„The one who says: freedom is reigning here, is lying. Because freedom doesn’t reign„.- Erich Fried
F.M. Dostoyevsky: „The Dream Of A Ridiculous Man“
Read by Mike Pelton
The Dream of a Ridiculous Man by Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky
A FANTASTIC STORY
I am a ridiculous man. They call me mad now. That would be a step up in rank, if I did not still remain as ridiculous to them as before. But now I’m no longer angry, now they are all dear to me, and even when they laugh at me – then, too, they are even somehow especially dear to me. I would laugh with them – not really at myself, but for love of them – if it weren’t so sad for me to look at them. Sad because they don’t know the truth, and I do know the truth. Ah, how hard it is to be the only one who knows the truth! But they won’t understand that. No, they won’t understand it.
Before, it caused me great anguish that I seemed ridiculous. Not seemed, but was. I was always ridiculous, and I know it, maybe right from birth. Maybe from the age of seven I already knew I was ridiculous. Then I went to school, then to the university, and what – the more I studied, the more I learned that I was ridiculous. So that for me, all my university education existed ultimately as if only to prove and explain to me, the deeper I went into it, that I was ridiculous. And as with learning, so with life. Every passing year the same consciousness grew and strengthened in me that my appearance was in all respects ridiculous.
I was ridiculed by everyone and always. But none of them knew or suspected that if there was one man on earth who was more aware than anyone else of my ridiculousness, it was I myself, and this was the most vexing thing for me, that they didn’t know it, but here I myself was to blame:
I was always so proud that I would never confess it to anyone for anything. This pride grew in me over the years, and if it had so happened that I allowed myself to confess to anyone at all that I was ridiculous, I think that same evening I’d have blown my head off with a revolver. Oh, how I suffered in my youth over being unable to help myself and suddenly somehow confessing it to my comrades. But once I reached early manhood, I became a bit calmer for some reason, though with every passing year I learned more and more about my terrible quality. Precisely for some reason, because to this day I cannot determine why. Maybe because a dreadful anguish was growing in my soul over one circumstance which was infinitely higher than the whole of me: namely – the conviction was overtaking me that everywhere in the world it made no difference. I had had a presentiment of this for a very long time, but the full conviction came during the last year somehow suddenly.
I suddenly felt that it would make no difference to me whether the world existed or there was nothing anywhere. I began to feel and know with my whole being that with me there was nothing. At first I kept thinking that instead there had been a lot before, but then I realized that there had been nothing before either, it only seemed so for some reason.
Little by little I became convinced that there would never be anything. Then I suddenly stopped being angry with people and began almost not to notice them. Indeed, this was manifest even in the smallest trifles: it would happen, for instance, that I’d walk down the street and bump into people. It wasn’t really because I was lost in thought: what could I have been thinking about, I had completely ceased to think then: it made no difference to me. And it would have been fine if I had resolved questions – oh, I never resolved a single one, and there were so many! But it began to make no difference to me, and the questions all went away.
And then, after that, I learned the truth. I learned the truth last November, precisely on the third of November, and since that time I remember my every moment. It was a gloomy evening, as gloomy as could be. I was returning home then, between ten and eleven o’clock, and I remember I precisely thought that there could not be a gloomier time. Even in the physical respect. Rain had poured down all day, and it was the coldest and gloomiest rain, even some sort of menacing rain, I remember that, with an obvious hostility to people, and now, between ten and eleven, it suddenly stopped, and a terrible dampness set in, damper and colder than when it was raining, and a sort of steam rose from everything, from every stone in the street and from every alleyway, if you looked far into its depths from the street. I suddenly imagined that if the gaslights went out everywhere, it would be more cheerful, and that with the gaslights it was sadder for the heart, because they threw light on it all.
I’d had almost no dinner that day, and had spent since early evening sitting at some engineer’s, with two more friends siting there as well. I kept silent, and they seemed to be sick of me. They talked about something provocative and suddenly even grew excited. But it made no difference to them, I could see that, and they got excited just so. I suddenly told them that: “Gentlemen,”
I said, “it makes no difference to you.”
They weren’t offended, but they all started laughing at me. It was because I said it without any reproach and simply because it made no difference to me. And they could see that it made no difference to me, and found that amusing.
When I thought in the street about the gaslights, I looked up at the sky. The sky was terribly dark, but one could clearly make out the torn clouds and the bottomless black spots between them. Suddenly in one of these spots I noticed a little star and began gazing at it intently. Because this little star gave me an idea:
I resolved to kill myself that night.
