflies as they approached and collided with the panes in the lanterns.
I recall the warmer air that caressed our brows as we crossed empty fields and smelled the perfume of damp ploughed ground. We listened to the singing of the frogs....
Then at last the arrival, laughter once again, the hearth, the lamp and warmth-giving tea. But both of us kept in our souls the memory of a deeper intimacy.
Not the landscape itself, not the emotion caused by the landscape. The setting of vanished suns, the peacefulness of dusk still floods my soul. O the peacefulness of beams of light on the plain!
Soon after the meal we ran to the pond; it became iridescent as it reflected the clouds.
At L*** M***, you remember, we would go at nightfall as far as the menhirs. Belated harvesters sang to each other as they made their way homeward on burdened carts; then their songs faded away in the distance. Crickets chirped in fields of wheat.
For a long time we would watch the darkness spread across the violet sea and rise like a tide from the depths of valleys, gradually blotting out all shapes. One by one on distant slopes lighthouses began to glow, and one by one in the distant sky the stars grew brighter. As we made our way homeward, Venus twinkled, caressing our eyes with her friendly light....
And the night was descending on our ravished souls.
In the morning you attended to your housekeeping chores. I watched as you passed through the long corridors in your white apron; I waited for you on the stairway, at the kitchen doors; I enjoyed helping you and seeing you at work; together we went up to the huge linen-room—and sometimes while you put away the linen I followed you about, reading a selection previously begun.
Then I called you Martha, for you were preoccupied with many things.
But in the evening it was again Mary, for after you were freed from the cares of the day, you again become contemplative.
... You had been assigned to Lucie's room. It seemed that the dear departed one had not completely vacated it. When you moved in, the things that had once been hers seemed to recognize her and to come to life again. I saw everything as it had once been: the table, the books, the large curtains that darkened the bed, the chair where I came to read, the vase with the flowers that I had picked for you.... In the midst of all that you seemed to be reliving a former life, a life that had already been lived. Particles of her memory surrounded you, making you more pensive. In the evening I saw her profile in the blurred silhouette of your bowed head, and your voice reminded me of her whenever you spoke. And soon both of your images became blurred in my memory.
They had faith in us and we in each other; we had adjoining rooms.
Do you remember the lovely evening when I returned to you after we had said good night to them?
Excerpted from The Notebooks of André Walter by André Gide, Wade Baskin. Copyright © 1968 Philosophical Library, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Philosophical Library.
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