I had firmly resolved on it two months earlier, and, poor as I was, had bought an excellent revolver and loaded it that same day. But two months had passed and it was still lying in the drawer; but it made so little difference to me that I wished finally to seize a moment when it was less so – why, I didn’t know. And thus, during those two months, returning home each night, I thought I was going to shoot myself. I kept waiting for the moment. A
nd so now this little star gave me the idea, and I resolved that it would be that night without fail. And why the star gave me the idea – I don’t know.
And so, as I was looking at the sky, this girl suddenly seized me by the elbow. The street was empty, and almost no one was about. Far off a coachman was sleeping in his droshky. The girl was about eight years old, in a kerchief and just a little dress, all wet, but I especially remembered her wet, torn shoes, and remember them now. They especially flashed before my eyes.
She suddenly started pulling me by the elbow and calling out. She didn’t cry, but somehow abruptly shouted some words, which she was unable to pronounce properly because she was chilled and shivering all over.
She was terrified by something and shouted desperately:
I turned my face to her, but did not say a word and went on walking, but she was running and pulling at me, and in her voice there was the sound which in very frightened children indicates despair. I know that sound.
Though she did not speak all the words out, I understood that her mother was dying somewhere, or something had happened with them there, and she had run out to call someone, to find something so as to help her mother.
But I did not go with her and, on the contrary suddenly had the idea of chasing her away. First I told her to go and find a policeman. But she suddenly pressed her hands together and, sobbing, choking, kept running beside me and wouldn’t leave me. It was then that I stamped my feet at her and shouted.
She only cried out: “Mister! Mister! . . .” but suddenly she dropped me and ran headlong across the street: some other passerby appeared there, and she apparently rushed from me to him.
I went up to my fifth floor. I live in a rented room, a furnished one. It’s a poor and small room, with a half-round garret window. I have an oilcloth sofa, and a table with books on it, two chairs, and an armchair, as old as can be, but a Voltaire one. I sat down, lighted a candle, and began to think.
Next door, in another room, behind a partition, there was a bedlam. It had been going on for two days. A retired captain lived there, and he had guests – some six scurvy fellows, drinking vodka and playing blackjack with used cards. The previous night they’d had a fight, and I know that two of them had pulled each other’s hair for a long time.
The landlady wanted to lodge a complaint, but she’s terribly afraid of the captain. The only other tenants in our furnished rooms are a small, thin lady, an army wife and out-of-towner, with three small children who had already fallen ill in our rooms. She and her children are afraid of the captain to the point of fainting, and spend whole nights trembling and crossing themselves, and the smallest child had some sort of fit from fear.
This captain, I know for certain, sometimes stops passersby on Nevsky Prospect and begs money from them. They won’t take him into any kind of service, yet, strangely (this is what I’ve been driving at), in the whole month that he had been living with us, the captain had never aroused any vexation in me. Of course, I avoided making his acquaintance from the very start, and he himself got bored with me from the first, yet no matter how they shouted behind their partition, and however many they were – it never made any difference to me. I sit the whole night and don’t really hear them – so far do I forget about them. I don’t sleep at night until dawn, and that for a year now. I sit all night at the table in the armchair and do nothing. I read books only during the day. I sit and don’t even think, just so, some thoughts wander about and I let them go. A whole candle burns down overnight. I
quietly sat down at the table, took out the revolver, and placed it in front of me. As I placed it there, I remember asking myself: “Is it so?” and answering myself quite affirmatively: “It is.” Meaning I would shoot myself. I knew that I would shoot myself that night for certain, but how long I would stay sitting at the table before then – that I did not know.
And of course I would have shot myself if it hadn’t been for that girl.
You see: though it made no difference to me, I did still feel pain, for instance. If someone hit me, I would feel pain. The same in the moral respect: if something very pitiful happened, I would feel pity, just as when it still made a difference to me in life. And I felt pity that night: I certainly would have helped a child.
Why, then, had I not helped the little girl? From an idea that had come along then: as she was pulling and calling to me, a question suddenly arose before me, and I couldn’t resolve it. The question was an idle one, but I got angry. I got angry owing to the conclusion that, if I had already resolved to kill myself that night, it followed that now more than ever everything in the world should make no difference to me. Why, then, did I suddenly feel that it did make a difference, and that I pitied the girl? I remember that I pitied her very much; even to the point of some strange pain, even quite incredible in my situation. Really, I’m unable to express the fleeting feeling I had then any better, but the feeling continued at home as well, when I had already settled at my table, and I was extremely vexed, as I hadn’t been for a long time. Reasoning flowed from reasoning.
It seemed clear that, if I was a man and not yet a zero, then, as long as I did not turn into a zero, I was alive, and consequently could suffer, be angry, and feel shame for my actions. Good. But if I was going to kill myself in two hours, for instance, then what was the girl to me and what did I care then about shame or anything in the world? I turned into a zero, an absolute zero. And could it be that the awareness that I would presently cease to exist altogether, and that therefore nothing would exist, could not have the slightest influence either on my feeling of pity of the girl, or upon the feeling of shame after the meanness I had committed? And I had stamped and shouted at the unfortunate child in a savage voice precisely because, “you see, not only do I feel no pity, but even if I commit some inhuman meanness, I can do so now, because in two hours everything will be extinguished.”
Do you believe this was why I shouted? I’m now almost convinced of it. It seemed clear that life and the world were now as if dependent on me. One might even say that the world was now as if made for me alone: I’d shoot myself and there would be no more world, at least for me. Not to mention that maybe there would indeed be nothing for anyone after me, and that as soon as my consciousness was extinguished, the whole world would be extinguished at once, like a phantom, like a mere accessory of my consciousness, it would be done away with, for maybe all this world and all these people were – just myself alone. I remember that, sitting and reasoning, I turned all these new questions, which came crowding one after another, even in quite a different direction and invented something quite new.
For instance, there suddenly came to me a strange consideration, that if I had once lived on the moon or on Mars, and had committed some most shameful and dishonorable act there, such as can only be imagined, and had been abused and dishonored for it as one can only perhaps feel and imagine in a dream, a nightmare, and if, ending up later on earth, I continued to preserve an awareness of what I had done on the other planet, and knew at the same time that I would never ever return there, then, looking from the earth to the moon – would it make any difference to me, or not?
Would I feel shame for that act, or not? The questions were idle and superfluous, since the revolver was already lying in front of me, and I knew with my whole being that this was certain to be, but they excited me, and I was getting furious. It was as if I couldn’t die now without first resolving something. In short, this girl saved me, because with the questions I postponed the shot. Meanwhile, everything was also quieting down at the captain’s: they had ended their card game and were settling down to sleep, grumbling and lazily finishing their squabbles.
It was then that I suddenly fell asleep, something that had never happened to me before, at the table, in the armchair. I fell asleep quite imperceptibly to myself. Dreams, as is known, are extremely strange: one thing is pictured with the most terrible clarity, with a jeweler’s thoroughness in the finish of its details, and over other things you skip as if without noticing them at all – for instance, over space and time.
Dreams apparently proceed not from reason but from desire, not from the head but from the heart, and yet what clever things my reason has sometimes performed in sleep! And yet quite inconceivable things happen with it in sleep. My brother, for instance, died five years ago. Sometimes I see him in my dreams: he takes part in my doings, we are both very interested, and yet I remember and am fully aware, throughout the whole dream, that my brother is dead and buried. Why, then, am I not surprised that, though he is dead, he is still here by me and busy with me? Why does my reason fully admit all this? But enough.
I’ll get down to my dream. Yes, I had this dream then, my dream of the third of November! They tease me now that it was just a dream. But does it make any difference whether it was a dream or not, if this dream proclaimed the Truth to me? For if you once knew the truth and saw it, then you know that it is the truth and there is and can be no other, whether you’re asleep or alive.
So let it be a dream, let it be, but this life, which you extol so much, I wanted to extinguish by suicide, while my dream, my dream – oh, it proclaimed to me a new, great, renewed strong life!
I said that I fell asleep imperceptibly and even as if while continuing to reason about the same matters. Suddenly I dreamed that I took the revolver and, sitting there, aimed it straight at my heart – my heart, not my head; thought I had resolved earlier to shoot myself in the head, and precisely in the right temple. Having aimed it at my chest, I waited for a second or two, and my candle, the table, and the wall facing me suddenly started moving and heaving.
I hastily fired.
In dreams you sometimes fall from a height, or are stabbed, or beaten, but you never feel pain except when you are somehow really hurt in bed, then you do feel pain and it almost always wakes you up. So it was in my dream: I felt no pain, but I imagined that, as I fired, everything shook inside me and everything suddenly went out, and it became terribly black around me.
I became as if blind and dumb, and now I’m lying on something hard, stretched out on my back, I don’t see anything and can’t make the slightest movement. Around me there is walking and shouting, there is the captain’s bass and the landlady’s shrieking – and suddenly another break, and now I’m being carried in a closed coffin. And I feel the coffin heave and I start reasoning about that, when suddenly for the first time I’m struck by the idea that I’m dead, quite dead, I know this and do not doubt it, I can’t see, I can’t move, yet I feel and reason. But I quickly come to terms with it and, as is usual in dreams accept the reality without arguing.
And now, they bury me in the ground. Everyone leaves, I’m alone, completely alone. I can’t move. Always before, whenever I actually imagined to myself how I would be buried in the grave, my only association with the grave proper was the feeling of dampness and cold. So now, too, I felt that I was very cold, especially the tips of my toes, but I didn’t feel anything else.
I lay there and, strangely – didn’t expect anything, accepting without argument that a dead man has nothing to expect. But it was damp. I don’t know how much time passed – an hour, or a few days, or many days. But then suddenly a drop of water that had seeped through the lid of the coffin fell on my closed left eye, another followed it in a minute, then a third a minute later, and so on and so on, with a minute’s interval.
A deep indignation suddenly blazed up in my heart, and suddenly I felt physical pain in it.
“It’s my wound,” I thought, “it’s my shot, there’s a bullet there. . .”
The drop kept dripping, each minute and straight onto my closed eye. And I suddenly called out, not in a voice, for I was motionless, but with my whole being, to the master of all that was coming to pass with me.
“Whoever you are, if you’re there, and if there exists anything more reasonable than what is coming to pass now, allow it to be here, too. And if you are taking revenge on me for my unreasonable suicide by the ugliness and absurdity of my subsequent existence, know, then, that no matter what torment befalls me, it will never equal the contempt I am silently going to feel, even if the torment were to last a million years! . . . ”
I called out and fell silent.
For almost a whole minute the deep silence lasted, and one more drop even fell, but I knew, boundlessly and inviolably, I knew and believed that everything was certain to change presently. And then suddenly my grave gaped wide. That is, I don’t know whether it was opened and dug up, but I was taken by some dark being unknown to me, and we found ourselves in space.
I suddenly could see again: it was deep night, and never, never has there been such darkness! We were rushing through space far from earth. I did not ask the one carrying me about anything, I waited and was proud. I assured myself that I was not afraid and swooned with delight at the thought that I was not afraid.
I don’t remember how long we rushed like that, and cannot imagine it: everything was happening as it always does in dreams, when you leap over space and time and over laws of being and reason, and pause only on the points of the heart’s reverie.
I remember that I suddenly saw a little star in the darkness.
“Is that Sirius?” I asked, suddenly unable to restrain myself, for I did not want to ask about anything.
“No, it is the very star you saw between the clouds, as you were returning home,” the being who was carrying me replied.
I knew that it had as if a human countenance. Strangely, I did not like this being, I even felt a deep revulsion. I had expected complete nonexistence and with that had shot myself in the heart.
And here I am in the hands of a being – not a human one, of course – but who is, who exists:
“Ah, so there is life beyond the grave!” I thought with the strange lightmindedness of dreams, but the essence of my heart remained with me in all its depth: “And if I must be again,” I thought, “and live again according to someone’s ineluctable will, I don’t want to be defeated and humiliated!”
“You know I’m afraid of you, and you despise me for it,” I said suddenly to my companion, unable to hold back the humiliating question, which contained a confession, and feeling my humiliation like the prick of a needle in my heart.
He did not answer my question, but I suddenly felt that I was not despised or laughed at, and not even pitied, and that our journey had an unknown and mysterious purpose which concerned me alone.
Fear was growing in my heart. Something was being communicated to me, mutely but tormentingly, from my silent companion, and was as if penetrating me. We were rushing through dark and unknown spaces. I had long ceased to see constellations familiar to the eye. I knew that in the heavenly spaces there were stars whose light reached the earth only after thousands or millions of years.
Maybe we were already flying through those spaces. I awaited something in a terrible anguish that wrung my heart. And suddenly the call of some highly familiar feeling shook me:
I suddenly saw our sun! I knew it could not be our sun, which had generated our earth, and that we were at an infinite distance from our sun, but for some reason I recognized, with my whole being, that it was absolutely the same as our sun, its replica and double. The call of a sweet feeling sounded delightfully in my soul: the native power of light, the same light that gave birth to me, echoed in my heart and resurrected it, and I felt life, the former life, for the first time after my grave.
“But if this is the sun, if this is absolutely the same as our sun,” I cried out, “then where is the earth?”
And my companion pointed to the little star that shone in the darkness with an emerald brilliance. We were rushing straight toward her.
“And are such replicas really possible in the universe, is that really the law of nature? . . . And if that is the earth there, is it really the same as our earth. . . absolutely the same, unfortunate, poor, but dear and eternally beloved, giving birth to the same tormenting love for herself even in her most ungrateful children? . . . ”
I cried out, shaking with irrepressible, rapturous love for that former native earth I had abandoned. The image of the poor little girl whom I had of- fended flashed before me.
“You will see all,” my companion replied, and some sadness sounded in his words.
But we were quickly approaching the planet. It was growing before my eyes, I could already make out the ocean, the outlines of Europe, and suddenly a strange feeling of some great, holy jealousy blazed up in my heart: “How can there be such a replica, and what for? I love, I can love, only the earth I left, where the stains of my blood were left, when I, the ungrateful one, extinguished my life with a shot in the heart. But never, never did I cease to love that earth, and even on that night, as I was parting from her, I perhaps loved her more tormentingly than ever before. Is there suffering on this new earth? On our earth we can love truly only with suffering and through suffering! We’re unable to love otherwise and we know no other love. I want suffering, in order to love. I want, I thirst, to kiss, this very minute, pouring out tears, that one earth alone which I left, and I do not want, I do not accept life on any other! . . . ”
But my companion had already left me. Suddenly, as if quite imperceptibly, I came to stand on this other earth, in the bright light of a sunny day, lovely as paradise. I was standing, it seems, on one of those islands which on our earth make up the Greek archipelago, or somewhere on the coast of the mainland adjacent to that archipelago.
Oh, everything was exactly as with us, but seemed everywhere to radiate some festivity and a great, holy, and finally attained triumph. The gentle emerald se splashed softly against the shores and kissed them with love – plain, visible, almost conscious. Tall, beautiful trees stood in all the luxury of their flowering, and their numberless leaves, I was convinced, greeted me with their soft, gentle sound, as if uttering words of love. The grass glittered with bright, fragrant flowers. Flocks of birds flew about in the air and, fearless of me, landed on my shoulders and arms, joyfully beating me with their dear, fluttering wings.
And finally I got to see and know the people of that happy earth. They came to me themselves, they surrounded me, kissed me. Children of the sun, children of their sun – oh, how beautiful they were!
Never on earth have I seen such beauty in man. Maybe only in our children, in their first years, can one find a remote, though faint, glimmer of that beauty.
The eyes of these happy people shone with clear brightness. Their faces radiated reason and a sort of consciousness fulfilled to the point of serenity, yet they were mirthful faces; a childlike joy sounded in the words and voices of these people.
Oh, at once, with the first glance at their faces, I understood everything, everything!
This was the earth undefiled by the fall, the people who lived on it had not sinned, they lived in the same paradise in which, according to the legends of all mankind, our fallen forefathers lived, with the only difference that the whole earth here was everywhere one and the same paradise. These people, laughing joyfully, crowded around me and caressed me; they took me with them and each of them wished to set me at ease.
Oh, they didn’t ask me about anything, but it seemed to me as if they already knew everything, and wished quickly to drive the torment from my face.
You see, once again: well, let it be only a dream! But the feeling of love from these innocent and beautiful people remained in me ever after, and I feel that their love pours upon me from there even now.
I saw them myself, I knew them and was convinced, I loved them, I suffered for them afterward. Oh I at once understood, even then, that in many ways I would never understand them; to me, a modern Russian progressive and vile Petersburger, it seemed insoluble, for instance, that they, while knowing so much, did not have our science.
But I soon realized that their knowledge was fulfilled and nourished by different insights than on our earth, and that their aspirations were also quite different. They did not wish for anything and were at peace, they did not aspire to a knowledge of life, as we do, because their life was fulfilled.
But their knowledge was deeper and loftier than our science; for our science seeks to explain what life is it aspires to comprehend it, in order to teach others to live; but they know how to live even without science, and I understood that, but I could not understand their knowledge.
They pointed out their trees to me, and I could not understand the extent of the love with which they looked at them: as if they were talking with creatures of their own kind. And you know, perhaps I wouldn’t be mistaken if I said that they did talk to them! Yes, they had found their language, and I’m convinced that the trees understood them.
They looked at the whole of nature in the same way – at the animals, who lived in peace with them, did not attack them, and loved them, won over by their love. They pointed out the stars to me and talked of them with me about something I couldn’t understand, but I’m convinced that they had some contact, as it were, with the heavenly stars, not just in thought, but in some living way.
Oh, these people did not even try to make me understand them, they loved me even without that, but on the other hand I knew that they would also never understand me, and therefore I hardly ever spoke to them about our earth.
I only kissed before them that earth on which they lived and wordlessly adored them, and they saw it allowed me to adore them without being ashamed of my adoring them, because they loved much themselves.
They did not suffer for me when sometimes, in tears, I kissed their feet, joyfully knowing at heart with what force of love they would respond to me.
At times I asked myself in astonishment: how could they manage, all this while, not to insult a man such as I, and never once provoke in a man such as I any feeling of jealousy or envy? Many times I asked myself how I, a braggart and a liar, could manage not to speak to them about my knowledge – of which they, of course, had no notion – not to wish to astonish them with it, if only out of love for them?
They were frisky and gay as children. They wandered through their beautiful groves and forests, they sang their beautiful songs, they ate their light food – fruit from their trees, honey from their forests, and milk from the animals who loved them.
For their food and clothing they labored little and but lightly. There was love among them, and children were born, but I never observed in them any impulses of that cruel sensuality that overtakes almost everyone on our earth, each and every one, and is the only source of almost all the sins of our mankind.
They rejoiced in the children they had as new partakers of their bliss. Among them there was no quarreling or jealousy, they did not even understand what it meant. Their children were everyone’s children, because they all constituted one family.
They had almost no illnesses, though there was death; but their old people died quietly, as if falling asleep, surrounded by those bidding them farewell, blessing them, smiling at them, and receiving bright parting smiles themselves.
I saw no sorrow or tears at that, there was only love increased as if to the point of rapture, but a rapture that was calm, fulfilled, contemplative. One might think they were in touch with their dead even after their death and that the earthly union between them was not interrupted by death.
They barely understood me when I asked them about eternal life, but they were apparently so convinced of it unconsciously that it did not constitute a question for them.
They had no temples, but they had some essential, living, and constant union with the Entirety of the universe; they had no faith, but instead had a firm knowledge that when their earthly joy was fulfilled to the limits of earthly nature, there would then come for them, both for the living and for the dead, a still greater expansion of their contract with the Entirety of the universe. They waited for this moment with joy, but without haste, without suffering over it, but as if already having it in the presages of their hearts, which they conveyed to one another.
In the evenings, before going to sleep, they liked to sing in balanced, harmonious choruses. In these songs they expressed all the feelings that the departing day had given them, praised it, and bade it farewell.
They praised nature, the earth, the sea, the forest. They liked to compose songs about each other and praised each other like children; these were the simplest songs, but they flowed from tee heart and penetrated hearts. And not in songs only, but it seemed they spent their whole life only in admiring each other.
It was a sort of mutual being-in-love, total, universal. And some of their songs, solemn and rapturous, I hardly understood at all. While I understood the words, I was never able to penetrate their full meaning. It remained as if inaccessible to my mind, yet my heart was as if unconsciously pervaded by it more and more.
I often told them that I had long ago had a presentiment of all this, that all this joy and glory had already spoken to me on our earth in an anguished call, sometimes reaching the point of unbearable sorrow; that I had a presentiment of them all and of their glory in the dreams of my heart and the reveries of my mind, that I had often been unable, on our earth, to watch the setting sun without tears . . . That my hatred of the people of our earth always contained anguish: why am I unable to hate them without loving them, why am I unable not to forgive them, and why is there anguish in my love for them: why am I unable to love them without hating them? They listened to me, and I saw that they could not imagine what I was talking about, but I did not regret talking to them about it: I knew they understood all the intensity of my anguish for those whom I had abandoned.
Yes, when they looked at me with their dear eyes pervaded by love, when I felt that in their presence my heart, too, became as innocent and truthful as theirs, I did not regret not understanding them. The feeling of the fullness of life took my breath away, and I silently worshipped them.
Oh, everyone laughs in my face now and assures me that even in dreams one cannot see such details as I’m now telling, that in my dream I saw or felt only a certain sensation generated by my own heart in delirium, and that I invented the details when I woke up. And when I disclosed to them that perhaps it was actually so – God, what laughter they threw in my face, and what fun they had at my expense!
Oh, yes, of course, I was overcome just by the sensation of that dream, and it alone survived in the bloody wound of my heart: yet the real images and forms of my dream, that is, those that I actually saw at the time of my dreaming, were fulfilled so harmoniously, they were so enchanting and beautiful, and so true, that having awakened, I was, of course, unable to embody them in our weak words, so that they must have been as if effaced in my mind, and therefore, indeed, perhaps I myself unconsciously was forced to invent the details afterward; and of course distorted them, especially with my so passionate desire to hurry and tell them at least somehow. And yet how can I not believe that it all really was? And was, perhaps a thousand times better, brighter, and more joyful than I’m telling? Let it be a dream, still it all could not but be.
You know, I’ll tell you a secret: perhaps it wasn’t a dream at all!
For here a certain thing happened, something so terribly true that it couldn’t have been imagined in a dream. Let my dream have been generated by my heart, but was my heart alone capable of generating the terrible truth that happened to me afterward? How could I myself invent or imagine it in my heart? Can it be that my paltry heart and capricious, insignificant mind were able to rise to such a revelation of the truth! Oh, judge for yourselves: I’ve concealed it so far, but now I’ll finish telling this truth as well.
The thing was that I . . . corrupted them all!
Yes, yes, it ended with me corrupting them all! How it could have happened I don’t know, but I remember it clearly. The dream flew through thousands of years and left in me just a sense of the whole. I know only that the cause of the fall was I.
Like a foul trichina, like an atom of plague infecting whole countries, so I infected that whole happy and previously sinless earth with myself.
They learned to lie and began to love the lie and knew the beauty of the lie. Oh, maybe it started innocently, with a joke, with coquetry, with amorous play, maybe, indeed, with an atom, but this atom of lie penetrated their hearts, and they liked it.
Then sensuality was quickly born, sensuality generated jealousy, and jealousy – cruelty. . . Oh, I don’t know, I don’t remember, but soon, very soon, the first blood was shed; they were astonished and horrified, and began to part, to separate.
Alliances appeared, but against each other now. Rebukes, reproaches began. They knew shame, and shame was made into a virtue.
The notion of honor was born, and each alliance raised its own banner. They began tormenting animals, and the animals withdrew from them into the forests and became their enemies. There began the struggle for separation, for isolation, for the personal, for mine and yours.
They started speaking different languages. They knew sorrow and came to love sorrow, they thirsted for suffering and said that truth is attained only through suffering.
Then science appeared among them. When they became wicked, they began to talk of brotherhood and humaneness and understood these ideas.
When they became criminal, they invented justice and prescribed whole codices for themselves in order to maintain it, and to ensure the codices they set up the guillotine.
They just barely remembered what they had lost, and did not even want to believe that they had once been innocent and happy. They even laughed at the possibility of the former happiness and called it a dream. They couldn’t even imagine it in forms and images, but – strange and wonderful thing – having lost all belief in their former happiness, having called it a fairy tale, they wished so much to be innocent and happy again, once more, that they fell down before their hearts’ desires like children, they deified their desire, they built temples and started praying to their own idea, their own “desire,” all the while fully believing in its unrealizability and unfeasibility, but adoring it in tears and worshipping it.
And yet, if it had so happened that they could have returned to that innocent and happy condition which they had lost, or if someone had suddenly shown it to them again and asked them: did they want to go back to it? – they would certainly have refused.
They used to answer me: “Granted we’re deceitful, wicked and unjust, we know that and weep for it, and we torment ourselves over it, and torture and punish ourselves perhaps even more than that merciful judge who will judge us and whose name we do not know. But we have science, and through it we shall again find the truth, but we shall now accept it consciously, knowledge is higher than feelings, the consciousness of life is higher than life. Science will give us wisdom, wisdom will discover laws, and knowledge of the laws of happiness is higher than happiness.”
That’s what they used to say, and after such words each of them loved himself more than anyone else, and they couldn’t have done otherwise. Each of them became so jealous of his own person that he tried as hard as he could to humiliate and belittle it in others, and gave his life to that.
Slavery appeared, even voluntary slavery: the weak willingly submitted to the strong, only so as to help them crush those still weaker than themselves.
Righteous men appeared, who came to these people in tears and spoke to them of their pride, their lack of measure and harmony, their loss of shame. They were derided or stoned.
Holy blood was spilled on the thresholds of temples.
On the other hand, people began to appear who started inventing ways for everyone to unite again so that each of them, without ceasing to love himself more than anyone else, would at the same time not hinder others, and thus live all together in a harmonious society, as it were.
Whole wars arose because of this idea.
At the same time, the warring sides all firmly believed that science, wisdom, and the sense of self-preservation would finally force men to unite in a harmonious and reasonable society, and therefore, to speed things up meanwhile, the “wise” tried quickly to exterminate all the “unwise,” who did not understand their idea, so that they would not hinder its triumph.
But the sense of self-preservation quickly began to weaken, proud men and sensualists appeared who directly demanded everything or nothing.
To acquire everything, they resorted to evildoing, and if that did not succeed – to suicide.
Religions appeared with a cult of nonbeing and self-destruction for the sake of eternal peace in nothingness. Finally, these people grew weary in meaningless toil, and suffering appeared on their faces, and these people proclaimed that suffering is beauty, for only in suffering is there thought.
They sang suffering in their songs. I walked among them, wringing my hands, and wept over them, but I loved them perhaps still more than before, when there was as yet no suffering on their faces and they were innocent and so beautiful.
I loved their defiled earth still more than when it had been a paradise, only because grief had appeared on it.
Alas, I had always loved grief and sorrow, but only for myself, for myself, while over them I wept, pitying them. I stretched out my arms to them, in despair accusing, cursing, and despising myself.
I told them that I, I alone, had done it all; that it was I who had brought them depravity, infection, and the lie!
I beseeched them to crucify me on a cross, I taught them how to make a cross. I couldn’t, I hadn’t the strength to kill myself, but I wanted to take the suffering from them, I longed for suffering, I longed to shed my blood to the last drop in this suffering.
But they just laughed at me and in the end began to consider me some sort of holy fool. They vindicated me, they said they had received only what they themselves had wanted, and that everything could not but be as it was.
Finally, they announced to me that I was becoming dangerous for them and that they would put me in a madhouse if I didn’t keep quiet. Here sorrow entered my soul with such force that my heart was wrung, and I felt I was going to die, and here .
. . well, here I woke up.
It was already morning, that is, not light yet, but it was about six o’clock. I came to my senses in the same armchair, my candle had burned all the way down, everyone was asleep at the captain’s, and around me was a silence rare in our apartment. First of all, I jumped up extremely surprised; nothing like that had ever happened to me, even down to trifling little details: for instance, never before had I fallen asleep in my armchair like that. H
ere suddenly, while I was standing and coming to my senses – suddenly my revolver flashed before me, ready, loaded – but I instantly pushed it away from me!
Oh, life, life now! I lifted up my arms and called out to the eternal truth; did not call out, but wept; rapture, boundless rapture, elevated my whole being. Yes, life and – preaching!
I decided on preaching that same moment, and, of course, for the rest of my life! I’m going out to preach, I want to preach – what? The truth, for I saw it, saw it with my own eyes, saw all its glory!
And so, since then I’ve been preaching! What’s more – I love those who laugh at me more than all the rest. Why that’s so I don’t know and can’t explain, but let it be so. They say I’m already getting confused now, that is, if I’m already so confused now, how will it be later?
The veritable truth: I’m getting confused now, and maybe it will be worse later. And of course I’m going to get confused a few times before I discover how to preach, that is, in what words and in what deeds, because it’s very hard to do.
I see it clear as day even now, but listen: is there anyone who doesn’t get confused? And yet everyone goes toward one and the same thing, at least everyone strives for one and the same thing, from the sage to the last robber, only by different paths. This is an old truth, but what is new here is this: I cannot get very confused.
Because I saw the truth, I saw and I know that people can be beautiful and happy without losing the ability to live on earth.
I will not and cannot believe that evil is the normal condition of people. And they all laugh merely at this belief of mine. But how can I not believe: I saw the truth – it’s not that my mind invented it, but I saw it, I saw it, and its living image filled my soul for all time.
I saw it in such fulfilled wholeness that I cannot believe it is impossible for people to have it. And so, how could I get confused? I’ll wander off, of course, even several times, and will maybe even speak in other people’s words, but not for long: the living image of what I saw will always be with me and will always correct and direct me.
Oh, I’m hale, I’m fresh, I’m going, going, even if it’s for a thousand years. You know, I even wanted to conceal, at first, that I corrupted them all, but that was a mistake – already the first mistake!
But truth whispered to me that I was lying, and guarded and directed me. But how to set up paradise – I don’t know, because I’m unable to put it into words. After my dream, I lost words.
At least all the main words, the most necessary ones. But so be it: I’ll go and I’ll keep talking, tirelessly, because after all I saw it with my own eyes, thought I can’t recount what I saw. But that is what the scoffers don’t understand:
“He had a dream,” they say, “a delirium, a hallucination.”
Eh! As if that’s so clever? And how proud they are! A dream? what is a dream? And is our life not a dream?
I’ll say more: let it never, let it never come true, and let there be no paradise (that I can understand!) – well, but I will preach all the same.
And yet it’s so simple: in one day, in one hour – it could all be set up at once! The main thing is – love others as yourself, that’s the main thing, and it’s everything, there’s no need for anything else at all: it will immediately be discovered how to set things up.
And yet this is merely an old truth, repeated and read a billion times, but still it has never taken root!
“The consciousness of life is higher than life, the knowledge of the laws of happiness is higher than happiness” – that is what must be fought! And I will. If only everyone wants it, everything can be set up at once.
And I found that little girl . . . And I’ll go! I’ll go!